It was just before 5 o’clock and the sun was dipping below the horizon. Our path was lit only by the reflection of the sky on the vast ice field before us and the small flashlights held by our guides. My feet were wet, my nose was running, my teeth were chattering—and I was in heaven.
I’ve made it clear previously that I hate—and I mean hate—winter. I toy with the idea of leaving Boston forever, trading in the cold and snow for some balmy locale. I gladly allow my boyfriend to do all the shoveling, and I have a not-entirely-irrational fear of slipping and falling on ice. So why was I hiking Iceland’s Sólheimajökull glacier in January? And why I was I loving it so damn much?
With its volcanoes, black sand beaches, and Northern Lights, Iceland had long been on my travel bucket list. Hiking a glacier, on the other hand, had definitely not been. Ever since a bad fall on an icy sidewalk in college, I’ve been skittish about all things slippery. And after discovering that most of Reykjavik’s sidewalks weren’t sanded or salted, I was even more skittish about the glacier hike.
But Nicole and I had snatched up a discounted Icelandair package deal that included a glacier hike nearly six months before. There was no turning back.
Our 12-hour tour by Icelandic Mountain Guides began with a visit to the majestic Skógarfoss waterfall. Nic and I ventured close to the falls, but not as close as we might have: In January, the ground was—you guessed it—quite slippery.
Next up was a quick lunch break and fitting for our crampons. I’ve worn skis and snowshoes, but I was doubtful whether these basic metal cleats could keep me upright on the ice.
Was I surprised! After slipping into our crampons, being handed ice axes (which we used mainly as walking sticks), and being given a brief overview by our guide, we were off, walking awkwardly along a snowy path. The air was cold and misty, and I regretted not bringing more than one Kleenex for my chronically runny nose.
As the Sólheimajökull glacier came into view, though, I quickly forgot about everything except the sight in front of me. Having never seen a glacier before, I was blown away by its cerulean blue tones and its sheer size. It was absolutely gorgeous—but could I walk on it without falling?
Crampons, it turns out, are pretty amazing. After a few tentative steps, I was walking up, across, and down the icy ground like a pro, with just one embarrassing but harmless fall into a snow-covered hole. Although we were on Sólheimajökull for several hours, we only hiked about two miles roundtrip. This hike is rated as easy enough for beginners—and it is—but it was still a workout and quite challenging. The ice axes, though, did add give me a rather cheeky bad-ass feeling about the whole thing, even if I ended up having to wipe my nose on my sleeve like a preschooler.
Our tour finished off with a visit to the night-lit Seljalandsfoss waterfall and a dinner of lobster soup, which gave us the opportunity to further chat with our tour mates and warm up after a very damp and chilly day.
Our glacier hike was worth every step, and Nicole agreed that it was one of the best experiences these two wimpy travelers have ever had. Next up, Franz Josef Glacier?