Lindblad Expeditions / National Geographic
EXPLORATIONS – A Lindblad Expeditions Blog

Iceland Recon: Heli-Hiking Glaciers

Alizé Carrère and Dagny Ivarsdottir are currently in Iceland on reconnaissance for a new 3-day extension into the country’s interior that will begin operating in 2018. This is a behind-the-scenes look at expedition planning.

A 20-minute flight takes us from a geothermally heated mountainside to a glacier. Photo by Dagny Ivarsdottir.

By Alizé Carrère

While seeing glaciers is one thing, having the chance to walk across one is something else altogether. As a part of our day heli-hiking, the afternoon hike will be spent at an undisclosed location on Myrdalsjokull glacier. It is a very special spot that we will have entirely to ourselves, as not many people know about it.

Photo by Alizé Carrère.

After we finished our picnic lunches, we got back in the helicopter and flew over Fjallabak mountain range, which is one of the most scenic areas for multi day hiking in Iceland. The flight was around 20 minutes and we flew over more waterfalls, beautiful mountain ranges, and approached yet another spectacular Icelandic glacier.

Photo by Alizé Carrère

Our pilot landed us right on one of the rugged glacier tongues, turned off the blades and gave us some time to get our crampons and harnesses in place. I was struck by the surface of the glacier, as much of the snow cover had melted revealing the striated ice and various moulins and crevasses. The helicopter dropped us off in an area so that we could hike up to an ice fall. As we started, we heard an incredible crash ahead (although it was too foggy at that moment to have any good visibility), which was a large piece of ice coming down the fall. The sound was so imposing that we nearly felt it vibrate through our bodies! Of course this is nothing to be worried about, as the pieces of ice coming down don’t travel long distances beyond the fall itself. We continued walking toward the ice fall and finally the fog lifted to give us an extraordinary look at this feature. After taking many photos we slowly started making our way back down, with our guide stopping along the way to point out different geologic formations.

Photo by Dagny Ivarsdottir.

Photo by Alizé Carrère.

What’s wonderful about this hike as compared to the morning hike is the sheer contrast of environments. In just a short 20 minute flight, you can go from hot, geothermally active clay-like soils to centuries-old ice masses. The glacier hike in the afternoon will be shorter than the morning hike (and less rigorous), in part due to the fact that you can’t move as quickly with the crampons, but also because you end up frequently stopping to appreciate the amazing feature underfoot. The surface is constantly changing, and as you crunch along it you can’t help but put your ice axe in the water pockets, touch piles of wet, volcanic ash, and take in your surroundings. Just over one of the lateral moraines was a beautiful waterfall, and once the fog lifted we could see all the way down the glacier tongue to where it gave way to fresh soil.

Photo by Alizé Carrère.

We made our way back to the landing spot, but our pilot had moved the helicopter down some ways so that he could be out of the fog. Our guide called him on the radio and we kneeled down on the ice as we watched him fly in and gracefully maneuver the helicopter to land just a few feet from where we waiting. We quickly piled in and took off as quickly as he landed, making our way back towards Reykjavík.