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EXPLORATIONS – A Lindblad Expeditions Blog

Iceland Recon

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.

Iceland Recon: Heli-Hiking The Land of Fire & Ice

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. Follow along to see behind-the-scenes of expedition planning over the next couple days.

Photo by Dagny Ivarsdottir.

By Alizé Carrère

Every now and again, you come across adventure travel experiences that are so spectacular that not even bad weather, cranky company, or a glitch in planning could ruin. The landscape itself simply delivers—every single time. As a company, Lindblad Expeditions has always sought out these types of geographies and experiences for our guests, and today on day three of our Iceland recon, Dagny and I discovered one of the latest and greatest.

Photo by Alizé Carrère.

In case you haven’t read the previous posts, we’re here planning a new 3-day/2-night Iceland heli-hiking extension for summer 2018. This will be a truly adventurous and active way of exploring the island, including one full day of heli-hiking around southwestern Iceland. To do this, we’ve teamed up with Nordurflug Tours, Iceland’s premier helicopter company. Today, Dagny and I set out via helicopter to check out the places where we will be dropping in for hiking, and to get a sense of how this exciting day will play out. The two hikes we did covered landscapes and terrain that I can only describe as otherworldly. Because they were each so different and so spectacular, I will dedicate this post to the morning hike in the Kerlingarfjöll mountains, and tomorrow’s post to the afternoon hike on a glacier.

Photo by Alizé Carrère.

After departing Reykjavik by helicopter, we made our way toward Kerlingarfjöll, a mountainous geothermal area in the (almost) center of Iceland. The flight took around 40 minutes, which afforded us extraordinary aerial views en route. We flew over waterfalls, braided riverbeds and deltas, hardened lava flows, and the stunning Langjökull glacier (which guests will have visited the day prior during the Into the Glacier excursion). We landed on a remote hill in the heart of the Kerlingarfjöll mountains, amidst steaming geothermal vents, melting ice packs, and twisting rivers. The area is characterized by extensive geothermal activity, which has eroded much of the rhyolite rock and given way to hot spring clay. We felt this immediately as we got out of the helicopter and began our hike—a light, spongy feeling under foot.

Photo by Dagny Ivarsdottir.

With our guide leading the way, we started to hike down the hill towards the river, which we would follow for the next 45 minutes. It is important to have waterproof hiking boots, as you will get your feet wet walking along the shallow waterbed! This was an incredible part of the hike. We then cut upwards toward one of the nearby hills to get higher above the stream. Once up there, our views turned into what started to look like another planet. Beautiful colors surrounded each geothermal vent as steam blew across the mountain tops, and we looked down at the river bed we just walked along. We kept making our way up until we reached one of the flattened peaks where our helicopter and pilot was waiting for us. After about 2.5 hours of hiking in this area, it was time to fly to a lunch spot where we would unpack a delicious picnic and enjoy a meal in nature.

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Iceland Recon: Waterfalls & Trolls

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. Follow along to see behind-the-scenes of expedition planning over the next few days.

Gulfoss Waterfall. Photo by Dagny Ivarsdottir.

By Alizé Carrère

In addition to creating brand new itineraries and traveler experiences, a recon trip can mean taking a fresh look at what you currently offer. Lindblad has had a long presence in Iceland, and has therefore been witness to the rapid changes the country has experienced in the tourism sector over the last decade. Dagny and I spent the day visiting the most frequented sites in western Iceland to better understand what those experiences are like for today’s travelers, while also checking out some new places that haven’t yet made their way onto the pages of Iceland’s popular guidebooks.

Troll Waterfall Trail. Photo by Dagny Ivarsdottir.

We departed Hotel Husafell after spending two wonderful nights in the valley. We started by visiting the Golden Circle, stopping first at Thingvellir National Park, then Geysir Geothermal area, and ending at the impressive Gulfoss waterfall. This route is one of Iceland’s most popular, which was clearly felt as we made our way through lines and large crowds at each destination. After completing the circuit, we decided to see what other types of experiences we could find in the area. One of the places we happened upon was a lovely restaurant perched on “troll waterfall”, which offered a delightful family-run dining experience overlooking a lush river and small waterfall. Surrounded by hiking trails, we found this to be a true gem that offered a blend of Icelandic folklore, verdant trails, charming camping pods, and local cuisine. We then made a stop at a small geothermal spring where we found a stand of fresh vegetables grown in nearby geothermal-powered greenhouses. We ended our day by checking out another possible geothermal spring and lunch destination, although it quickly became clear that the first two places were better suited to the Lindblad style and tempo.

A troll face in rock waterfall. Photo by Dagny Ivarsdottir.

Tomorrow we have an early departure for what is undoubtedly the centerpiece of the extension we’re planning: heli-hiking! Dagny and I are very excited to see what kinds of trails we can drop into, including hiking on a glacier. So far we are extremely pleased with what we’ve been able to find for this new extension in Iceland, and look forward to sharing more with you as we continue our recon over the next couple of days.

Along the troll waterfall trail. Photo by Dagny Ivarsdottir.

Iceland Recon: Caving & Glacier Hiking

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. Follow along to see behind-the-scenes of expedition planning over the next few days. 

By Alizé Carrère

Iceland, land of fire and ice. While this country has seen a recent surge in tourism, there are still many places where you can travel off the beaten path and experience the interior of the country as its residents do. One of those places is Husafell, where we will be taking guests in 2018 for a new post-voyage extension involving heli-hiking, lava caves, and ice tunnels. Sound adventurous? It most certainly is, and I’ll be here for the next week scoping out all of the details with Iceland guide and Lindblad Naturalist Dagny Ivarsdottir.

Hotel Husafell

Husafell, located two hours northeast of Reykjavik, has long been known as a favorite summer camping spot for Icelanders—and for good reason. It is right on the edge of the highlands, tucked alongside glaciers, lush green valleys, and dotted with hot springs. In summer 2018, we are a planning a 3-day/2-night adventure in the region, with our base camp at the newly finished Hotel Husafell. Hotel Husafell is the first 4-star countryside hotel built specifically for the intrepid traveler who also happens to enjoy a glass of fine wine by a cozy fireplace, or a dinner of fresh lamb while overlooking snow-capped peaks.

Víðgelmir Cave

Today was the first day of our recon, and we visited two places that will surely become a part of this program. Our first stop was to Iceland’s largest lava tube (by volume), just 20 minutes from the hotel. After putting on our hard hats, we were guided into the depths of the tunnel, and learned about the fascinating geologic phenomena that allowed for such an incredible structure to form. Walking along the cave floor where hot lava and gases once flowed, we marveled at the ice stalagmites, ribbed tunnel ceiling, and columnar basalt. After a quick picnic lunch, we made our way to the bottom of nearby Langjokull glacier, Iceland’s (and Europe’s) second largest glacier. Our destination was 25 meters down inside the glacier, by way of a man-made ice tunnel. Constructed by a team of geologists and glaciologists, this was a true adventure that can now be enjoyed by curious travelers. It began with a 30-minute ride over the glacier in a large ice-jeep to reach the opening of the tunnel. Once there, we strapped our crampons over our boots and followed our guide through LED-lighted tunnels carved deep into the interior. Over the next hour we saw features of glaciers one is not accustomed to seeing by simply walking on top: chasms, the deep “blue ice,” and glacier strata rings that reveal the country’s long history of volcanic eruptions.

Ice tunnel trek

To cap off the day, Dagny and I made our way back to Hotel Husafell for a pre-dinner dip in the property’s geothermal pools—as the Icelanders do.

Hotel Geothermal Pools