Back from Iceland for 3th time, today i talk about where are ice caves in Iceland, if it’s dangerous to visit them, and companies which organize ice cave tours.
My article is based on my experience and what I have found on internet.
Entering inside an ice cave for the first time is a scaring experience. I heared the ice on top of my head crackling and it looked like everything was almost collapsing upon my head
Ice caves for me are a very recommended destination if one is planning to visit Iceland in winter
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DISCLAIMER: the present article has been realized in pure amateur form with a mere recreational, personal, non profit intention. Therefore, the author cannot guarantee in any case the absence of errors or the freshness of the informations reported. For this reason he strictly invites any reader to also search for more informations about the same arguments inside other external sources, and to report any eventual mistake to the author through the Contact page on this website. In any case the author will not be responsible for any action committed by anyone following the reading of the informations reported inside this article
BEWARE: ICE CAVES ARE A DANGEROUS THING
Dear reader, this article is ONLY the result of my personal opinion and my experience in Iceland
It wants only to be my story, and I can’t guarantee that it’s free of errors or enough updated, and I strictly invite you to check other websites too for a more redundant information
I can’t be considered responsible for your choices.Visiting an ice cave alone is very dangerous, and a guided tour is very important
WHAT ARE GLACIER ICE CAVES AND HOW THEY FORM
There are a couple of characteristics which catched my attention, and that i believe make Iceland full of ice caves.
This country presents many glaciers situated on top of mountains, under which there are some active volcanos emitting hot vapours and hot streams of water (and sometimes even lava). In turn, the water flows down toward the sea level, by excavating the material it finds along its course.
I believe that the hot water, while flowing down, excavates both the ice and the black sand, by forming natural galleries, the ice caves. In turn these galleries probably are continuously modelled by the action of the wind and the rain, and their blue colour is the consequence of the high compression of the ice, caused by the heavy weight of the glacier itself which eliminates the air bubbles, producing a darker and more intense ice colour like that of the deep water of the sea
This map shows how many volcanos are present in Iceland (triangles):
To figure out how an ice cave forms, i though about how an arch is built ( picture below). I put a solid mass on the ground, then I start adding all the bricks that will form the arch. When i finish i remove the material from beneath the bricks and I will get my arch. I believe something similar happens with the ice caves
NOTE: every year i heard that ice caves collapse and form again in a different position. So It seems hard to find the same ice cave after a long period of time in the same place
BEST PERIOD TO VISIT GLACIER ICE CAVES
Based on the average period of organized tours dates, the safest period seems to go from late November to the beginning of March. Outside this range, the warmer temperature can increase the chances of collapsing
WHERE ICE CAVES ARE SITUATED
Following i’m listing some places where i know there are some ice caves.
As said they are situated at the bottom of the ice tongues of the main glaciers of Iceland. In particular there are four interesting glaciers
EYJAFJALLAJOKULL: (close to Myrdasjokull, on its left) this is the glacier cap which lies on top of the volcano Eyjafjoll, popular for its massive eruption in 2010. It presents many different ice tongues where ice caves can be found, although only those facing north seems accessible (not sure about it)
In particular there are two tongues on the north side with a discrete chance to find an ice cave which are called respectively Gigjokull and Steinsholtjokull.
How to get to Gigjokull and Steinsholtjokull (river crossings): I would only get there with an expert driver and eventually a guided tour and 2 jeeps in tandem. The place is full of river crossings, and the road is unpaved. The exact road to follow is the F-road number 249 which can be taken from the Ring road (Route 1), the same one used to reach the Sejlalandsfoss waterfalls. I would proceed forward for some miles until I reach the two tongues on the right.
NOTE: the F-road 249 has been hugely impacted by the eruption of 2010, and the great water flooding caused by the volcano eruption has created harsh road conditions which still persist at this time (in particular it presents many river crossings). I always check the official website of Iceland roads to stay updated with the accessibility of roads in general
MYRDALSJOKULL: This is the glacier cap immediately next to Eyjafjallajokull on top of the Katla volcano. It is composed by 2 interesting tongues where glacier caves can be found, and this is also the place where I have been able to find one for myself, although it must be said, it has been dangerous and probably i would never do it again, except with a local guided tour.
I must admit that it was stupid to get there alone
Solheimajokull: This tongue is situated south west of Myrdalsjokull glacier cap, and it is easy to reach. There is a comfortable car park from which I proceeded on foot until the very beginning of the tongue, after which I needed professional equipment like crampons to proceed. By coming here with a guided tour it is possible to both find ice caves or to have a walk over the glacier tongue
How to get to Solheimajokull (no river crossings): To get there after passing the Skogafoss waterfall by following Vik direction, I found a sign along the road indicating to turn left toward F-road 221. The road proceeded for a couple of miles over unpaved ground (without river crossings) until i reached a car park
Kotlujokull (river crossings): This tongue is situated south east of Myrdalsjokull glacier cap and i don’t know very much about it, except that from the satellite view, the road seems to be complicated. Again, i believe this is a place to visit only with a guided tour.
One of my friends visited this place with a private company
This is his website to see the pictures from his trip: Ian Spagnolo Ice Caves Photos
ÖRAEFAJÖKULL: this glacier cap represents the southern west end of the hugest glacier cap of Europe, known as Vatnajokull
Vatnajokull is very popular for its size and for presenting many places to find an ice cave. It includes tons of volcanos like Bardarbunga, came under reflectors for its eruption in summer 2014. Oraefajokull itself is both a glacier cap and an active volcano, considered the tallest one of entire Iceland.
This glacier in particular presents four points of interests, or more exactly, four ice tongues where i think ice caves could be found.
Following is a description of them
SKAFTAFELL : this is probably one of the most recognized place to search for ice caves and one of the most visited as it presents a visitor centre and many different companies organizing guided tours for both ice caves and glacier walk
How to get to Skaftafell (no river crossings): i only needed to follow the Route 1, or Ring road, heading from Vik toward Hofn, by turning left when I found the road sign indicating the visitor centre and the car park (check the map below)
SVINAFELLSJOKULL (no river crossings): This is the second glacier tongue of interest on the Oraefajokull glacier, and it is situated just some miles south of Skaftafell. Quite similar in size, although without a visitor centre
How to get to Svinafellsjokull: just follow Route 1, or Ring road, from Vik toward Hofn, by turning left at the sign (check the map below). I didn’t visit this place, but from the satellite it seems like it has different points of entrance. One is north and presents a panoramic view, while the other one looks more like a trekking path beginning form the Freysnes area (not sure about it anyway)
Anyway, as always, guided tours will easily take people there with jeeps and the right equipment, so no need to worry too much
FJALLSJOKULL: this is the tongue very close to Jokulsarlon lagoon. It passes along a minor iceberg lagoon called Fjallsarlon, which is considered somewhat a specular version of Jokulsarlon, the latter more popular
How to get to Fjallsjokull (river crossings): i don’t have enough information about it, anyway as a reference, when I come from Vik, it seems i should turn left before the river which separates me from the left turn to the the Fjallsarlon lagoon. Again, it looks like a place to reach with a guided tour
LANGJOKULL: this is the glacier situated north of Gullfoss waterfalls. In particular it presents a glacier tongue called Eystri-Hagafellsjokull. From the satellite it seems to present river crossings. After arriving there should be a little lagoon called Hagavatn with a small waterfall called Leynifoss. From there i suppose it should be possible to reach on foot the basement of the glacier tongue by walking on the right of the Hagavatn lagoon
How to get to Eystri-Hagafellsjokull (river crossings): guided tour, period. Isolated place, more than the others. I don’t like the idea of visiting this place for any reason
The artificial Ice Cave of Langjokull (only private tours): Despite the glacier tongue, it’s interesting to know that this place has recently come under reflectors thanks to some companies which have decided to build and open to public (at present time planned for 2015) an artificial ice cave which includes a chapel to allow people to get married….weird isn’t it?
The official website of this artificial ice cave project is ICE CAVE PROJECT
Lastly, at this link it is possible to book a tour when the ice cave will be opened to public: EXTREME ICELAND TOURS
HOW TO VISIT A GLACIER ICE CAVE:
I believe that booking a tour is the only option. Going alone appears to be dangerous. I made it for myself with some light crampons the first time and everything went fine. However, once back, while writing this article, a tour company informed me about the risks of accidental death, inviting me next time to book a tour, reason why i can’t suggest for any reason to get there alone.
Here are a couple of websites i found where it is possible to book a tour:
EXTREME ICELAND: these guys are organizing tours for visiting the artificial ice cave of Langjokull. Furthermore they have a good availability of ice caves tours as well. Extreme Iceland is very popular, and maybe the widest tour company of Iceland, so it’s surely reliable
LOCAL GUIDE: good, old and reliable company. They work around the area of Vatnajokull, although i have heard from a friend that he has been taken to Myrdalsjokull too. They used to have a different website url since some months ago.
MOUNTAIN GUIDE: this one has been recommended by a friend of mine who visited an ice cave in Myrdalsjokull with them. It looks reliable
WHY GOING ALONE IS DANGEROUS
Driving 4×4 vehicles is difficult: Iceland is full of unpaved roads (F-Roads) with river crossings, especially those used to reach the glaciers. As per Icelandic Administration Office, it is obligatory to rent a 4×4 vehicle and sometimes vehicles can get stucked inside a river. I saw some accident videos on youtube and they were really scary
No 3G mobile signal guaranteed: The 3G mobile connection in Iceland is extremely efficient. Sometimes we were very distant from centres and my mobile was still working. By the way, noone can guarantee that the signal will be good in the area of ice caves. So, if something goes wrong, calling authorities can become impossible. Following it is possible to check the official SIMINN mobile operator map to see the extension of the 3G/4G coverage in Iceland
Risk of collapsing: i personally think that in the very cold season (from december to february), the risk of collapse is very low and if someone enters inside is not to stay there for hours, but just the time for a couple of pictures. However, don’t know why but a tour company told me that some ice caves are unstable, and that they could collapse at any moment even during the cold season. So, since i’m not so much experienced, i don’t want to contradict this company, and although i clearly perceive a “conflict of interests” in its words since it sells ice caves tours, i personally still prefer to trust it and listen to its words.
Weather changes: going there with a nice weather, moderated wind, clear sky and enough light hours is the minimum i planned to do when i did it. However, the weather in Iceland changes continuously and make a good plan could be not enough. Not talking about risks of eartquakes and volcano eruptions. By the way, apart from the ice caves, one of the best website to gather weathercast informations is the Vedur, the official weathercast office of Iceland
Good equipment needed: I must say, in March with a light snow and ice, I was able to easily walk over the less inclined areas of the glacier by using a couple of mini crampons while feeling very stable. However, the tour company which contacted me after reading my article, suggested me not to do it again, since it is still dangerous, especially if the ice is stronger. As i said, i have decided to trust this company and follow its indications, and next time i will book a tour as well
Below I have put a picture of our short walk. The ice cave we found was there on the left
NOTE: the picture is not an invitation to go there alone. I have put my life at risk by getting there for myself, and next time i will personally book a guided tour
HOW I PREPARED MY PHOTOGRAPHY EQUIPMENT:
Shooting inside an ice cave in my opinion requires the following things:
Bring a Tripod: light can be low, and rising the ISO can increase the noise level. For this reason a tripod can help.
Use a wide angle lens: since ice caves are small places, I think a wide angle lens can be useful. For Canon APS-C or Nikon DX cameras the least focal lenght i recommend is 18mm (28mm on full frame). Of course a shorter focal lenght is highly recommended, like a 16mm or even a 10mm
Towel and transparent bags: from my experience, from the roof of the caves, drops of water seem to continuously fall down. It is useful so to have a towel to dry the lens glass (otherwise the picture will be blurred), or a transparent bag to protect the body of both lens and camera (like the Cuki Gelo bags). I even made some holes around buttons with the scissors to improve the comfort
Mount the lens hood: as a further protection from drops to keep the lens clean and dry, I also mounted the lens hood
Please, stay safe and ensure to book a tour. You are the only one responsible for your decisions and your life.
Thanks for reading!
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