Sólheimajökull directly translates as Sun Home Glacier. Luckily, on the day that I visited, it lived up to its name.
The winds from South Iceland’s coast decided to be forgiving for once, and allowed me to thrust my crampons into the rough ice with an audible crunch in each step. My eyes focussed downward as the white ice and snow was intersected by dark ash buildup and streaks that hinted at hidden crevasses.
“I’m suggesting a bit of an unorthodox journey, but it’s more technical than the regular route. Everyone OK with that?”
Our guide was a tall and fair Icelandic man with a name I can neither pronounce nor remember, I’ll admit. I could sense this “unorthodox journey” was one he suggested regularly, but it didn’t fail to amp up excitement levels in our group. Everyone wanted to be “unorthodox.”
I’d had hesitation about this venture. I’m a worrier with nerves of cotton, or water, or anything else less rigid than steel. Over the years, my love of the outdoors has been interspersed with periods of great anxiety when it comes to new areas and expeditions. The experiences always turn out well, but the fear of fear is something I cannot quite overcome. You’d never have to tell me that a glacier is not a playground. Believe me, I’ve read enough to know otherwise.
We weaved around steep slopes and moulins in the surface. Eventually, our guide used ice screws and ropes to get us down a small “hill,” and informed us that we’d arrived. We were now in a small valley, surrounded by ice and heavy aggregations of ash. To the left, a hole in the ice wall appeared. We took turns venturing inside, as the area was narrow. By some luck, I ended up with Tim in the last two, where others had gone in groups of four. So, together, we ventured into the ice.
The walls around me took the form of waves that had been smoothed over, soft blues and aquamarine. Glassy expanses that held endless weight behind them. I walked further into the cave and came to the end of the ice. Here, the intense sun shone through the ceiling, reflecting off the snow and ice, setting the scene for the gushing waters that coincided with the spring melt.
Standing a foot from an unstable flooring of surface snow, my fear had changed. This ice cave would be a transient thing. In time it would be gone, this exact place would never exist again. All the things I might miss became greater than any fear.
Out of the ice cave and back to the glacier’s edge, before no time the hike was done. We thanked our glacier guide, who demonstrated the country’s modesty in one of his closing quotes.
“We have a saying here, ‘Iceland: the best in the universe.'”
And I completely agreed.