Let me start off by describing my first night of “sleep”. Iceland in late May apparently means that the sun doesn’t actually ever go down. During my pre-trip research, I read that the sunset was pretty late in the day (not until a little before 11 PM), but I didn’t actually realize the sun didn’t completely set until we were there. The whole time we were in Iceland we never saw darkness. Well, that’s not actually true. That lava tube tour got preeeetty dark! But that’s underground so it doesn’t count! 😛 After about 10 PM, it was a perpetual dusk until the next morning. Talk about messing up your body clock. The first night we went to bed early because a) we were exhausted, and b) we needed to wake up early for our scheduled hike with the tour company the next morning.
I slept for maybe 45 minutes at a time, each time waking up in a panic that we were somehow late. The first time I woke up I heard the others in our room of the hostel shuffling around. I sat up, saw it was light out through the black-out curtains that didn’t quite black things out and thought “SH*T!! Everyone else that stayed up late drinking is awake, so therefore it’s probably late in the morning and we missed our hike!”. I was so upset. Then I realized that it was only 10 PM and those people hadn’t actually gone to bed yet. Wash, rinse, repeat. This was my night.
The next morning, we packed up and headed out early. We were all a bit nervous for this glacier hike. The glacier, which sits on top of a volcano, looks very imposing when you stand at sea level. It is the highest point on the peninsula at 1446 m (about 4,744 ft). I’ve hiked a lot of the 4,000-footers in the White Mountains of NH. The difference is that you’re not at sea level when you start, you’re already “in the mountains”. We didn’t quite realize that this was not the case in Iceland until we were driving along the peninsula , at about sea level, saying “Is THAT it? The thing we’re hiking tomorrow?! But it’s so HIGH!”.
We met our tour guide at the start of the Snæfellsjökull F-road, F575. We drove along the bumpy, hilly, gravel road a little ways to the snow cat, which would take us up the mountain a little ways. The start of the road had a single warning sign regarding the dangers of the glacier. And this is why we booked a tour guide. No falling into glacier crevices today! Hopefully…
Our tour guides name was Reggy. I know that’s not how it’s spelled, but that is phonetically how it is sounded out for us Americans. Exactly like “Peggy”, but with an “R”. So this is how I will be spelling his name, and because my google search on common Icelandic names didn’t prove to be very fruitful. Reggy is a super cool dude and an amazing tour guide.
Before setting off in the snowcat, Reggy gave us all of the equipment we would be needing for the hike: ice pick, harness, and crampons. I didn’t realize how intense this was going to be when I booked it…ice pick!?!? Crampons! HARNESS????? Well, let’s just see how it goes.
The snow cat took us up to an elevation of about 650m, where we would start the actual hike. The snow cat, which is aptly named, was so cool and climbed across the snow like a wild beast. It was, however, not a comfortable ride. Very bumpy and boy, was it loud! Reggy called it “frisky”, which was a perfect description, and also a word he would use a lot that day. And so, at about 650m, we began our hike.
This was unlike anything we had ever experienced. No trees in sight. Everything was white. The snow almost blended into the overcast sky. It was impossible for our inexperienced eyes to perceive distance. It all looked the same! And after walking for what seemed like ever, the landmarks at the top of the glacier seemed to remain the same distance away. However, when we turned around…..that was when we could tell how far we had gone.
After a ways, we came to the spot where the glacier began. Here, Reggy explained how we would proceed. We put our harnesses on and Reggy prepared the rope that would be connecting us all. The rope that we would be trusting our lives with for the rest of the hike. Okay, maybe I’m being a little overdramatic, but still, this was the serious safety talk. We needed to keep a good distance between each other while connected to the rope, so that if someone fell into a crevice, the the people on the other end of the rope would act like anchors, and you wouldn’t fall very far. Thus, making it easier to extract you from said crevice. We asked Reggy if he’d ever had anybody fall in, to which he casually replied “Just me”. He told us “If I fall in, just sit down, be my anchor, and wait for me to climb out”. This guy was the definition of INTENSE.
The hike to the top went smoothly, with no one falling into any crevices. Reggy was great at setting a consistent pace that was challenging but do-able. We reached the summit in about two and a half hours. Reggy told us that we were quite a frisky group. I think that meant that we were athletic and could keep up with him.
The views from the top were stunning. The sun had come out at this point and we could see along the entire peninsula!
We hung around the top for a bit, exploring between the two snow and ice covered lava plugs, which climbed straight out of the ground. We were allowed to unhook from the rope here, because the ground was stable enough and there weren’t any crevices to fall into. Reggy did make sure to warn us not to step where there weren’t already foot prints, though. There was a reason there were no foot prints there: DANGER! One side of the summit dropped off, straight down like a cliff, so we made sure not to get too close.
Once we had explored enough, Reggy showed us how to put on our crampons. “Are these for the way down?” Mike asked. With a huge, playful grin on his face Reggy replied “No, my friend, these are for the way up!”. We were going to climb the taller of the two lava plugs! I guess being a frisky group meant that we were responsible and athletic enough to attempt the climb. What a privilege! I was pumped. Mike was not – because he is afraid of heights. Ricky was not excited either. Looks like Reggy and I were the only ones who were actually looking forward to the climb!
Reggy explained how to use the crampons and ice pick, we hooked back into the rope, and we began our ascent. The way up seemed to take a long time. Looking over your shoulder, all you could see was the sheer drop to the left, and the less gradual, but still very steep, way down on the other side that might actually (I mean probably) dump you off of the cliff that I mentioned earlier. But with our trusty rope, ice picks, and crampons, we got to the top without a hitch! At the top, Reggy roped us all into our ice picks buried in the ice. From here, safely roped in, we just laid back and admired the views, which were so much better than at the bottom of the lava plug. We were on top of the world!
The way down was much harder, and seemed to take ten times as long. But we eventually made it down in one piece. What an amazing experience that was. We all had an adrenaline rush and couldn’t actually believe what we had just done!!! Did that actually happen!?
We took off our crampons, took one last group picture at the top, and started our descent. Reggy asked us if we wanted to go fast on the way down, to which we replied “Yes!”. We pretty much ran/slid down the mountain. But it was a controlled slide. It took us all of 40 minutes on the descent.
The snow cat picked us up at where we started the glacier part of the hike (where we had to be roped together). The beginning of that day seemed like ages ago. It felt like a dream. Did we really just do that?! When I look back at that day, it still seems so surreal. It was an amazing experience. We had such a great time, and not to mention the PERFECT weather we had! It was the perfect day and an experience that we won’t soon forget!
Happy Hiking and Happy Life!
P.S. If you are at all interested in doing a similar hike/tour in Iceland, I highly recommend Summit Adventure Guides. Our tour guide was amazing and they also do tons of other tours, including snowshoeing and skiing. If I ever go back to Iceland (which I’m determined to do), I would book another tour with this company in a heartbeat.