On my search to find off-the-beaten-path excursions in Iceland, I came across the potential to book an ice climbing tour. Having loved rock climbing in the past, I thought ice climbing was likely just as enjoyable. What better way to learn how to ice climb than on an Icelandic glacier?
Once we knew ice climbing was on our Iceland bucket list, it was important to decide on the company we wanted to arrange our tour with. Online reviews and safety policies were of the utmost importance.
While most options came with high ratings, we quickly learned that a lot of the tours consisted of about 6 to 12 people. In most touring situations, this is fine. In fact, those are actually pretty small groups!
The numbers did give us pause, however, because we had to consider the agility of the other group members. The potential of the entire tour would be dependent on the pacing of every individual in the group. Some tours may have less climbing opportunities than others because of this.
With that, we opted for the more expensive private ice climbing tour and we could not have been more pleased with this decision.
We booked our tour with Southcoast Adventure directly through the Guide to Iceland website. It was the Private Ice Climbing Tour on Solheimajokull glacier and it was set up for just two adults and one private guide.
Our guide, Hilmar, greeted us at the glacier's visitor center and fitted us with helmets, harnesses, crampons and ice tools. Knowing nothing about the art of ice climbing was daunting, but Hilmar eased us into it and gave us a great history lesson on the way up to the glacier.
We trekked through scenery that I could not have even dreamed of. Beautiful turquoise ice against black volcanic sand. We breezed past the crowded tour groups and made our way deep into the glacier -- away from humanity.
Once we arrived at a safe location within the glacier, Hilmar got to work setting up our route to the top of the ice wall. He secured our anchor points and ensured our safe footing. We were literally perched in the crevasse of a glacier with nothing but the wind and expanse landscape as our company.
It was at this moment that I was incredibly thankful for our competent and experienced tour guide. It may seem like an easy feat to hike on a glacier, but it is actually incredibly dangerous for those who do not know what to look for. We avoided areas that, to me seemed safe, but to Hilmar were a definite no-go.
Once our course was set up, we were given a brief climbing lesson and were soon putting our endurance to the test. Ice climbing is nothing like rock climbing. It seemed to challenge a completely different group of muscles, but in the best way possible. It was difficult, but a lot of fun!
Hilmar was patient and a terrific coach. After several climbs, we enjoyed a casual chat over snacks, and then continued our expedition further into the glacier. Having picked up on the fact that my boyfriend and I are quite adventurous, Hilmar asked if we would enjoy a more challenging hike back. Of course, the answer was "yes."
The three of us were connected by ropes as we walked precariously on the edge of an ice crevasse and made our way back onto the snowy mountainside.
In the distance we could see the cluttered tour groups and hear their excited chatter carried up by the winds. We were thankful to be so far away and on our own unique adventure. Our private tour was customized for us -- tailored to our individual capabilities and to our specific interests.
The 5 hours we spent on the glacier ended up being the most memorable moments of our entire Iceland vacation. We could not be more grateful for the opportunity and can only hope to encourage others to give it a try!