When we booked our Iceland honeymoon, Discover the World sent through a booklet of excursions available in the West and South of the country. In typical Icelandic fashion, they were not cheap (we are talking about £60 for an hour on an Icelandic horse), so we really had to choose carefully to ensure we didn’t further bankrupt ourselves.
We were both seeing this holiday as a once in a lifetime trip (y’know, what with it being our honeymoon and all…) so we really wanted to do anything and everything available. However, we ended up settling on two organised excursions – Into the Glacier from our first hotel, Hotel Húsafell, and snorkelling the Silfra Fissure at Thingvellir National Park on our way down to our second hotel, Hotel Ranga, in the South.
The time of year we were there meant that the sun wasn’t properly up until about 10am, so we booked onto the midday group for the Into the Glacier excursion and had a lazy morning. Luckily for us, the pick up point for the trip was literally next door to our hotel, Hotel Húsafell, but for those who want or need to drive there from further afield, it’s a pretty big car park and there is loads of space to park. Like most things in Iceland, it’s relatively easy to find too; just follow the 1 up from Reykjavík then the 518 to Húsafell, and it’ll be on the left after you’ve gone over the narrow bridge.
The trip involved an hour-long drive up to Langjökull Glacier, which is the second-largest icecap in Iceland measuring 953km², in the biggest truck we had ever seen. The guide accompanying us informed us that they had acquired the 8×8 from the military in Germany, then shipped it to the UK to have the cabin built on top. They had to sign a bunch of official papers to declare that they wouldn’t ever sell the vehicle to any military power, as the base is a missile launcher!
How many people outside of the army can say they’ve ridden in one of those?
In summer, you can drive all the way up to Klaki basecamp, where there are facilities and a small cafe. The 8x8s will then pick you up from there and drive you onto the glacier. Simply drive on past the car park and there will be a signposted fork right. It is a dirt track though, so be mindful of the type of car you have.
We had been driving for about 45 minutes through the snowy, mountainous terrain before there was a deep grinding sound and the truck stopped in its tracks. No one was alarmed until the guide, AJ, got up and went outside to talk to the driver, Ragga. He came back in shortly afterwards to inform us that, unfortunately, the truck had broken down.
Thankfully however we were in sight of the closed down base camp building, so we just walked there and waited for rescue. The guide was great, and shortly afterwards got the heating working and more guides from Into the Glacier arrived in a 4×4. They gave us free biscuits and worked to get the stove on to make hot drinks, so spirits were good.
Sam’s review of the facilities was less positive however, likening them to the nastier choice of toilet we experienced at Glastonbury.
In total we were delayed by about 40 minutes before another company’s truck, Mountaineers of Iceland, came to save us, by which point we had helped ourselves to lots of biscuits (we are never ones to pass up free food, even more so in expensive Iceland) and taken lots of photos of the snowy landscape and bright blue skies. Another 15 minutes of driving took us to the entrance of the glacier tunnels, which was a corrugated plastic tube sunk into the ground that needed to be dug out with a shovel constantly.
Construction on the tunnel began in 2010, and according to the original design it was supposed to be a perfect circle. Two teams of local farmers split off from the entrance tunnel to excavate the glacier; one team going left and one team going right. However, the perfect circle never came into fruition.
The teams were told to drill until they met each other at the end, but at one point the team drilling on the left thought they could hear the sound of drills not much further beyond the icy walls, but they were not in the direction they were drilling. They changed direction, and started drilling again, only to hear the drills coming from another direction again. They drilled in three different directions before finally realising that the drills they could hear were their own, echoing off the ice.
As a result, the finished tunnel ended up being more of a heart shape, and it was opened in 2015.
Langjökull Glacier is a temperate glacier, which means that it is basically at melting point all year round. Inside, it is usually anywhere between -2 and 0 degrees Celsius and there are lots of pools and drips to watch out for. You are provided with crampons, but make sure you wear all the thermals as it is still bloody freezing, and you can slip or trip over.
When we left the tunnel, we were immediately plunged into what can only be described as a white-out; gone were the sweeping vistas of the mountain range, replaced instead by endless white and lots and lots of snow. It was basically impossible to tell what was land and what was sky. We hurried back to the waiting truck, and in what felt like no time at all we were pulling into Húsafell car park.
What has gone wrong on your travels? Let us know!