Visiting an ice cave in Vatnajökull glacier is a fantastic experience. I had seen some beautiful photos from inside the ice caves and very much wanted to see the caves for myself. I got the chance to visit them in January when the staff at Guide to Iceland went on a 2-day-trip to visit two beautiful ice caves.
Early the next morning we were driven to Fláajökull glacier where we met our glacier tour guide. Fláajökull glacier is an icefall from Breiðabunga glacier in the eastern part of Vatnajökull glacier, Iceland's largest glacier.
We were given crash helmets and crampons for the tour and for safety reasons we were given a harness - so that the tour guide could fasten us together if needed, f.ex. in bad weather with poor visibility. Fortunately, the weather was perfect, sunshine and just below freezing point.
The Icelandic Met office had predicted rain and wind so we were very happy that their predictions were wrong. We started the one-hour long hike by passing a long footbridge and headed for the ice caves. I was very excited about seeing them!
The hike to the ice caves is 2.5 km long (5 km back and forth) and parts of it are uphill by a canyon. That is where the harness would come in handy in bad weather.
The hike is rated as being of moderate difficulty as there are some rocky trails with elevation gain up to 160 meters, so parts of the hike are somewhat steep. We had been walking pretty briskly so at the highest point I was happy that the tour guide made a stop.
From there we had a fantastic view of the canyon and the glacier so we stopped and took photos. The tour guide gave us a geology lesson in how the glacier has developed. Fláajökull glacier is retreating - it has shrunk some 2 km in the past hundred years!
In the canyon, I could see beautiful basalt columns. I was so glad that it was sunny as the sunshine, even though it is low in the sky in January, beautifully lit up the canyon and the glacier.
When we arrived at the mouth of the ice cave we were divided into two groups. My group entered an ice cave into which we had to crawl!
I was a bit worried about crawling on all fours with a glacier on my back as I am a bit claustrophobic, but it was a breeze and we only crawled for a very short distance. The rewards were breathtaking - the blue of the ice is out of this world making this visit a true WOW-moment!
We were all acting like kids, touching the ice and taking photos left and right and asking others to take our photo! In this small ice cave was a group of very excited visitors :)
There were some beautiful ice formations and icicles in the cave. One is not supposed to touch them as they can break. And you don't want anything breaking inside an ice cave! So don't follow my example, when I hugged an ice column in the excitement of seeing my first ice cave ;)
We spent half an hour inside this beautiful cave and by now it was time to visit the other ice cave in Fláajökull.
To enter that ice cave we had to walk through a narrow crevasse and again I thought I would be claustrophobic, but it turned out to be great fun walking in this beautiful aquamarine crevasse. I felt like the glacier was hugging me. On this spot, there are some very good photo opportunities.
The ice cave we now entered was much wider and higher than the other one and it was like entering a fairytale world - with a roof of aquamarine ice and lots of beautiful ice formations and icicles hanging from the ice roof.
It was absolutely breathtaking and again the whole group was acting like kids, touching the ice, repeatedly saying WOW and taking photos left and right :)
We spent half an hour in this beautiful ice cave before we joined the other part of the group. The tour guide took a photo of each and every one of us in one corner of the cave - where the ice formation had taken the shape of a seat!
The tour guide told us that the ice cave acts like rubber and prolapses and the cave disappears after a while, so every year the glacier guides have to look for new ice caves.
It was now time to head back as the plan was to visit yet another ice cave in Breiðamerkurjökull glacier. We left the ice caves, totally satisfied with this unique experience, and headed back. The hike back seemed to be much less strenuous than the hike to the ice caves.
Good hiking shoes are required for the hike and the ice caves. Dress in layers as it will be cold by the glacier. It is necessary to wear additional windproof (waterproof) trousers, especially for the crawling and sitting on the ice, but they will also keep you warm during the hike.
I was wearing woollen tights, trousers and lined windproof trousers, which made me so padded that I was unable to bend down and tie my shoes ;) As we have to wear helmets a hood is a good idea or a thin cap. I was wearing a thick faux-fur cap and it was too big for the helmet so I had to leave it on the bus. And don't forget to bring water and snacks to keep your strength up.
The ice caves are only open for 5 months in winter time from November-March, and are not to be visited without a professional glacier guide. Our guide, Sindri, was very knowledgeable, friendly and helpful.
This is maybe the worst photo ever of me, I look like a demented troll ;)
This being nature we never know though if these caves will be formed and accessible each year. The ice cave guides go look for caves every winter and we are very excited to see the new ice caves they discover each year.
Glacier trips also operate these tours:
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Have fun - visiting the ice caves is such an amazing experience :)