Hiking over glaciers in Skaftafell, Iceland

Skaftafell National Park (part of Vatnajökull National Park since 2008) is Iceland’s most popular national park after Þingvellir. It’s a six hour drive from Reykjavik along Iceland’s ring road. One of the park’s main attractions is Skaftafoss (shown at the top of the page and in my previous post on Iceland), a waterfall which runs down a beautiful wall of basalt columns. My group visited Skaftafell to hike, and to sight-see over a glacier.

Can you poke a glacier?

We camped just in sight of Skaftafellsjökull, a mile-wide tongue of the Vatnajökull ice cap. The camp was still closed for the winter, so this was a rather guilty affair. After pitching my tent, we took a twilight walk over to the glacier outlet. I had the naive idea that I could touch it, just to see what that much ice was like. We followed the campsite’s nature trail, which ended at a fence and a sign that warned us graphically of the dangers of quicksand. We were just in sight of what looked like a short ledge of ice. We would discover just how wrong we were the next day, when we climbed above the glacier. We hiked north-east and up. It was a beautiful morning. Glacier-carved peaks rose into the blue sky above us. Peaks above Skaftafell The afternoon, unfortunately, was a little less welcoming. As we neared the peaks seen in the photo above, the clouds descended. The trail had been marked with occasional wooden posts that stuck above the snow. These vanished. P1030115   Tyra and I spread out to scan for more markers. We spent most of an hour navigating by topography and a faint fox-trail. The trail was supposed to return to camp along the edge of the glacier, so we knew we couldn’t overshoot. When we finally found the trail, we got our first sight of Skaftafellsjökull from above. When we had imagined a tiny ledge of glacier last night, we had actually been a full mile away from an enormous and deeply crevassed wall of ice. Northeast view towards the ice cap In between the glacier and the nature trail were dozens of kettle lakes, and a large river twisting towards the sea. Kettle lakes around the tongue of Skaftafellsjokull Two years later, this is still the closest I’ve been to a glacier. I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen anything that looked as resolutely un-crossable as Skaftafellsjökull, but I’m sure my chance to work or hike on the ice will come soon.

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