If water – be that in falls, lagoons, pools or the sea – had been the dominant theme in the preceding days of this trip, then the agenda for our second full day in Iceland was all about ice. For this is Iceland after all, and glaciers and icebergs are surely on the agenda of everyone who visits this country. That includes a group of teenage girls and their teachers…and I was among the latter!
Whilst volcanic conditions are never far from Skaftafell – indeed the frequent tectonic activity (Iceland has some 20 earthquakes a day, you just can’t feel them) is responsible for much of the glacial movement in the region – here you get huge swathes of ice in its most pure form. And better still, you get to hike on it! Under the supervision of a fully trained guide, and you equipped with crampons, pick axe and harness, naturally.
Even from a distance, the vast field of ice that stretches like an askew, rumpled duvet from the distant snow-capped mountains down to the wasteland of the valleys below is quite a sight. Once you get up close to, and then on to, it the sublimity of the scene before you becomes even more apparent. At first glance the jagged, towering banks of the glacier can seem impenetrable, but once you’re eased on to it via a more accessible entrance you get to relax and simply enjoy the breath-taking surroundings.
I say ‘relax’ but it’s important not to let your guard down completely, as your gait is important to get right to avoid slippage (even with crampons on), and crevasses lurk at hidden corners in which a fall could be fatal. But examining the glacial formations and contrasts among the layers of colours up close is fascinating, and the mountain backdrop isn’t bad either! And so no surprise that this is another move location – Rogue One, Batman Begins and Interstellar all had scenes shot here.
There was even stuff to keep the girls amused. They were able to smash at the ice with their pick axes and eat the pure, clean ice of the glacier, and on the walk back they had fun trampling on the thinner sheets of ice, cracking it like glass underfoot. One of the teachers seemed to think it was a good idea to get them to sing Let It Go from Frozen…not what I would have done, but it did give me an idea for a future thing we could do…
Whilst in the summer you can take a boat out on to the water, the sheer amount of ice in the lagoon in winter is stunning, and some of the formations are remarkable. We were lucky that the towering centrepiece iceberg – which either look like a pair of hands cupped in semi-prayer, or the jaws of a reclining dinosaur, depending on your perspective – was there when we were (our guide said it hadn’t been just a week prior), and it was complemented by both the surrounding sheets and the smaller icebergs we could see eddying toward the sea.
It’s also possible to spot seals among the icebergs, although they can be timid, and we only saw ones in the distance. What we did see were people standing on the blocks of ice in the lagoon, flagrantly ignoring the warning signs in so doing. They got a dressing down from our guide for that and, to their credit, also a few words of disbelief directed at them from some of our girls!
The sea nearby is also worth a visit, where huge block of ice are beached on the shore, with the froth of the incoming tide rushing around them. It is the perfect opportunity to eat ice, try and spot seals and, of course, simply marvel at the natural beauty of the scene before you. You’ll find yourself doing a lot of that in Iceland!