Glacier Hiking on Sólheimajökull Glacier in South-Iceland
In my last travel-blog I showed you the ice caves which form in Iceland‘s glaciers.
In this travel-blog let‘s explore the glaciers themselves and go on a glacier hike on the Sólheimajökull glacier, which is an icefall of Iceland‘s 4th largest glacier, the Mýrdalsjökull glacier in South-Iceland.
Mýrdalsjökull is approximately 590 km2 and beneath it, one of Iceland's most dangerous subglacial volcanoes is lurking, the Katla volcano.
Icebergs on Sólheimajökull glacier lagoon
Glacier hikes are very popular in Iceland and glacier hiking tours are offered all year round.
I joined one of the tours to show you what glacier hikes are like.
I have many times been to the edge of the glaciers to visit the glacier lagoons which often form in front of the glaciers, and of course, visited the ice caves, but only once hiked on a glacier.
Reflections in Sólheimajökull glacial lagoon
I opted for the Sólheimajökull glacier in South-Iceland, as it is easily accessible on a day tour from Reykjavík, with many attractions on the way, like Skógafoss waterfall, which is close by.
The name of this glacier is quite beautiful as it translates into Sun World Glacier.
When foreign guests come to visit me in Iceland I always show them the Sólheimajökull glacier and the glacial lagoon.
Sólheimajökull glacier reflecting in the glacial lagoon
The river coming from Sólheimajökull glacier is called Jökulsá á Sólheimasandi or the Glacial river on Sólheimasandur glacial outwash.
It used to go by the name Fúlilækur or Foul creek by Icelanders earlier on as it had a strong smell of sulfur.
Strange formations in Sólheimajökull glacier reflecting in the serene glacial lagoon
The smell isn‘t as strong as it used to be. If it is strong then it might indicate that a glacier burst is building up. If that happens it is too dangerous to visit the glacier.
Now, let‘s have a look at what a glacier looks like up close and personal.
Sólheimajökull glacial lagoon
Taking in the beauty and serenity of Sólheimajökull and the glacial lagoon
As you hike to the edge or terminus of the glacier you will see a beautiful glacial lagoon appearing with icebergs floating on it.
The glaciers move under their own weight and icebergs break regularly from them. It is called calving.
When I last visited the Sólheimajökull glacier lagoon on a very serene day it was completely quiet, almost too quiet.
I wanted to stay at the glacial lagoon for hours, it was just perfect, apart from the fact that the sun was setting, and you do not want to be by the glaciers in the darkness.
Only a handful of people were around and we regularly saw glacier hike groups returning from the glacier. They were the last groups of the day.
It is ever so majestic somehow seeing what appears to be tiny colourful people in a row on the massive glacier and I never tire of zooming in on them and taking photos.
A glacier hike group on Sólheimajökull glacier
This sight sure puts into perspective how huge the glaciers are. And we don‘t even see the whole glacier from here, only a part of one icefall of the massive glacier.
One word of advice, don‘t go close to the edge of the glacier. I ventured as far as I was comfortable with, but saw a couple of people going even further up to the very edge and entering an ice cave!
I wanted to shout out to warn them that the glacier is moving and calving and that it is never safe to be so close to the edge without a guide. But they were too far away. This is a dangerous play.
What a crack must have been heard here at Sólheimajökull glacier when this huge piece of ice broke from the glacier
Sólheimajökull is shrinking and where the glacial lagoon is now, not long ago there was a glacier covering the area.
The glacial lagoon has a depth of some 60 meters and while admiring the icebergs floating on it let's remember that only 1/10th of them is visible above the waterline.
While admiring the serene lagoon and the absolute stillness by the glacier as I have so often done, I often think about what it must look like when the glacier calves.
Blue ice floating on the glacial lagoon by Sólheimajökull glacier
During my many visits to Sólheimajökull glacier, I have never seen the glacier calve, but I have seen a huge piece of ice breaking from Fjallsárjökull into Fjallsárlón glacier lagoon.
The loud crack of the glacier breaking was overwhelming, something I will never forget. It reminds us of what forces of nature are at work here.
All of the icebergs on the glacial lagoons have at some point calved from the terminus
Ripples form on the glacial lagoons when huge icebergs calve from the glaciers and then it is not safe to stand close to the lagoons – bear that in mind.
Hiking on Sólheimajökull glacier
Hiking on Sólheimajökull glacier
Dangers can lurk in the vicinity of the glacier so never go unaccompanied on a glacier. Special glacier equipment is needed and safety instructions have to be followed.
If you see photos of glaciers from above you will see something you will not see from below - the glaciers are filled with deadly crevasses.
Only trained glacier guides know where the deep crevasses hide in the glaciers and steer us away from them.
Glacier crampons suitable for a glacier hike
The day I joined the glacier hike tour we met up with the glacier guide at the parking lot.
The glacier guide gave us crampons to put over our hiking boots. These are not the run-of-the-mill crampons, but sturdy glacier crampons.
We got a lesson in how to strap them on and the guide checked that the crampons fitted us, which is of utter importance.
Glacier hiking on Sólheimajökull glacier
We were also given an ice axe and a harness and got a safety lecture on the dangers of the glaciers.
For the hike, you will need good hiking boots, a parka and waterproof clothes, gloves, a scarf, and a cap. And don‘t forget your sunglasses, as the reflection from the white glacier can hurt your eyes.
I joined this tour in September and it was so warm once we reached the highest point of our hike due to the reflection of the sun on the glacier that I had to take off the layers of clothes and was down to my T-shirt.
But that was just luck as it can get cold on the glaciers, especially when the wind is blowing in the wintertime.
Hiking up the glacier
We followed the glacier guide closely in a single line and ascended the glacier. I, even though I am always travelling in Iceland to discover new places to show to you, was a bit out of breath when we ascended as were a couple of other travellers.
So I would say that this hike is moderate in difficulty, others more fit than I am would say it were easy. The glacier crampons were a big help and gave us a good grip on the snow and ice on the glacier.
The snow was wet and I felt like I was walking in slush, which I, who have lived in Iceland my whole life, have experienced countless times and thought to myself: "Now where is the fun in this?" 😊
On top of Sólheimajökull glacier looking down
Once we reached the top of the glacier, or as far as we were going, I quickly changed my mind and understood where the fun in glacier hiking lies.
What a breathtaking view we had! The sun of course made everything more beautiful and enhanced the colours. I was in awe.
I had so often stood below by the glacial lagoon and looked up at the glacier and here I was standing on top of it looking down. Highly recommended on a good day, I say 😊
Hiking on Sólheimajökull glacier looking down at the glacial lagoon
Now I was finally able to take photos, which I hadn‘t been able to do while we were hiking. And I wanted to take photos of everything, I felt like a little kid standing on a glacier for the first time and took photos left and right.
The glacier is white, but there are heaps of black lava ash in it from different eruptions in the Mýrdalsjökull glacier through the centuries – and the Eyjafjallajökull eruption, which created such huge ash clouds that the eruption caused chaos in air traffic back in 2010.
Ask the glacier guide what the black cones are that you will see peaking out of the glacier. They are called dirt cones.
Dirt cones on Sólheimajökull glacier
I am always on the lookout for blue ice, as I find the blue ice to be the most beautiful part of a glacier. And sure enough, we saw some blue ice.
The glacier guide took us to some crevasses to have a look inside while holding us tightly.
I opted out – in our upbringing, we are warned about the glaciers and the glacial rivers and learn poems about the dangers of the glacier.
Much as kids in other countries are warned against f.ex. the dangers of the forest. And this has stuck with me, so I am not going near a glacial crevasse 😉
Blue ice in a crevasse in Sólheimajökull glacier
But the fantastic experience of standing on a glacier under the protection of a glacier guide was right up my alley.
We got a geology lesson from the glacier guide on top of the glacier and returned back much more informed about the Icelandic glaciers and the subglacial volcanos.
Ice climbing was included in our glacier hike, that is why we had been given ice axes. I took photos while the others climbed up an ice wall in the glacier.
Ice climbing on Sólheimajökull glacier
The tour lasted for 3 hours, with 1.5 hours on the glacier itself.
The descent from the glacier was much easier than the descent, as is most often the case, so we were quickly down on even ground again.
The tour I joined is a family-friendly tour with an age limit of 10 years old.
The glacier crampons were washed in a puddle after the glacier hike
If you fancy joining a glacier hike on Sólheimajökull glacier then there are several tours to choose from:
Sólheimajökull glacier reflecting in the lagoon
To get the most out of your glacial experience, and if you have got the time to do so, then I would advise you to join another tour from Vík village, which is close by, and visit the Katla ice cave in Kötlujökull glacier, another icefall from Mýrdalsjökull glacier.
That ice cave is open all year round, but changes in appearance every year as you can see in my last travel-blog:
Hiking to the Katla ice cave in 2021
I must reiterate – never venture on the glaciers without a guide – fatal accidents have happened on our glaciers and in 2011 a fatal accident happened here on Sólheimajökull when a tourist went alone on a glacier hike and was found dead in a crevasse some days later.
So let's be careful and stay safe by the glaciers.
One of the warning signs by Sólheimajökull glacier
An observation platform has been erected at a safe distance from the glacier, and visitors are advised not to go any closer to the glacier.
Unless you are on a guided glacier hike tour.
An alternative to a glacier hike tour is snowmobiling on a glacier:
There are several other locations that are popular for glacier hikes, and many more beautiful glacial lagoons in Iceland, the best-known of which is the. It is a must-see while in Iceland.
Sólheimajökull glacier is at a distance of some 158 km from Reykjavik and can be reached via ring-road 1 and road 221.
Have a lovely time hiking on Iceland's glaciers :)