Here’s a look at our first two days in Iceland:
When planning our trip, we knew we wanted to get up close and personal to the glaciers. It wasn’t until we started looking at some of the tour options that we realized not only could we hike on the glaciers itself, but we could climb an ice wall! Through Arctic Adventures, we were able to experience one of the most amazing activities you could do in Iceland.
Unlike the sunny day before, we were hit with a misty, lightly raining day, but that actually fit the mood of the activity we were about to partake on. The small and intimate van picked us up bright and early from our studio before stopping to pick up the rest of the group. Besides the three tour guides that were on board, there were only about 10 of us total on this trip which made it easier to follow along and get to know the others on the tour. It was a 3 hour drive to Sólheimajökull parking lot which flew by as we took in the vast landscape around us and the tour guides kept us entertained with stories about Iceland. There was never a dull moment in the van.
The tour took us to Sólheimajökull, a frozen glacial tongue which is a rugged, raw and ever changing hub of ancient frozen water. Approximately 11% of Iceland’s total area is covered by glaciers. Once we arrived at the parking lot, we got suited up with all our equipment. We only had to dress warm with waterproof clothes so we both wore our ski clothes, wool socks, beanie, gloves and thermal under layers. Sadly, this is what we wore most of the trip even when not on a glacier! (yes we are total LA people) They provided us with crampons, an ice axe and a harness for climbing later. (Note to self: don’t swing the axe around, I ended up slicing off a part of my pants and didn’t even realize it until later!) We got an intro into how to hike properly on the glacier with the crampons on and did a few test runs where we had to walk up and down a glacier so everyone felt comfortable enough before heading off.
Hiking with the crampons was actually easier than it looked, the crampons stayed really snug on my shoes and I felt comfortable with them, never afraid my feet would slide out from underneath me even though we were walking on pure ice. We hiked single file through the glaciers, exploring all the amazing ice formations, sink holes and jagged ridges while getting briefed from the guides. The mounds of black on the ice is actually volcanic ash that has formed on top of the ice. A subglacial volcano is formed by a eruption beneath the surface of the glacier and then melted into a lake by the rising lava. During the eruption, the heat of the lava from the subglacial volcano melts the overlying ice. The water quickly cools the lava, resulting in those of underwater volcanoes.
Along the way, we stopped at a sink hole where the water is so clear and pure we all took turns drinking from it. I really liked how careful the guides were with the group. Safety was their number one priority and when we were able to look down a deep hole, they would make us go one by one while holding onto us so no one would slip in.
After about an hour or so of hiking and exploring we made our way to the bottom of the ice wall where everyone was able to try their hand at ice climbing. We got briefed on how to climb the wall with the special axes and took turns practicing getting the ax securely into the ice, which doesn’t have anything to do with how forceful you are, but a quick flick of your wrist. There were two sections of the wall we could choose to climb on. One was just a face of an ice wall and the other was a little trickier because it had a hole opening that you had to find a way to go around.
The two guides made their way to the top to secure the rope down. I got strapped in as the guide held down the other end of the rope. Surprisingly it was easier holding myself up as long as I leaned in and had a good grip on the axe. The crampons didn’t do much as it was really hard to jam the crampons into the ice wall, but once you got the axe in, you could literally free hang from the handles. It was that sturdy. I made my way to the top and rappelled down before letting someone else on the ropes. I would highly recommend wearing gloves while you’re doing this because the ice is a lot sharper than you think and it’s easy to cut your bare skin on it.
After everyone had their turn, we packed up and made the hour trek back to the parking lot, stopping every so often to learn more about the glaciers we were walking on.
Back at the van, the guides had a packed lunch of sandwiches ready for us which tasted so good after a day’s worth of activity. As we made the drive back to Reykjavik we stopped at the beautiful Skógafoss waterfall. The Skógafoss is one of the biggest waterfalls in the country with a width of 82 feet and a drop of 200 ft. I was surprised by how you could walk right up to the base of the fall and feel the power of the water cascading down to the river below. We got completely soaked from the water, but it was worth getting an up close look at the waterfall. There is a little hiking trail to the right which takes you to the top of the fall as well.
We had a great time with Arctic Adventures who not only taught us how to ice climb, but so much about the history of glaciers and where it’s currently headed due to global warming. It was a long adventurous day and a must-do whenever in Iceland. Arctic Adventures also does a bunch of other adventure tours or multi-day tours, such as rafting, mountain biking, caving, snorkeling and even hiking the famous five day Laugavegur trek from Landmannalaugar to Þórsmörk! We loved this trip so much, we decided to book our rafting trip in North Iceland with them as well for the next day. Stay tuned!
*Arctic Adventures was kind enough to cover our costs for this tour in exchange for writing about this tour. As always, all opinions are my own.
Superjeep picked us up right on time early in the morning before making two more stops to pick up 3 other passengers. The 6 of us made the tour intimate which was really nice because we were able to change and add on different stops throughout the day depending on how we all felt. My biggest draw to Superjeep was being able to go off-roading on Iceland’s rough terrain while enjoying the natural wonders along the Golden Circle. Bjourn was our funny and very enthusiastic tour guide who we spent the entire day with while providing us with great information on all the attractions we were seeing and the history behind them.
The Golden Circle tour is an absolute classic excursion that you can drive around yourself or opt to take a tour. I recommend taking a tour because the tour guides are all very informative and seem to know where the other tour buses are so not everyone is at the same place at the same time. SuperJeep made the experience that much more personal for us and because of our smaller group, we didn’t have 15-20 minute rest stops where we had to wait for a lot of people to get on and off a bus.
The first stop was Thingvellir National Park, an area of great historical importance for Icelanders as parliament was founded here over 1000 years ago. We were able to stand where Viking settlers stood centuries ago. Gently moving tectonic plates run across Thingvellir, pulling apart around 2cm a year making it possible to stand on two continents at once!
You can also choose the option to go snorkeling between these rifts in a dry suit!
Apparently Game of Thrones is being filmed in Iceland right now as opposed to the winter months and look we were at the exact same location! If we’ve only known, we might have pushed our trip back a few weeks.
Next we headed to the geothermal area at Haukadalur where we walked through hot springs, steaming streams and geysers. The most popular attraction was Strokkur which is one of the largest and most powerful geyser and you can expect an eruption roughly every 5 minutes.
We explored the area before heading down to watch the geyser erupt. You can tell an eruption is about to happen when the blue/green water bubbles up and suddenly spouting almost 30m into the air.
On our third stop of the day, we headed to the Gullfoss waterfalls, some say the queen of Icelandic waterfalls. We had a short hike down a narrow pathway to the waterfall where you can start to feel the spray of the water. The power of the water as it tumbles over two tiers before crashing 32m into a ravine is truly outstanding. It’s hard to describe how big and powerful this waterfall is by pictures. It was really stunning just standing there next to the roaring sounds of the water crashing below you and looking at what nature has given us to marvel at.
We made a detour to visit the Langjokull Glacier which is technically not part of the Golden Circle route. Because we were in a Superjeep, we were able to drive on the very rocky and steep terrain to the Glacier most tour buses aren’t able to drive on. He took us off-roading on the volcanic rocks and through deep stream crossings. Definitely felt like a roller coaster ride with the best views. We had two people in our jeep who had signed up to go snow snowmobiling so we dropped them off to get suited up before heading down to the glacier to meet them. Since the three of us hadn’t signed up for the snowmobile, Bjourn took us in the jeep up the glacier itself before getting stuck halfway in the snow. He was so persistent on getting us further and further up the glacier which was so funny (for us) to watch and get to ride along.
Since we still had some time to kill before the other two were back, we hiked along the glacier to the lake. We couldn’t get too close because we weren’t sure how sturdy the ice that had formed around the lake would hold up.
After the glacier, we drove to Faxi, a small yet beautiful waterfall before continuing to Kerid, an impressive 3000 year old explosion crater.
Apparently they hold summer concerts here where the band floats in the middle of the crater and people watch from the side. The blue-green lake in the middle is stunning contrasted with the green moss-clad and colorful rock walls.
Finally, after a long, but very fun day, we headed back to Reykjavik. Not before stopping off the side of the road to feed the horses. Iceland has a TON of wild horses. There is 1 horse to every 4 people (roughly 300,000 people in the country). Bjourn had a couple loaves of stale bread so we had a blast getting up close to these beautiful animals.
Superjeep kicked off our Iceland adventure in the best way possible. We saw and learned so much on this day trip, who knew you could cram in so many attractions all in one day! Riding the superjeep around Iceland was thrilling with surprising turns every moment of the day when Bjourn would suddenly just pull off the road and start driving across the volcanic terrain. Thanks for a great time and keeping us on our toes!
*Superjeep was kind enough to cover our costs for this tour in exchange for writing about this tour. As always, all opinions are my own.
And we’re back! It’s been a whirlwind of a trip, still catching up with work and other things, so these posts are a little delayed, but better late than never! All I can say is Iceland is a must visit for people who love excitement and nature, it’s the ultimate playground for adventurists and did not disappoint. It was probably the best trip we’ve ever been on, and we couldn’t have done it without the help of Visit Iceland and all the tour companies who made this the best trip yet. Here’s the first part of our Iceland Adventures…
The moment we got off the plane at Reykjavik, we immediately boarded a shuttle to the Blue Lagoon. The Blue Lagoon is a geothermal spa located in a lava field in Grindavik on the Reykjanes Peninsula. The warm waters are rich in minerals like silica and sulphur with temps between 98–102 °F. This man-made lagoon uses superheated water from the group near a lava flow. Even though it’s a total tourist attraction, the soothing therapeutic waters can’t be beat especially after a long red eye. The Blue Lagoon is actually on the way into the city from the airport so many travelers either visit after their flight or before. We were amazed by the ever-changing scenery on the drive to the Lagoon. Iceland feels very empty, which is something I loved about the country. You can see for miles the vast landscape all around you, from piles of volcanic rocks to mossy green fields to waterfalls around every corner. Despite the rain and overcast weather, the colors are so vibrant and dramatic here.
Once we arrived at the Blue Lagoon, we were able to check in our luggage for a small fee before buying our entrance ticket ($52/person in the summer) into the Lagoon. There are different packages or add-ons you can purchase in addition to your entrance ticket. There are women and men’s changing rooms with showers and full amenities where we changed into our bathing suit before heading into the lagoon. Once you exit the changing rooms, you are taken back by the color and size of the lagoon. It almost doesn’t look real how blue and pure the water is.
We soaked in the lagoon for a few hours, grabbing drinks at the swim-up bar where we could choose from a variety of fresh smoothies, slurpees or Icelandic beer on tap. It seemed appropriate to try some local beer while we were there.
In one of the corners of the lagoon was a place where you could put this volcano scrub or algae mask all over your body and face and just wash it off in the lagoon. There are also steam rooms and saunas surrounding the lagoons that are open for use, as well as spa treatments.
Inside the facilities, we rested a bit on the comfortable lounge chairs where we could look out at the lagoon below.
After we showered and dried off, we headed upstairs to the observatory deck where we got an incredible view of the entire lagoon. There is also a really nice restaurant on site serving a la carte items as well as a seafood buffet. Outside of the lagoon is a nice walkway where you can soak in more of the scenery while waiting for your shuttle to pick you up.
We spent a couple hours here relaxing after our long flight before boarding the same shuttle to Reykjavik where we got dropped off at our studio. Even though it’s a huge tourist attraction, it never felt very crowded since the lagoon and the facilities are so expansive. During the summer months, the lagoon is open until midnight where you can enjoy the midnight sun. It was the perfect excursion to do right after a flight and one not to be missed!
I am usually not one for airplane food, but it’s been a while since I’ve traveled so far where we were served meals on a plane. On the way back from Iceland, Delta served lunch with a choice of a chicken salad or chicken, great variety no? I choose the chicken salad praying it wouldn’t be a mayo-laden typical chicken salad and was pleasantly surprised at the amount of veggies we were given, no mayo! It was basically a cucumber, tomato and feta salad with a grilled chicken breast on top. I was so impressed by this meal (it doesn’t take much to impress me) and it tasted good to eat some fresh crisp veggies (after eating nothing but sandwiches, hot dogs and yogurt in Iceland), I decided to recreate it at home for a simple summer side dish. I made a red wine vinaigrette and let the salad marinate in it for a few hours, it only gets better the next day and makes for delicious leftovers. I served this salad with some stuffed chicken breast. Simply butterfly a chicken breast, spread a tablespoon of pesto in the middle and top with a cheese of your choice (mozzarella is favorite). Lightly pan fry both sides until you get a nice brown color and finish it off in the oven.
Chilled Cucumber, Tomato & Feta Salad
- 1 large cucumber
- 2 tomatoes, diced
- 1/4 C feta cheese
- 1 Tbs minced garlic
- 1 Tbs dijon mustard
- 1/4 C red wine vinegar
- 2-3 Tbs olive oil
- Italian seasoning, salt and pepper
1. Chop up the cucumber and tomatoes and add in the feta cheese
2. Whisk together the red wine vinegar, minced garlic, dijon mustard and olive oil. Season with Italian seasonings, salt and pepper.
3. Combine the cucumber mixture with the dressing and enjoy.
Over 4th of July weekend, we headed to Yosemite to climb the famous Half Dome. It wasn’t until the week of our trip that we started contemplating the idea of doing this hike. Everyone now needs a permit to climb the ropes and summit the peak, which is difficult if you didn’t reserve a permit far out in advance. Without a permit, you can hike only as far as the base of subdome, which is where a series of switchbacks begin about a quarter mile before the base of the cables. Luckily they are doing a daily lottery now where if you apply 2 days before the day you want to go, you are entered in the daily lottery. I knew our chances were slim of getting in since it was a long weekend and hundreds of people apply everyday. At midnight the night before we left, we lucked out and got confirmation that we were in, so we started scrambling around the house trying to pack for this 10+ hour hike. With the weather forecast in the 90’s we knew we need to bring A LOT of water since there would be no water stops along the way, except the first mile in. The hike itself is listed as 14 miles roundtrip via Mist trail and 16.5 via John Muir trail, but we somehow ended up with 20 miles for the day starting at Camp Curry Village and all the walking around we did at the top of Half Dome. The cables usually go up in May and come down October, so climbing Half Dome (safely with the cables) is only a possibility during this period.
Things to bring:
- 4 Liters of water per person (we carried a mixture of water, powdered coconut water (found these at REI) and Gatorade. We definitely could of used more especially the last 2-3 miles.
- Snacks (trail mix, Cliff bars, fruit)
- Lunch (we made some PB sandwiches to eat on top of sub dome)
- Grippy gloves (so glad we bought some at REI as we definitely needed them for the cables. We ended up buying climbing gloves, but I would imagine a good pair of gardening gloves would do fine too)
- Camera with a strap or GoPro (we used a combination of our iPhone for pictures throughout the trail and the GoPro headmount when climbing the cables)
- Sunscreen and bug spray
- Hat and sunglasses
- Headlamp or flashlight if you are starting early or plan on coming back after sunset
- Some first aid stuff
- Light windproof jacket (it can get very windy on top of Half Dome and it’s nice to have a lightweight jacket at the top)
- Trekking poles (we didn’t have any, but could be helpful for hiking up the steep rocky steps)
- Comfortable hiking clothes (I love my InknBurn denims for any sort of long run/hike as its lightweight and wicks away sweat)
- your permit and ID! they do check and you will get turned around from the ranger if you don’t have it with you
Our hike started at 5AM so we could get most of our uphill hiking done before the sun really starting beating down and to avoid the crowds. I brought a headlamp but didn’t really need it as it was already getting light out. We filled up our camelbaks and water bottles at Happy Isles where the trail starts and made our way onto the trail. I was worried about not finding our way to Half Dome, but everything was well marked and you just kept following the signs towards Half Dome. A mile in is the last water stop and they even have a sign telling you to fill up now because there won’t be anything in between, unless you have a filter and want to drink from the stream, but I don’t think that is advised.
I was surprised at how quickly the trail turned into a gradual uphill hike and not used to carrying so much on my back, it was definitely a workout right from the get-go! We decided to take the Mist Trail as opposed to the John Muir Trail even though it’s a lot steeper but shorter in length. We were not disappointed.
Boy those steps were so steep and slippery from all the mist.
After the steep ascent up the Mist Trail, we arrived at the top of the 317 ft Vernal Falls. They have railings to guard people from going in the water and possibly being swept over. Past the huge waterfall is the Emerald Pool, which is a large bulge in the river with an inviting, but deadly area that may seem like a fun place to swim, but is prohibited due to the cold water, the current and the proximity to the fall just around the corner. Though we did see a group swimming back and forth in the pool?
As we transitioned from a dirt trail and began to hike up granite slabs, we started our hike up to Nevada Fall where we got a great view of the 594 foot waterfall. After a long haul up, the trail came to a “T” with the John Muir Trail which is recommended to take on the way back since it is less steep and less crowded. We finally hit some level ground hiking into Little Yosemite Valley where the Merced river flowed to the right and we got out first glimpse of the backside of Half Dome in the distance, though you couldn’t see the cables.
After a mile of leveled ground, we started our gradual switchbacks up the trail again. While ascending this forested area, we were lucky enough to see a few mule deers. The switchbacks seemed to go on forever as it was a relentless climb up to the base of sub dome. The trail wasn’t as steep as the Mist trail, but it was just the constant persistent uphill that made this part of the hike particularly challenging, especially since there was no cover overhead and it was almost noon. We took a few rest breaks wherever we could find shade and a rock to sit on. As we headed towards sub dome, the trees got thinner and the views open up. At the base, there was a ranger checking for permits before you could make the ascent towards the top.
Sub dome is a 400 ft rise up a carved switchback granite staircase. I actually found this more challenging than climbing the cables itself. The staircase lies above the tree line and is very strenuous. I can see how hiking poles would be really helpful here to help stabilize you on these steps. Luckily we were still fairly early when we got here so we didn’t have to move out of the way too much for those that were descending. You can also start to see the cables going up Half Dome.
When we finally arrived at the top of Sub Dome, we came face-to-face with the infamous cables. Pictures from what I’ve seen online do little to convey just how massive the climb is. The people on the cables looked like little ants ascending a vertical wall. We stopped here for a little bit, got our gear together before making our way to the cables. We decided to dump our packs here so we wouldn’t have to carry the extra weight while climbing. It would have been nice to have some water at the top, but climbing the cables without all that weight was worth it.
Once we got to the cables, we stayed on the right side to let other descend on the left. Though sometimes, people end up gripping both cables so you had to get out of the way while still holding onto one cable. It was nice to not have the cables crowded because we weren’t stuck behind people while going up. I used the single cable rappel method which I found a lot easier than trying to hold onto both cables. There are wooden boards set into the granite which acted like a resting point where you could stand steady for a little bit. There are poles on both sides, but they are merely resting in holes so they come out if you pull up. Surprisingly, the climb wasn’t as hard as I expected. It definitely looked steeper from afar but wasn’t too bad once you were actually on the cables. I thought I would freak out being so high up, but I just kept focused on the next board ahead of me and steadily climbed to the top.
Once at the top, there are many view points to see, such as Cloud’s Rest, Glacier Point and El Capitan. I walked around the top for a bit, saw a few people taking pictures on the famous ‘diving board’ which is a rock ledge that juts out and caught a couple hats flying off on the camera. We didn’t spend too long at the top for fear of the cables getting more and more crowded while descending. I started the descent facing downhill, but found facing backwards and repelling down to be a lot easier. Unfortunately we were stuck behind a couple who were taking a really long time going down. Heading down was a blast as I just let my cable slide on my gloves and my shoes glide me down the mountain. It got a tricky when people were ascending as you had to move out of the way or let them come up first. At some point, we got stuck in the middle of a couple fighting. The woman wanted to go back down but the guy kept trying to push her back up. Finally at the base, we took a short rest break before heading down sub dome, which might be scarier than going up and retracing our steps all the way back to the village.
It got a lot more crowded on the trail close to the trailhead, especially near Vernal Falls and on the Mist Trail since this is only a 2-3 mile hike from the trailhead and a popular spot for tourist who don’t want to go as far. We ended up hiking 20 miles in a little over 10 hours which is not too bad considering the breaks we took and the time we spent up at the top of Half Dome. It was a great day on the trails and a nice warm-up for all our adventures ahead in Iceland. So glad to be able to check this hike off my bucket list and I can’t wait to come back someday and do it again.
B and I started planning this trip over a year ago when I stumbled across the Lagavegur marathon race site. After numerous e-mail exchanges back and forth with the race director, I found myself with a race entry and a race on my calendar that was still a year away in a completely foreign country. I worked with Visit Iceland to get myself more acquainted with the country and all the sights to see and do (there are too many!). They graciously connected me with a few tour companies who I will be working with throughout the trip in hopes of bringing a piece of Iceland back to the U.S to share with others.
Fast forward a year later, we are beyond grateful for all the tremendous help we have gotten in planning this whirl wind of a trip. This trip couldn’t have happened for us without the help of the generous race company and various Iceland tours.
Special thanks to:
I’ve been on a music downloading spree lately. Too many long road/plane trips coming up to be stuck with bad or no music so here are some of my recent favorites. All great tunes to jam to on your run as well.
Off to Yosemite to hopefully climb Half Dome & Iceland for the Laugavegur Marathon. Back with lots of updates!