Vatnajokull Glacier, Iceland

After a cozy slumber in our Iceland hotel, we woke early to get on the road to the excursions planned for the day – hiking into a glacier cave and then a winter visit of Iceland’s Black Diamond Beach. We were able to keep our window slightly open all night and could hear the wind and sounds of Iceland outside all evening. It was one of the pleasant, enjoyable sleeps where you wake up, listen for a moment, reposition and doze back to sleep. Similar to traveling in Europe, very few places can accommodate five in a room, so this evening we also got to enjoy some time apart while the girls had a room of their own. Breakfast was provided in our hotel and then we loaded up in the van with our new friends and set off in the dark for the caves.

Once again, due to the limited hours of sunlight in the winter, our guide arranged our day to make the most of the sunlight. He planned to time our arrival to the Glacier before other tours arrived. This would allow our group more time to enjoy the magic of the hike into the caves and then experience the caves more privately.

Below are some Google images to orient you where exactly we are at this point and appreciate the size of the glacier we visited. This glacier, which is one of the largest in Iceland, is retreating and melting at an alarming rate to the Icelandic people (and should be to us as well.) I have circled the glacier in red and then zoomed the image in several times. I wrote in white the destinations of the locations on the final image to allow you to see the flow of the areas we visited that day.

To enter the glacier cave area required a pretty intense 20 minute drive in a sturdy, tall, Monster truck Hummer-like truck through many hills/rocky areas. Once at the base of the glacier, it required a hike through a rocky/hilly area where the glacier had been at one point in time. As the ice retreated, it left a wake of rough terrain.

At certain points in our tour, I questioned the irony of us touring a melting glacier in a Hummer. While that sounds and feels antithetical, I also understand how the impact of actually seeing and immersing oneself in nature fosters a closer relationship and love with the environment and thus a deeper desire to protect it from harm. But, in a Hummer? Hmmm…

We parked in a make-shift parking lot and met our ice cave guide for the day. The best way I can describe him was a tall, strong, proud Icelandic Viking. He was informative and eager to share his country with us. He wore one of those wool, well loved Icelandic sweaters with hiking pants/boots and a warm hat. His accent was divine and I stayed right behind him the entire hike in as to not make a misstep. Walking in the glacier’s wake was literally like walking on the surface of the moon! This would not be a hike for anyone with physical limitations or disabilities.

Listen to our Icelandic Glacier as we enter the glacier! And, note that is the MOON in video!

At one point, our guide stopped and pointed out to us where the edge of this glacier sat just ten years ago – it was stunning the amount of melting that has occurred. You could SEE it. Quinn asked, “what can we do about this?” He shared that in Iceland they have done all they can to help slow the melting of the glaciers and added “it is not us, we are not polluting the atmosphere, we listen to our scientists, it is frustrating.” He continued to share that while the glaciers normally do go through melting cycles they have never seen it this accelerated and the winters usually can create enough precipitation to replace what is melted but that is no longer the case.

Although Quinn was so excited to have to hike in area that would require wearing crampons (spikey boots to hike on ice) we were able to traverse the hike without them. Upon arrival, the sun still had not skimmed the surface and we were able to walk in this wide open glacier bed completely with only light from the moon – pure magic. As we hiked you could begin to see the glimmer and shine of the glacier and it was one of those moments where words fail to convey, so I will share some images below. Remember ~ what you are seeing is the MOON in these images~

When we got to the entrance of the glacier cave, we were overwhelmed by its size, shape, thickness and expansiveness! As we were preparing to enter the cave, the sun started to rise and added such a dazzling addition of light to the experience. Once inside the cave, we all were like kids again exploring and taking in all the physical properties of that much ice. Once you acclimate to the inside of the cave you are delighted by the hues of blue!! Tropical, vibrant blues and whites. And, if you look closely in some of the images you can see trapped volcanic ash from over 1000’s of years ago in the ice. So much geological history right in front of our faces.

FUN FACT: Iceland IS an active volcanic island! Around 18-20 million years ago, Iceland popped its head above water during a period of major volcanic eruptions. 18-20 million years ago – wrap your brain around that fun fact.

After our time in glacier ended, we hiked back to our monster truck to return to our van. There were no places to use restrooms out in the middle of nowhere so the females were starting to be very aware of a need of restrooms while our male counterparts were able to handle business behind rocks.

Our group reconvened and got on in our van and we started a short drive over to The Black Diamond Beach, but something very exciting had us pull over on the side of the road first! A herd of wild Reindeer!! On Christmas Eve, ya’ll!! They were so much bigger than I thought they would be and Kayah got some amazing video of them prancing and running across the road!

Santa’s Reindeer!

Before arriving at Black Diamond Beach we stopped at the Jokulsarion Lagoon to use the restrooms, have a snack from a food truck, warm up with some hot cocoa and spend some time taking in the sites of the lagoon. Jokulsarion (meaning glacial river lagoon) is full of huge chunks of ice that have broken away from the glacier and began their journey towards the Atlantic Ocean. In contrast to the insane currents on Black Diamond Beach (just outside the lagoon) the water in the lagoon is so still. We were delighted to see some seals at this time, too!

FUN FACT: Many of the Iceland’s volcanoes are under glaciers and therefore when they erupt they are referred to as subglacial eruptions and very often create massive glacial flooding also known as jokulhlaup.

This was by far the coldest day of our trip with some gusty winds at times. From what we have heard about the unpredictable and mighty winds in Iceland we were grateful for our cooperative weather.

Our final stop in this portion of our day was Black Diamond Beach. The sands, black from ground volcanic ash serve as a stunning contrast to the big chunks of ice that have washed on shore and were shimmering and glittering as the setting sun, acting as an expert lapidarist, illuminated them brilliantly! Never in my life have I witnessed such wild, chaotic rough currents! The tumultuous water assists in the breaking up of the icebergs as the exit the lagoon and depositing pieces ice chunks scattered on the beach.

ROCKONLIVING TIP: VEGAN FRIENDLY COUNTRY ALERT! We were shocked at the number of vegan options everywhere in Iceland (and Netherlands) on this trip. At the food truck in the middle of nowhere, they had a Vegan Chili dog and it was delicious!

On our drive back to Reykjavik we stopped to see some wild Icelandic horses and cool little church at dusk. I cannot recall all the information our guide shared, but if you are into horses, Iceland’s history with horses is an interesting one to check out!

FUN FACT: Icelandic horses are the only breed in the world that can perform five gaits, where other breeds usually can perform three or four. Icelandic laws prohibit horses being imported into their country and once exported, animals are not allowed to return.

As we got closer to the capital city, our driver got excited as he thought we might catch some Northern Lights! Everyone got so excited and we quickly grabbed our cameras and stood in a dark parking lot as he in-serviced us all on seeing how they begin. It took a moment, but we thought we were starting to see what he was describing. They begin as almost fuzzy white looking clouds on the horizon and as you watch them, he said it could take hours and if you are really lucky they will take shape and lift and do their thing!

A trip to Iceland does not guarantee viewing the Northern Lights. As a matter of fact, everyone and everybody prepared us to make peace with the fact it is more likely you will NOT see the lights than see them. After an hour or so in the parking lot, looking at fuzzy white light on the horizon, he felt it was going to be a few more hours if they were to “lift and take shape” so we moved on. We were grateful for his guidance at seeing the beginnings of the lights as our plans for the next day would be our travels to another Airbnb, booked in the middle of nowhere, with all glass windows facing North to hopefully see them. We would arrive for Christmas Eve and spend the holidays in that home.

After many of our new friends were dropped off at their various lodgings, we were returned to the mammoth cathedral in Rejkavik and much to my delight the Church was open. We were able to enter and sit inside and take in its beauty and music – lit only with candles. On our way out, Quinn and I lit a few in memory of loved ones and placed them in a huge metal structures. Such a beautiful moment of loud silent reverence.

We walked back to our Airbnb, had dinner at our house and then went to bed – excited for tomorrow – Christmas Eve- in the most magical sparkly Christmas country ever!

Until then, rockonLIVING friends! xxoo