Glacier Hike with Glacier Guides, Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland

Glacier Hiking and Ice Climbing in Iceland

Glacier hiking and ice climbing was by far our favorite activity in Iceland. Don’t get me wrong, the other adventures were a blast as well, but there was just something so unique and awe-inspiring about climbing around on the stunning blue ice of a glacial icefall.

Glacier Hike with Glacier Guides, Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland

We booked the 6.5 hour Glacier Xtreme tour with the tour company, Glacier Guides. This tour departs from Vatnajökull National Park in the Skaftafell area, which is around a 4.5 hour drive from Reykjavik, without stopping to check out the sights along the way. As we were trying to pack in as much as possible, we booked the tour for the same day as our drive from Reykjavik to the south coast–that means with a tour start time of 11 a.m., we decided to leave town bright and early, at 5 in the morning, just to give ourselves ample time. Thankfully, we made it just fine and had some time before our hike to explore the museum in the Visitor Center and walk around the park area. Micah also recorded some time lapse footage while we were waiting, which can be seen in our Iceland video. There are many hiking trails and fun activities in this area; I really wish we would have had more time to explore.

Glacier Hike with Glacier Guides, Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland

Glacier Hike with Glacier Guides, Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland

Glacier Hike with Glacier Guides, Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland

Glacier Hike with Glacier Guides, Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland

Once it was time for our tour, we got fitted for a harness and shoes and received our helmets and ice picks before boarding the bus that took us to the hiking area. Side note, if you are ice climbing, you will most likely need to wear the rentable boots from the office–we had sturdy waterproof shoes with us, but they weren’t sturdy enough for ice climbing. Believe me, you will want to wear them as well–my feet were killing me after the hike even with the good shoes!

Our guide, Magnus, was awesome and there were 5 other people on our tour as well, and two of them actually happened to be from Minneapolis, our hometown! I think we lucked out with our group–everyone was a lot of fun and we all wanted to get out there and really experience everything to the fullest. The Glacier Xtreme tour is definitely extreme…you have been warned! I don’t know what I was expecting, but it was way more intense than I imagined, although totally worth every aching muscle the next day. The tour starts out at the base of the Falljökull outlet glacier and you work your way up into the icefall that comes from the Vatnajökull ice cap.

Glacier Hike with Glacier Guides, Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland

Glacier Hike with Glacier Guides, Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland

To get to the actual glacier you have to first cross an area of sandlike dirt paths which were carved out by the glacier many years ago. Our guide told us that the glacier used to span all the way out to the parking lot where we were dropped off, but in just the past 40 years it has retreated to where it is now. It was crazy to see the effects of global warming on the glaciers retreating first hand, especially after watching the documentary, Chasing Ice. If you haven’t seen it yet, I would recommend checking it out. Anyways, it took us around 15 minutes of walking to even get to the ice, and once we were there we geared up in our crampons and helmets.

Glacier Hike with Glacier Guides, Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland

Glacier Hike with Glacier Guides, Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland

Glacier Hike with Glacier Guides, Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland

Glacier Hike with Glacier Guides, Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland

After a quick briefing on how to walk with the crampons, we were off and heading towards the icefall. On the way up, we stopped for photos, to look down crevices and even to get a drink from a glacial stream. To get a proper drink of water, you had to lay your ice pick across the stream and hold onto it in a push-up like position, and then actually do a push-up to lower yourself to the water for a drink. I had a little trouble with my wimpy arms, but the water was absolutely delicious. I was a little apprehensive about drinking directly from the stream, but I was assured the glacial water is pure to drink, and the blackish looking ice you see in some of the photos is actually only ash from past volcano eruptions.

Glacier Hike with Glacier Guides, Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland

Glacier Hike with Glacier Guides, Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland

Glacier Hike with Glacier Guides, Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland

As we started to encounter more difficult terrain, we learned different walking techniques. When walking down a hill, you need to keep your feet straight ahead and walk straight down with slightly squatting back–it was such an unnatural feeling to go practically head first down an icy slope, but you got used to it with some practice. Magnus took us through some more challenging paths to give us practice walking on the ice. We crossed over deep crevices and steams, and walked up, down and sideways across the icefall.

Glacier Hike with Glacier Guides, Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland

Glacier Hike with Glacier Guides, Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland

Glacier Hike with Glacier Guides, Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland

Glacier Hike with Glacier Guides, Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland

Glacier Hike with Glacier Guides, Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland

Pretty soon it was time for a lunch break while our guides got the ropes set up for some ice climbing. We were provided with sandwiches and juice and we filled up our water bottles with fresh glacial water directly from the stream–beat that Evian!

Glacier Hike with Glacier Guides, Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland

Glacier Hike with Glacier Guides, Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland

Glacier Hike with Glacier Guides, Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland

Glacier Hike with Glacier Guides, Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland

After a quick lesson in ice climbing, we were ready to try out the first ice wall. Basically, what you need to do is slam the ice picks into the ice above your head and then kick the front part of your foot into the ice by making tiny upward steps and repeat. Before you know it, you had climbed around 40 or so feet all the way to the top and were now ready to rappel back down. It was an absolutely amazing experience being able to scale right up an ice wall–we felt pretty hard-core, not gonna lie (*silently patting ourselves on the back).

Glacier Hike with Glacier Guides, Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland

Glacier Hike with Glacier Guides, Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland

Glacier Hike with Glacier Guides, Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland

Glacier Hike with Glacier Guides, Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland

Glacier Hike with Glacier Guides, Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland

The second wall was even harder than the first and there was even a nice little glacier pool at the bottom. Micah did great climbing both walls, and even climbed the overhang by the first wall–he was a rock star. Me, not so much! I had a little trouble on the second climb because I was so exhausted from the first one, but after a little struggling about halfway up, I didn’t give up and managed to make it to the top. On this rappel, we got to do it by jumping back and dropping, which was really fun.

Glacier Hike with Glacier Guides, Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland

Glacier Hike with Glacier Guides, Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland

Glacier Hike with Glacier Guides, Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland

Glacier Hike with Glacier Guides, Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland

Glacier Hike with Glacier Guides, Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland

Glacier Hike with Glacier Guides, Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland

And, I guess I have to mention my little mishap as well.  After climbing the second wall, I was walking back down a little slope towards the rest of the group when my crampon got stuck in my pants leg and caused me to slide flat on my face into a puddle of water. Graceful, I know. It was pretty hilarious though, and while everyone was asking if I was ok, Micah was kind enough to snap a picture of me. Such a sweetheart, isn’t he? Haha! More than anything, I was just bummed I ripped a hole in my pants!

Glacier Hike with Glacier Guides, Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland

Glacier Hike with Glacier Guides, Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland

Glacier Hike with Glacier Guides, Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland

Our Minneapolis Friends

After everyone had a chance to climb a few times, we had to start hiking back towards the bus. We voted to take the medium-hard path back down the glacier which led us back over crevices and up, down and sideways again. At one point we even climbed up a super steep crevice with no ropes. Micah and I contemplated taking the easy path this time, but I’m so glad we didn’t as it was such a great feeling of accomplishment to start climbing around and actually feeling comfortable while doing it.

Glacier Hike with Glacier Guides, Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland

Glacier Hike with Glacier Guides, Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland

Photo by Mark, our Minneapolis friend — he was trying to get my attention to look up, but apparently I was focusing too hard to notice!

We powered down the rest of the glacier in about 45 minutes and were exhausted when reaching the bus, but like I said before it was worth the pain and bruised toes in the end. We would highly recommend this tour if you are looking for an adventurous glacier hike.  If you want something more relaxed, you can go on the Glacier Wonders or Glacier Explorer tours instead, but do note that if you go on the Wonders tour, you won’t be walking far up into the ever changing icefall and the terrain will be more flat, so keep that in mind. Either way, whatever tour you choose, I don’t think you could be disappointed when you are exploring the beautiful yet rugged glacial landscape!

Glacier Hike with Glacier Guides, Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland

Glacier Hike with Glacier Guides, Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland

Glacier Hike with Glacier Guides, Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland

Have you ever been glacier hiking or ice climbing?


26 Comments
  • Dave Walker
    Posted at 01:52h, 25 July Reply

    Wow, this looks like an unusual trip a great adventure. Nice read with all the photos. This is going onto my wishlist. By the way, I’ve heard people mention Iceland smells of eggs sometimes. Did you notice anything like that? Thanks!
    Dave Walker recently posted…Walk a Mile and Create a SmileMy Profile

    • Amy
      Twitter:
      Posted at 07:17h, 25 July Reply

      Dave, you can smell sulphur in some places due to the volcanic activity and geothermal power plants. We only noticed it when visiting Geysir and then only when we were directly in the path of the steam after a geysir erupted!

      • Dave Walker
        Posted at 08:37h, 25 July Reply

        Thanks Amy, that doesn’t sound too bad then. Iceland sure looks like a spectacular place for hiking/walking. I’m hoping to go there sometime 🙂

        • Jenna Kvidt
          Posted at 08:44h, 25 July Reply

          Same here, we noticed it around the areas where there was a lot of geothermal activity, like Geysir and Gunnuhver, but not everywhere we went. It is a beautiful place and great for hiking/walking-hope you get to go sometime as well! 🙂

  • Phoebe (Short Road To Happy)
    Twitter:
    Posted at 15:51h, 26 July Reply

    Ahh so jealous! Dying to go to Iceland and your post didn’t help! Haha. You did a great job capturing the lead up to and duration of the hike! Really nice photos – I bet one or two would look nice blown up in a house somewhere 🙂
    Phoebe (Short Road To Happy) recently posted…Phoebe’s AngelsMy Profile

    • Jenna Kvidt
      Posted at 23:18h, 26 July Reply

      Haha, sorry! 🙂 Hope you can make a trip there soon–it is a great place! Thanks for the nice words! We really enjoyed the glacier hike–the area was so pretty and it was cool to climb around on the ice!

  • Gary Yeates
    Posted at 00:33h, 27 July Reply

    Didn’t do any ice climbing whilst I was there but it looks like perhaps I should have, even at my more mature age. How did you go pronouncing Icelandic names by the way, I think it helps if you don’t have a tongue.

  • Bennett - The Further Adventures of Bennett
    Twitter:
    Posted at 01:24h, 27 July Reply

    I’d love to do ice climbing! I have a feeling I’ll be doing it in New Zealand first, however Iceland is also on the list!
    Great photos, think you capture the adventurous spirit of everyone 🙂
    Bennett – The Further Adventures of Bennett recently posted…Things You Do In China #9: FireworksMy Profile

  • Karisa
    Twitter:
    Posted at 03:35h, 27 July Reply

    All I can say is WOW!! Your pictures are unbelievable. I bet that water was delicious. 🙂
    Karisa recently posted…Cambodia’s Colorful Wat Phnom: a Photo EssayMy Profile

  • Meagan
    Twitter:
    Posted at 06:45h, 27 July Reply

    What an amazing experience! I am so jealous of how adventurous you are. Wish I could say the same, but I’m a bit of a chicken.
    Meagan recently posted…Buddhism in ThailandMy Profile

  • Anita Mac
    Posted at 07:48h, 29 July Reply

    I love this …must try! Walked on a glacier in New Zealand, but nothing like what you guys did! No crampons required as I popped off the road to check it out! Love that photo of you looking down the crevice – must have been so surreal out there! What a great adventure!
    Anita Mac recently posted…From Paris With LoveMy Profile

  • Vanessa
    Twitter:
    Posted at 10:32h, 29 July Reply

    I’m impressed by how athletic you are! But the first part, before you hit the snow and ice, looks fairly manageable for people of all abilities and could be suitable for active seniors.

  • Susan
    Twitter:
    Posted at 12:54h, 04 August Reply

    Wow! Looks beautiful and challenging. I’d love to try this someday. I’ve never been ice climbing before — and what better place to do it than Iceland!
    Susan recently posted…27 Things I’ve Learned in 27 YearsMy Profile

    • Jenna Kvidt
      Posted at 10:00h, 09 August Reply

      It was pretty challenging, but I heard others say it wasn’t as hard as rock climbing! I guess it’s easier because you don’t have to look for a place to hold onto–you just make your own with the ice pick! It was really beautiful though and we were excited to do it in Iceland 🙂 You will have to try it sometime!
      Jenna Kvidt recently posted…Iceland Travel Tips From A Local & TravelerMy Profile

  • Christina
    Posted at 16:30h, 04 January Reply

    Ah! So excited! My husband and I are going to Iceland in 2 weeks and glacier hiking is top on our list. I’m loving your posts on Iceland- very informative! Saving your post on the self tour through the Golden Circle, too!
    Christina recently posted…Stuff Londoners Fancy: Complaining About the WeatherMy Profile

    • Jenna Kvidt
      Posted at 22:38h, 09 January Reply

      Yay!! So exciting–glad to hear you are heading there soon and are enjoying our posts!! Hope you have an amazing time 🙂

  • Kate
    Twitter:
    Posted at 21:15h, 07 January Reply

    Ok – this post just put hiking a glacier on my bucket list! Love all the pictures!
    Kate recently posted…Solo Travel Versus Traveling AloneMy Profile

    • Jenna Kvidt
      Posted at 22:52h, 09 January Reply

      Oh good! Glad to hear and thanks 🙂 We had so much fun–hope you do too when you end up going!!

  • Adam
    Posted at 18:03h, 04 April Reply

    I just found your blog, from Million Mile Secrets, and was interested in your ice climbing post. Looks like it was a great time! Thanks for sharing your experience.
    Had either of you any prior climbing experience for this Xtreme tour?
    I was also curious if you have an itinerary of your Iceland trip, to see how you were able to fit in all of your activities within the time period. That will help me with planning a trip.
    Thanks

    • Jenna Kvidt
      Posted at 17:50h, 16 April Reply

      Thanks for stopping by! No, neither of us had done any climbing prior to this–it was challenging, but easy enough for beginners! We don’t have an itinerary laid out anywhere, but here is basically what we did: Saturday- Blue Lagoon and night out in Reykjavik, Sunday- Golden Circle and Snorkeling at Silfra, Monday- White Water Canoeing and exploring Reykjavik, Tuesday- Drove along the South Coast to the Glacier Hike/Ice Climb, Wednesday- Stopped at the Glacier Lagoon and waterfalls on our way back to Reykjavik, and then we had to leave Thursday! Those were all our big stops–hope it helps some!
      Jenna Kvidt recently posted…Alligator City: Airboat Tours in the Florida EvergladesMy Profile

  • Tonya
    Posted at 10:05h, 03 June Reply

    Hi there! Where did you stay the night after ice-climbing? This tour looks great, but I doubt we’ll want to drive back to Reykjavik the same day!
    Thanks

    • Jenna Kvidt
      Posted at 01:49h, 13 June Reply

      We stayed at Guesthouse Skálafell–it was a cute place, but a bit of a drive past the glacier. It would make a long drive to go both ways in one day with the glacier hike–we almost did it, but we were glad we stayed the night. The hike was pretty exhausting, so it might be a good idea to take an extra day out there! Hope you have a great time!!
      Jenna Kvidt recently posted…Burgers Galore at the Twin Cities Burger BattleMy Profile

  • Nicole
    Twitter:
    Posted at 15:46h, 27 September Reply

    WOW! Thrilling adventure and fantastic photography! Iceland looks beautiful and is on my bucket list. Thanks for the inspiring post. 😀

  • Les Petits Pas de Juls
    Posted at 05:03h, 21 October Reply

    You’ve got me hooked! I want to go now too!
    Iceland definitely is on my wish-list and I just hope I can find time soon to go there, explore and live some new and awesome adventures!

    Can’t wait!
    Cheers and happy traveling!
    Jul’
    Les Petits Pas de Juls recently posted…The Incredible Experience of Cave DivingMy Profile

    • Jenna Kvidt
      Posted at 17:54h, 06 November Reply

      Thanks! Definitely hope you can make a trip there soon–we loved it so much we are planning on visiting again next summer! Cheers and happy traveling to you, too! 🙂
      Jenna Kvidt recently posted…A Photo Essay: Colorado in the SummerMy Profile

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