My First Ice Climb: An Icelandic Glacier

Facing My Fears On The Ice

If you are familiar with my blog, you’ll know that one of the main things I like to do outside is rock climb. I’ve met some other climbers, both in the gym and outside. I had heard ice climbing mentioned a few times, but it was always with big eyes and a cautious voice. Even some rock climbers don’t want to try ice climbing!

I counted myself among these climbers. Ice to me just seemed too unstable. Alex, however, really wanted to try it. When we learned we could tack on an introduction to ice climbing to our glacier walk in Iceland, he had to try it. So, I acquiesced.

Our glacier walk began just beyond Solheimajokull glacier in the south of Iceland. We went with Icelandic Mountain Guides, a tour company I highly recommend. They were very professional and helpful the whole trip.

The Glacier

I had never seen a glacier up close before. Seeing that much ice was mind-boggling. Even more so was seeing how far it had receded in the last ten years. No matter how you feel about climate change, seeing so much ice recede was a little shocking. 

After we were set up with proper boots, crampons, and ice axes, we began our trek up. We passed employees hard at work chiseling stairs into the ice, which the different companies would take turns doing. Our guide said that the ice changed from week to week, and they would always have to keep aware of current conditions.

Before we began climbing, we were able to drink from the glacial water running by our feet. I have had some very clean natural water, but this was by far the best-tasting and cleanest water I had ever drank.

The boots and crampons were a little bit of an adjustment. The boots had to have stiff soles, because you couldn’t ice climb with bendable shoes. I was worried the crampons would slip, but they never did. I got used to walking in them pretty quickly.

Ice Climbing

Our guide led us down into what was nicknamed “the Grand Canyon”, as it was the biggest depression in the area. He set up some ice axes on a slope so we could practice with our boots as he went and set up the top rope. I watched with interest as he drilled metal poles down into the ice. When I went to practice kicking in my feet with the ice axes as handholds, I was surprised by how difficult it was to trust the thin crampon spikes supporting my weight. This would be tougher than regular climbing. 

I watched a few other people climb first. It was a relief to see that not everyone got the hang of it right away. When it was my turn, I began by really digging my picks into the ice before I kicked my feet in. I found myself holding a lot of my weight through my arms, which I knew was bad. I just couldn’t trust my feet that well. The picks were hard to pull back out of the ice if you swung them in too hard, which of course I did.

Overall, on the climb, I only slipped once. Of course, the rope caught me. Watching bits of ice glint in the sun as they chipped away from the wall was more thrilling than I would have expected. I felt challenged by the novel equipment of crampons and picks, and the bizarre way the ice had hard and soft places.

Should You Try Ice Climbing?

If you’ve rock climbed but never ice climbed, you would be surprised by how different it is. However, having some idea of how my body moved vertically certainly helped. I never thought I’d try ice climbing, but I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the beauty and challenge of it.

Trying ice climbing while also exploring a glacier was a great introduction to it. We had a competent guide who set up a top-rope system and kept it very taut so even a big slip barely felt like anything. Alex and I tried a lot of different activities while in Iceland, and this ended up being one of my favorites.

If you’re interested in trying this in Iceland, I would say go for it! It’s doable even for people with no climbing experience at all.

 

Have you been ice climbing? I would love to hear about it!

 

Want to try ice climbing in the states?

Ice Climbing in Colorado

Ice Climbing in New Hampshire