I’m not sure I’m ready to leave….
It was like today came out of my dreams. Our itinerary today consisted of visits to an glacier lagoon and ice caves contained within the world’s largest glacier.
We got to sleep in a just a bit today. We left our hotel in Höfn around 09:30. It started getting light on our way to the glacier lagoon and our driver/tour guide saw fit to pull over so we could take pictures of a glacier. Mind you, it was dark when we passed it on the way to the hotel last night. So he didn’t want us to miss it today.
After our photo op, we headed to Jökulsárlón. On the way there we saw some Reindeer! This was a VERY unusual sight. Apparently they only come out in the snow. Which makes sense because they were mostly white.
We arrived at Jökulsárlón after 10:00. It was pretty crowded in the parking lot. But there was plenty of room at the water bank. I’ve never seen a glacier or parts of a glacier in person before. The ice was so blue and so massive. I felt small. But it was insanely beautiful. Especially with the snow capped mountains as a backdrop.
After spending quite some time at the glacier lagoon and the black sand beach where it drained into the ocean; it was time to head to Vatnajökull. We switched from our regular van to a modified van. One that looked more like a monster truck. We even switched tour guides. Our new Guide’s name was Trigger. Well actually that was his nickname. I couldn’t spell or pronounce his real name. He was a tall a burly guy. Like he was a descendant from the original viking settlers. He was really quite funny and and very kind. But very serious when it came to safety.
Trigger spewed out a lot of facts about Vatnajökull, the largest free standing glacier in the world. The ones that I could actually remember are as follows:
- Vatnajökull is the largest free standing glacier in the world. Free standing, meaning it did not break off or come from Antarctica.
- The glacier covers 8% of Iceland. If you combined all of the other glaciers in Iceland they would total less than 3%.
- The glacier is so large that it creates its own atmosphere at the very top. It only snows up there, no matter what the weather is like beneath.
- If the glacier was to melt over the next 50 years, it would elevate the entire country of Iceland by about 2 meters.
- The glacier is in fact melting. And the portion that we were able to hike was only about 0.05% of its entire mass.
He told us all of this while driving us in the monster truck van. And that was one wild ride through rugged terrain. So wild in fact he played “Highway to Hell” by AC/DC to emphasize how rough the ride was. One of the group members asked what happens to the roads when it rains. He said the roads do get rained out but they use military grade GPS to get to and from. Eventually we parked in a lot full of those monster truck vans. Trigger explained that these vans are worth anywhere from $150k – $250k with all the modifications.
In that lot we put on our helmets and crampons (metal boot stabilizers). He warned us to stay out of the way of those trucks because they have the right of way up on the glacier, being that they cannot easily stop.
Trigger then told us the 3 most important rules of waking on glaciers.
- Never take off your helmet
- Never take off your crampons and stomp like an elephant when walking
- If you drop something, kiss it goodbye, it’s gone.
We then practiced walking up and down the glacier. I’ll admit it was VERY slippery and quite nerve wracking. One of the young ladies in my group fell 3 times during this tour.
So then we transferred into yet another monster truck van, one that was equipped to drive on the ice. A few minutes later we were further up the glacier. We hopped out and in a single file line and followed Trigger into 2 different ice caves.
The caves were unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It was like I was walking in a page from my imagination. Surprisingly it wasn’t terribly cold. It wasn’t too cramped. It was very serene and invigorating. I was actually surprised that the caves weren’t man made. Trigger explained they form naturally over time after the glacier melts and the water flows down. They’re not allowed to make any modifications (i.e. bring blow dryers or space heaters). They just have to be patient.
After that it was time to head back. Trigger asked us how we liked the tour. We told him we loved it. But we mentioned that it was probably routine and just another Wednesday for him. Contrary to our belief, he explained that it is different for him every time. He said he experiences it new through everyone’s eyes. I thought that was beautiful.
Break Down and Rescue
We got back in the monster truck van and it was already was dark outside. About 5 minutes into the ride we stopped and Trigger announced we were having a malfunction and another van was going to come get us in about 15 minutes. By this point it was pitch black outside and pouring rain. Thankfully the van was still on. So we were able to remain warm.
Our rescue driver was pretty cool. I didn’t catch his name, but I ended up sitting directly next to him. I was the last to board the van and the regular seats were all taken. He was quite the jokester. About 5 minutes down the road as were were ascending up a giant dirt hill the van completely stopped and he announced over the microphone “Sorry guys I think we’re having the same problem as the last van……JUST KIDDING!” And then he accidentally stalled. Instant Karma! We thankfully made it back to our original tour van in one piece. But right before arriving the driver did mention to me in all seriousness he felt like the rescue van was experiencing the same issue as the other. He explained that the massive barring that holds the wheels together was broken. And that’s the first thing to go wrong with these vans. Below is a lengthy video of our ride back to our regular tour van.
So that was pretty much the end of the day. It took us about 5 hours to get back to Reykjavík from Vatnajökull. We got back later than expected and missed our dinner reservation. We went out to see if anything was open. But even the late night restaurants were closed since it was the day after Christmas. We made a very American stop to the Dominos down the street from the hotel since that was the only place open. I’m not gonna lie, the pizza was better than it is back home.
Tomorrow is our last day here. We leave at 3:15pm. We have nothing on our itinerary tomorrow. So we’re just going to explore the city until it’s time to head to the airport.
Thanks for sticking with me thus far. More to come tomorrow.