April 15, 2019

Crossing Langjökull Glacier

by Águsta Björg Þorsteinsdóttir
Natural attractions
Crossing Langjökull Glacier

Crossing Langjokull Glacier on a snowmobile is not something you do every day but it offers a spectacular view of the glacier and the lowlands surrounding it. Here’s how my trip went. 

One of the coolest thing about working at a company like Iceland Travel are the occasional opportunities you get to participate in epic trips, fun activities or projects with our partners. One such opportunity jumped at me when I opened our intranet on a Tuesday morning. It announced that Mountaineers of Iceland were looking for ten people to ferry 10 snowmobiles across Langjökull glacier. I literally jumped at this chance. I had joined them before on a fun snowmobile trip but this was different. This had the potential to be an experience that would take me out of my comfort zone. And it certainly did.

Just be clear. The snowmobile tours offered by Mountaineers of Iceland and other partners and are available on the Iceland Travel website do not take you this far or long way.

Langjökull glacier is about 1450 meters high at its zenith and about 14 – 15 Kilometers where it is at its widest. In Iceland, a glacial landscape of that magnitude and height essentially means that you can have any kind of weather, all year round. It was more likely than not that conditions would be challenging and they certainly were. Langjökull glacier is perhaps best known among travelers for the incredible ice tunnel that has been carved into the depths of the steely ice mass. I recommend experiencing that man-made wonder.

We promptly arrived at Mountaineers of Iceland HQ on a Wednesday afternoon where we met our co workers who had signed up for this adventure. We got an introduction about the extensive security measures Mountaineers take to make sure that they keep track of the hundreds of guests riding their snowmobiles on busy days. These include a GPS tracker on each snowmobile and of course there are guides at the front and the back of each group.

Óli, our driver, announced that we would be having lamb soup and cake at the visitor center at Gullfoss waterfall before we would head up to the glacier. He promptly drove us to the Geyser visitor center where we had a selection of lovely spicy vegan or vegetarian soups. A different fare than was planned but fine by us. We teased him about this error but he shrugged it off and said it was just one the joys of living with ADHD.

When we arrived at the glacier, we suited up. We got a thick overalls, waterproof shoes that fit over our hiking boots, gloves and massive helmets. We switched trucks and promptly we were taken to the edge of the glacier where lines of brand new snowmobiles waited for us. It was a ten year old boy’s dream, so I felt kind of cool when I sat down on my beast of a snowmobile with my helmet visor down. That feeling would fade somewhat when it became apparent that I was one of the slowest drivers in the group.

With much further ado, we started our trip at the edge of the glacier in a single file. My slowness became apparent when a snowmobile all of a sudden zoomed passed me and took its place in front of me. Some people just don’t appreciate the methodological joy of slow travel!

Our first stop was at a really nice ice cave that probably was formed when water concentrated there at some point. Entering ice caves is just incredible. I especially enjoyed exploring the layers of clear ice, soil and ash which was revealed in the walls. It reminded me one of eternity and how short time we are all allocated on this beautiful Earth.

When we moved up to the glacier itself, the weather progressively got worse. A strong crosswind pushed on us and as we ascended it got increasingly foggy. Soon snow started to blown across the stark white ice sheet making visibility close to zero.

It didn’t help that my breath constantly condensed and froze on the inside of my helmet’s visor. Maintaining a speed of 30 – 50 KM an hour to keep up with the snowmobile in front of you, especially when you all see in front of you is a dark blob and a very vague track which keeps disappearing, is challenging.

When we started to descend it got a bit weird, going down is much harder mentally speaking. After a period where things got really difficult in terms of low visibility, all of a sudden, we could see the edge of the glacier. Soon after that, we saw a line of snowmobiles and the demanding ride was over.

Would I do it again? Yes. In a heartbeat.


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