Inside the Glacier
Who knew you could tunnel inside of a glacier? We would be doing exactly that on our last day in Iceland and we were super excited. Our Into the Glacier tour would be taking us on a hike inside of the Langjokull glacier, Iceland’s second largest glacier.
My cousin Lesa and I had been traveling the country for 9 days. I had driven around Ring Road and on a number of ‘is this even a road’ type of roads for over 1200 miles. We were exploring GPS free throughout the perimeter of Iceland. I felt lucky I had been able to see the incredible amount of uniquely Iceland sights along the way.
The Road to Langjokull Glacier
An e mail instructed us what time to be at the meetup location in Húsafell. From there another vehicle would bring us the 30 minutes to the Klaki base camp area.
“Why can’t we just drive all the way to the glacier? Lesa inquired. “We did all those other crazy roads in a non 4×4.”
“I’m not sure, but it said not to.” I replied, checking the map.
Once we turned off of Ring Road, the asphalt quality rapidly deteriorated. The rocky dirt road seemed to lead to the middle of nowhere and I was second guessing whether we were traveling the right direction.
After about an hour of bouncing through deep ruts and rocks, we arrived at the meetup point. I was thinking, “If the rest of the road there is rougher than that, it’s probably a good thing I’m not driving.”
Klaki Base Camp Iceland
Once our whole group was accounted for we all stepped aboard a modified glacier vehicle for the duration.
Once we arrived at Klaki, there was a small trailer with a gift shop. Portable restrooms were available. There was the option to use one of the Into the Glacier full body snowsuits and boots.
“Do you think we should put one on?” Lesa asked, watching most of the rest of our group working their way into the heavy winter gear.
“Mehh…” I shrugged. “You are always hot and I am from Chicago, I am not that concerned.”
Lesa shrugged and nodded and we piled back into the vehicle without the extra layer.
We could see the white tongue of the glacier just behind the trailer. Several people walked along the edge.
The Ex-Military Missile Launcher and 650 Feet of Ice
Once our whole group was in the vehicle we were on the way. We drove up the road and when it ended, we kept driving, right on top of the glacier.
“We try to discourage people from walking or hiking onto the tongue of the ice,” our guide announced. “There are deep rifts and unstable areas. It’s not safe.”
I looked out the window, and sure enough there were large blue and grey cracks and liquid looking areas in the ice below.
“This 20 ton Ice Explorer vehicle is a former NATO cruise missile launcher, a redesigned MAN KAT1 eight-wheel-drive truck.” Our bearded guide continued. “The truck has been specially modified for glacier driving. All of the tires can be inflated and deflated with special tubes that can be controlled from inside. Once we’re on the glacier the truck actually works more like a boat. The tires are deflated and we are floating more than driving so there is less sliding.”
I was suddenly a little bit nervous about being on top of a lot of unsteady ice in a 20 ton vehicle.
The truck suddenly seemed to melt down as if we were sinking but it glided forward. The sensation was somewhat boat-like as we seemed to drift quickly along.
The truck stopped and we were instructed to disembark and wait at the entrance.
Going Into the Glacier
There was a large hole cut into the ice. We waited until our ice team was assembled and followed the guide into the tunnel.
There was a liner on the bottom for traction and lights were along along the wall.
The group emerged into a larger room within the under-ice tunnel.
“I will be demonstrating how to put the crampons onto your shoes.” He sat and showed us how to stretch the metal studded rubber over our boots for traction.
We all grabbed a pair and went to work. I was familiar with the crampon-boot application process. After too many times of slipping crazily around my driveway while bringing out my pup, I had been using a pair during the winters back home.
Penguin Waddling Under Ice
With our metal reinforcements in place, we began down a blue glowing tunnel. We could see our breath puffing out in front of us as the cool air filled our lungs. Despite the crampons, some wet icy places required a slow penguin type waddle across to prevent sliding. We stopped in a room at the end of the tunnel.
“If you take a look at the walls in this particular spot on the ceiling you can really see the layers of the glacier.” Our hooded guide pointed towards the ceiling. “The glacier is similar to a tree in that it has rings to show its age. The rings are formed by the annual summer melt and winter freeze compacting the snow together. Geologists can drill to take ice core samples to estimate the age of a glacier.”
We stared at the rings and then moved up the next blue tunnel.
“This man made tunnel is 500 meters long. We are now standing 25 meters below the surface of the glacier and are 150 meters from the entrance. There are 200 additional meters of ice beneath us.” Our guide called back to us as we penguin walked to the next clearing. “If the entrance wasn’t cleared daily, it would snow over.”
The Ice Chapel at Into the Glacier
Lesa and I gave each-other a nervous face and we stepped into a larger room with square cut blocks of glowing white ice covered with boards to form rows of benches. A large chunk of ice was front and center. The group was instructed to find a seat and our guide took his place behind the glowing block in the front.
“This is the chapel. There have been a number weddings held in this room,” he informed us and gave us more ice tunnel information.
The walls were ringed blue, grey and white ice. I wiggled my toes to get a little circulation going as we sat. The floor was like an ice rink.
We did a waddle exit and marveled at the rings running the length of the wall.
“At the depth we are walking…the ice is about 35 years old.” I heard the guide’s voice from the front.
We waddled to several other rooms, our noses and toes feeling the cold.
Back to the Surface – Look With Your Eyes
Near the end of the tour, we unwrapped our crampons from our boots and made it up the tunnel and towards the light.
Out in the open air the guide told us we had a few minutes to explore and take pictures.
I had one of my ‘look with your eyes’ moments where you really need to just stop and breath it all in. Stop talking…stop photographing and just be in the moment.
I gazed around at the expanse of white around me in all directions. The grey and white clouds billowed against a deep blue sky. Several people explored the area further out and the snow-capped mountains rose in the distance. It was incomprehensible to think I was standing on 650 feet of frozen water. There was nothing but ice in all directions. What an incredible experience.
Floating off the Langjokull glacier
The guide wrangled us all back into the huge float/driving vehicle and we boat/drove our way back to solid ground. We could see the thin blue rivers running through the ice and deep grey rifts.
When we hit asphalt, the truck paused for a moment to reinflate the tires. We could feel the truck raise up and gain traction, driving not floating and we surged up the pitted road.
I felt exhilarated by the experience. Lesa and I headed back to Grindavik, returned our rented vehicle and took a cab to our guesthouse for the night. Our flight home was at 6 a.m. the next morning.
I was weary from the non-stop pace we had been traveling, but so overwhelmed with the unimaginable sights I had witnessed. I rarely vacation to the same place twice unless visiting family and friends …but I was already planning my return to Iceland as soon as I was able. Everything I saw was so unbelievably beautiful and there was so much more that I had yet to see.
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