It’s not easy to rattle Icelanders. But I’ve just figured out how to get a sure-fire rise out of an Icelandic glacier guide: Tell them you’ve been on New Zealand’s Franz Josef Glacier.
“People die there!” Gisli exclaimed, sounding dismayed that we’d got there.
How’d this come up? Well. I’d guess it was my polished crampon and ice axe technique. And maybe knowing a few tidbits about glaciers – like what makes the ice turn blue. After talking to me for awhile, Gisli’s fellow guide (whose name I can’t remember) said something like “you’ve done this before.”
Darn tootin’, we had. Nearly five hours on the ice at Franz Josef. That thing’s a monster. Apparently, a tourist-eating monster that just weeks earlier had claimed a few more lives. To be fair, it’s not the glacier’s fault. Don’t do stuff your guides tell you not to do.
So far, the crew at Glacier Guides had found Sarah and I to be pretty much model glacier hikers. We take care of our gear, we pay attention to their instructions and we have one helluva time. (See more info about Glacier Guides at the end of the post).
It’s easy for us to have a great time on a glacier. We loves the things. This time, we were on Falljökull (pronounced Fall-yuck-cuddle), which means “falling glacier.” That’s because of the way it seems to spill over the nearby mountain, plunging down the cliffs. It’s a seriously beautiful glacier, with an epic, sweeping view of the landscape. I could’ve sat in the same place all day and just looked at the landscape.
We were also pretty enthralled by the rushing water pouring over the glacier. You could drink it and enjoy some of the purest water you’ve ever tasted. Most of the guides had carabiners duct taped to plastic water bottles – they started the trip empty, and just filled them on the glacier. Silly me for showing up with a full Camelbak!
As you can see in the photos, it was actually warm on the glacier. It wasn’t what I’d call physically demanding. At the high point of the route, we ate the lunch the guides packed for us and headed back down. Yet again, Sarah looked sad when she handed her ice axe over.
Soon, we were back at our old school bus. We boarded and headed to Jökullsarlon, where we’d take a boat ride in the famous glacier lagoon. This was more fun than I expected. The lagoon and its icebergs will blow you away. And it looks different every time, too. So you won’t see the same bergs and growlers, but a whole new set.
And maybe your guide will fish a hunk of glaicer ice form the water and break it into chips for everyone to taste. It was a cool experience … sucking on a thousand-year-old ice cube.
There’s also a place to grab a snack. Go for the seafood soup if it’s a chilly or windy day.
After about 45 minutes in the lagoon, we boarded the school bus for the trip back to Skaftafell National Park. There, we gathered our packs from the Glacier Guides office, pitched our tents and caught up on our sleep. Some nearby backpackers also kept us entertained by singing Joan Osborne tunes. It was a most magnificent day on the glacier. I’d call it an essential part of anyone’s visit to Iceland.
About Glacier Guides: This is a very friendly, competent guide service. They gave us a lift from Skaftafell to Hof the previous day so we could get to our guesthouse (our bus didn’t go there). Then they picked us up for the glacier hike the next day and stored our backpacks while we were out having fun. They were accommodating and informative. I highly recommend Glacier Guides. If you see an Icelandic sheep dog named Hekla with one of the guides, give her a scratch between the ears and tell her Sarah and Justin say hello.