This post is continued from the previous post of our journey into Vatnajökull--which our glacier guide told us was pronounced like "fat yoghurt" in Icelandic.
Once we had our crampons on, only a thin layer of dirt coated the ice, and the prongs of our crampons started to dig into the glacier.
Fannar explained how these dirt cones form when the dirt moves down the glacier into a pit and hardens, and then the ice around it melts off.
The glacier had several different bands where the ice shape changed dramatically, and the most dangerous were the crevices (although we always felt totally safe). During this part of the hike, we had to stay close to Fannar and he had to carve out steps for us to get over some tricky spots.
Fannar and the other glacier guides maintain steps daily, as the glacier in continuously in flux.
The most magical part of being up on the glacier was walking over blue ice. Because of how dense and pure the ice is, it reflects blues and cyans. And speaking of purity, the water from small glacial streams is pure enough to drink straight off the glacier. I may or may not have face planted, but we filled our bottle with the water, which stayed ice cold for days and was by far the most delicious water I have ever tasted.
Fannar said the weather was ideal, and at points I didn't even need a jacket. The higher we climbed, the cooler the air got, but it never fell below the 30's Farenheit. We were super lucky it was a clear day and we could see all the way down the glacier,
and all the way up.
Past the crevices, the ice smoothes for a bit, and then shoots up into spikes and conical formations, leaving mini ice caves hidden throughout the glacier.
The glacier is massive and changes daily, but Fannar had us covered and brought us to the mouths of the hidden caves.
The higher we got, the steeper the ice. Since I was the lightest person on the tour, the crampons didn't stick in quite as deeply for me and sometimes Fannar had to give me a hand.
One ice cave was basically a vertical hole we had to drop into. I was the first to go in, and felt like I was going to slide straight to the center of the glacier. Thankfully there were chunks of ice blocking the way. Here's a sneak view straight into the heart of a glacier.
Once we were up into the highest part of the glacier we would reach, we ate snacks, caught our breath and tried to believe we were still on the earth.
And then, the most terrifying thing happened.
We heard a low, thick, thunderous growl. My heart froze with my breath and everyone looked at Fannar who waited five seconds and said, "That. was. awesome.!" He explained that we'd heard and felt the glacier moving, and he'd never before experienced that on a summer trip (apparently it happens more often in the winter). We also saw part of the glacier fall off the edge of a cliff in the distance, which Walker snapped here (look at the dark rock face on the right side of the photo to see the ice fall):
As we descended back down into the crevices again, Fannar taught us about glacier mice. These balls of moss form around stones as the winds slowly roll them around the glaciers. Apparently, they have whole ecosystems of living species inside them.
It took us about one and a half hours to descend the glacier, and our knees only stung a little (let's not talk about the next day).
Fannar was a terrific guide, and this hike was the highlight of our trip. There are several companies running glacier hikes in Iceland, but we can't recommend Glacier Guides, who are the exclusive company operating on Skaftafell, enough. We had the most magical, safe, and shockingly beautiful experience on Skaftafell. (Many of the other companies explore the Sólheimajökull glacier, which is closer to Reykjavik but much smaller.)
Since we had driven so far, we decide to squeeze in one more adventure for the day: a hike to see the Svartifoss waterfall. The hike shared a parking lot with the Skaftafell Glacier, so we thought it would be a quick half hour walk. Ha. Not.
It was over a mile steady incline past several other waterfalls
before we found it.
These falls are the inspiration for the most famous church in Reykjavik, which I'll share in another post.
Day 4 was our favorite in Iceland, but the next day was nearly as epic. Coming soon!
For now, two more deep breaths of this place.