Iceland: the Land of Fire and Ice

 

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Iceland is known for being a cold country but it has a warmer side…

As the name suggests, Iceland is definitely icy yet the country’s fiery side adds a stunning contrast that instantly warmed these travellers in this cold country.

The country itself is dotted with volcanos and the remnants of a very active volcanic past – from beautiful craters-turned-lakes to the black sand beaches that line the southern coast. And while the volcanos themselves might not be putting on much of a show right now, geothermal energy keeps the whole country warm – with hot springs, bubbling streams and spurting geysers putting on a show all year round.

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Walking through snow and steam

We got to experience the most extreme of these hot and cold contrasts with some help from Iceland Travel and Icelandic Mountain Guides who took us out of Reykjavik for the day to check out a hot river in Hengill and a walk on the gigantic Solheimajokull glacier – an experience that left us shivering (literally and figuratively)!

A 45 minute drive from Reykjavik, Hengill is a small town (like four shops small) but boasts a huge amount of natural beauty. We hiked for an hour up snowcapped mountains and past boiling mud pools to reach a steaming stream fed by a geothermal pool, making the water a beautiful 39 degrees even in the crisp spring weather.

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Warming up in Hengill’s hot springs river

After an hour or so lounging around in the hot pools – moving from hotter spots upstream to cooler patches down river – we were flushed and ready to tackle the downhill climb to take on the other extreme – the icy Solheimajokull glacier.

Located about 15 minutes drive from Skogafoss waterfall – a sight in its own right – we strapped on crampons and equipped ourselves with ice picks to take on the mammoth of ice that pales in comparison to some of the many glaciers that spread throughout Iceland.

While an easy walk, the glacier proved to be a moving beast in and of itself, literally shifting by as many as 50cms each year as the glacier slowly retreats into the country (a sad sign of global warming but also a characteristic of glaciers and the creator of many stunning hills, valleys, lakes and fjords!). We had to walk about 15 minutes to the glacier itself, yet 20 years ago, the car park had been at the very edge of the glacier – proof of just how far it has moved in such a relatively short space of time. The Extreme Ice Survey even has time-lapse cameras that show the movement of the Solheimajokull glacier – you can check them out online here.

Now in the spring weather, the glacier featured a number of crevasses we had to be careful to avoid and moulins – literally holes that form within the glacier itself. The whole glacier is decorated with lines of ash from a volcanic eruption in the 1930s, but the constant shifting of the glacier means the ash continues to be swallowed and resurfaced over the years.

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Hiking along the Sollheimajokull Glacier

On top of the glacier, we were struck by how interesting the ice was – from afar it appears to be a solid mass of ice and snow but up close it is scattered with tunnels, ridges and holes, all very fun to explore (with an experienced guide)!

Of course we couldn’t take our time on the ice too seriously – give a girl an ice pick and you can guess how the story ends…

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Greetings from the glacier!

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