When traveling in the southern part of Iceland in the winter you have the option of visiting Ice caves in the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier at the Glacier lagoon, Jökulsárlón. Ice caves are in many ways different from regular caves because they are formed under or inside glaciers by running water, and you can only visit them in the winter, because then the Ice is more stable due to the frost. With the decline of the glaciers in summer, they are constantly shifting and changing, and sometimes the ice retreats several hundred meters in one summer and the ice caves disappear. The Glacier guides must go and find the ice caves in the beginning of winter and make them accessible for their tours in the following winter. Talking about Glacier guides, I had the opportunity to visit one of the ice caves in January 2016 with two great guides, Haukur and Siggi from Glacieradventure.is. The tour started at Hali, which is a Restaurant and a Country Hotel 13 kilometers to the east of the Glacier lagoon. Haukur and Siggi gave us the necessary ice cave and glacier equipment, before getting into their truck in which we travelled for about 30 minutes before reaching the end of the track. We were visiting the Waterfall Ice Cave, which is suitable for those who want to visit a more isolated cave which is more difficult to reach.
Preparing for the Ice cave.Getting ready to walk to the Ice Cave. In the distance you can see the Glacier. Snow was covering the ground and it was around -5°C at 10:00 in the morning, just before sunrise when we got out of the truck. Siggi and Haukur explaned everything we needed to know about the gear and the upcoming tour. They told us that a few years before, the glacier had reached to where we stopped and showed us the ruble and ridges that were left behind when the glacier retreated. On a tour like this the guides decide if it is safe enough to do the tour according to weather and safety conditions, but the total duration of the tour is 3,5 - 4 hours.
The walk to the ice cave can take 35-45 minutes in the pure and rough nature on gravel, snow and glacier, and it can get really cold in frost like that when the wind is blowing of the glacier.
Haukur showing the way to the Ice cave.The blue ice cap of the glacier is in front of us. Going down to the Ice cave.A security line was attached to the rocks which we followed.
As we got closer to the glacier itself and started climbing up the slope where the glacier met the mountain the ice cap was on our left and the mountain on our right. The guides stopped and told us to walk in one line and follow the footsteps of Siggi, who was in the front. They pointed out the cracks in the ice, partly covered with snow, which can be very dangerous and difficult to see. These crevices can be several meters deep and should not be approached. The group was 8 people with two guides and we reached the other end of this track safely. Standing on the edge of the glacier we had to walk down a gully down to the Ice cave, and we had a security rope bolted to the cliffs on the right, as we eased our way down.
We reached the bottom of the gully and way down there we could see the entrance to the Ice cave. Following the small river which we crossed over a timber bridge that the guides built before the season started. Some more climbing was required before reaching the cave itself with the help of ropes and stares. Siggi and Haukur were really helpful these final steps and assisted those who needed or were unsecure.
Safety first.Walking down into the gully with a safety line attached to us. As we were inside the cave it took us a few minutes to adjust our eye sight to the darkness and the blue colors started to appear in the ice roof above us. The cave is not very big and everybody had a camera with a tripod which makes it more difficult to find the best position to photograph. The river is also running through the ice cave in a few waterfalls and disappearing under the ice wall at the bottom. The light was magical, as the daylight shone through the ice roof and into the cave. At the end there was an opening up through the ceiling where the daylight was flowing in. I had my Sony A7R2 camera with a Canon 16-35mm f/4 lens and a tripod. This was perfect for some long exposures with the waterfall and the river and I also did some bracketing to get the most out of this short period of time we stopped in the cave.
Ice cave- photographyA group of photographers were working their way around the Ice cave.
Bottom of the Ice cave.The opening through the ceiling of the ice cave. A view from the top of the Ice cave.Standing on the rocks near the entrance looking down to the bottom of the ice cave.
Ice cave.I was one of the last persons out of the cave, which gave me this unobstructed view.
This was an experience to remember, being under the ice cap of Europe's largest glacier, Vatnajökull, witnessing the power of nature in this frozen world. It is difficult to imagine that the glaciers are constantly moving under their own weight, scraping and breaking down the rocks underneath it, like it is actually floating but not.
We spent approximately 1 hour inside the cave, but in my mind it was more like 10 minutes because of all the beauty and colors you were taking in while staying there. This tour offers great photo opportunities and an unforgettable experience, but the level of difficulty is medium/hard and should not be done if you are not in good physical health. You need to bring good hiking shoes and warm clothes and of course your camera and tripod.
Sunset over the glacier.Heading back from the ice cave as the sun was about to go down.
There are a few things you need to keep in mind if you are going on an ice cave tour.