Ice climbing in Iceland is an amazing adventure like no other! From costs to tours, this is all the advice & information you need before you go
For me, going ice climbing in Iceland was without a doubt one of the craziest things I’ve ever done.
Just imagine hanging off the side of an ice wall, on an active glacier, in one of the most dramatic and barren landscapes in the world. Well that’s exactly what ice climbing at Solheimajokull glacier is like.
It’s hard. It’s scary. And boy it’s exhilarating. Be prepared for an adventure like no other because you’re in for one of the best experiences of your life!
Don’t believe me? This is what it’s really like going ice climbing tour in Iceland! This was a video I shot with Lonely Planet and it should give you a good idea of what you’re in for.
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My experience going on a Iceland ice climbing tour
As I swung my axe over my head it deflected off the glassy wall, a thin scratch the only blemish in an otherwise perfectly smooth surface.
I swung again, my forearms burning by this point unused to the constant exertion. Again, my axe bounced off the wall, ice shards ricocheting onto my face.
It was then when my legs slipped out from beneath me and I lurched a few feet into the chasm below.
My safety rope went taught as I hung there trying not to look at the blackness underneath me, a straight 50 metre drop into an icy chasm below.
I clawed at the wall again with my axes to find some sort of purchase so I could kick my crampons back into the wall, anything to take the weight off my arms.
Once I got my toes back into the wall I sat in my harness, arms slumped around my waist. My arms were throbbing with the buildup of lactic acid.
I looked up and it felt like I had so far to go. Still, there wasn’t any turning back. It’s not like I had anywhere else to go, was it?
Time to climb again. I had to do it, I had to carry on. This was why I was here after all, to test myself to the limit, to conquer a glacier and to do something I’d never done before – ice climbing in Iceland.
I wasn’t ready to give up just yet. All I had to do was swing my axe again…
Getting to Solheimajokull glacier
Just a few hours before I was driving through Iceland’s barren black lava fields.
Even though this was my second time to Iceland, I still couldn’t get over the array of landscapes here.
My drive from Reykjavik took me past lush green meadows with old-wooden cabins dotted around the countryside, each one with its own rusting tractor out the front. My drive also took my past Seljalandsfoss, one of Iceland’s most famous waterfalls, its power visible from miles away with the faint outline of spray catching the light.
I wasn’t looking at that though. My eyes were firmly on the brilliant white of Solheimajokull glacier off into the distance.
For me, I was in the country for one thing – to go ice climbing in Iceland. This is something that I’ve always wanted to do. Now it was time to test myself to the limit.
Climbing with Iceland Mountain Guides
In the car park to Solheimajokull I met Pete from Iceland Mountain Guides, my ice climbing guide for the day and the guy literally showing me the ropes.
As we kitted up he asked me why I was in Iceland, and I told him I wanted to do something completely new and to challenge myself. He had a wry smile as if to suggest that the day would be a challenge.
At uni I used to go indoor climbing a lot and I absolutely loved it. I loved how in that one moment when you’re on the wall that’s all the matters. You have a single goal – get to the top – and it doesn’t which way you go as long as you get there.
I wanted to recapture that spirit again, and Pete was there to help me do it.
After we kitted up it was a short 15-minute walk from the car park to get to the bottom of the glacier. This was where we put on our crampons.
One thing that really struck me about the glacier at Solheimajokull was its colour. Unlike most of the glaciers I saw in Greenland which were various shades of white, this one was flecked with black, deep dark lines running through it.
When I asked Pete, he said glaciers were different in Iceland compared to others around the world because they’re volcanic, so the black I could see was volcanic dust.
If anything, it made what I was about to do even more daunting knowing there was a volcano in the mixer as well.
The glacier walk
To get to the ice wall first we had to walk across the glacier.
I’m lucky because I’ve done a fair bit of hiking on glaciers before, so it felt reassuring hearing that familiar crunch of ice underfoot.
If you’ve never been ice hiking on a glacier, at first it can feel a little unnerving walking on ice and snow, but honestly, when you’re clipped into your crampons it’s actually a lot easier than hiking up a mountain. Yes, I really mean that!
Ice hiking in Iceland is just part of the fun and what makes this such a special day. All Iceland ice climbing tours will include this – it’s part of the package.
How to ice climb
As you can imagine, there are a number of ice walls to choose from when you’re in a glacier. That means, there’s something for all levels and abilities.
The process of ice climbing is actually fairly simple and quite similar to climbing, just with more equipment.
With two ice axes and sharp teeth on the toes of my crampons, Pete told me to kick my feet into the wall to form a base. Then I had to swing my axes over my head until they ‘bit’ into the wall. This is when they’re firmly in the ice.
Once my axes were steady and could take my weight, I had to kick my feet into the wall again just a couple of feet above where they were. Swing. Swing. Kick. Kick. Rinse. Wash. Repeat.
Once I got to grips with the basics and climbed the beginner wall a couple of times, I graduated to something Pete referred to as “the wall of death”.
(Please note: at no point did Pete ever say this, but I can assure you, standing at the top and looking down into that dark chasm about 50 metres below, that’s exactly what it felt like).
Ice climb at Solheimajokull glacier
My biggest problem with ice climbing, (much like with indoor climbing at uni), was that I always try and pull myself to the top. In reality, about 70% of the work should be done by the legs, not by the arms.
For me, 90% of the work is done in the arms, so it’s no surprise they quickly turned to jelly once I was on the wall. This is seriously hard work, so you have been warned. I would definitely recommend a good base level of fitness for this activity.
After slipping off the wall a couple of times, I sat in the rope just to give my arms a break, to let the muscles relax a bit. Honestly, my arms were in agony and at one point I wasn’t sure I’d make it to the top.
I knew the only way out of this was to get back on the wall, to swing my axe again, so from that point I took it slow remembering to form a solid base with my feet.
One swing after the other, I slowly made my way up the ice wall till eventually I could see Pete grinning down at me.
One last lift and I eventually swung my legs over the top of the wall. I made it. I did it.
“So, how was it? Feeling good?”
The thrill of ice climbing
Feeling good? I felt great!
As I gathered my senses I looked back down at where I had just come from.
The wall looked undisturbed and unmarked from this height in the same condition as I arrived, and I smiled to myself.
This is exactly why I came to Iceland, to push myself to the limit, to feel the adrenaline pumping through my veins, to hear the blood rushing in my ears.
I was so happy to have done it, especially in Iceland. There aren’t many places around the world as stunning as this place – it makes the mountaineering in Iceland all the more special.
Was it easy? Of course not. But the best things never are.
How much does it cost ice climbing in Iceland?
My activity with Icelandic Mountain Guides cost £130 and included all kit and safety briefing. In total I spent about 4 hours on the ice, so it was good value for money.
It’s always best to shop around to see if there are any deals or special offers on, but here are ice climbing tours for you.
Ice climbing tours, Iceland
Photos of ice climbing
My trip to Iceland was part of a campaign with Lonely Planet and Three all about using your phone doing the things you love (and yes, I took a selfie while hanging on the ice wall!) As always, all views and opinions are entirely my own and without bias.
Have you ever been ice climbing in Iceland before? If so, what did you make of it? Hard? Get the jelly arms? And if not, would you ever do it? Let me know in the comments below!
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