Now is the time to remain indoors. Now is the time to protect your health and stay safe. But now is also the time to take stock of your life and think about the future. Has that dream trip to Iceland eluded you until now? While you are based at home, are you now looking longingly at the map? I know I am.
One thing is for sure, the pictures and stories detailed below will make you add Iceland to your post-quarantine list. So I’ve taken the time this month to simply put together one of my favourite memories while in Iceland. A more personal account than normal. I’m planning to share more of my personal experiences over the coming months until we can get out of the house and back into adventure mode. I hope it inspires you to travel when the time is right.
The glacier guide
My profession, when not writing blog posts of course, is glacier guiding. Something I stumbled onto as I travelled and fell in love with. Hiking on top of glaciers is perfect for the adventurers among us, but going physically inside an ice cave for the first time is something that cannot be beat. The child-like wonderment in my guests’ faces as they lift their heads for the first time to see the shimmering blue ice is something I take great pleasure in every single time.
It would be impossible to put a number on the amount of ice caves I’ve ventured into during my time in Iceland. But what I can say with certainty is that each and every ice cave is unique and breathtaking.
Sadly, the place where I first fell in love with Iceland has disappeared completely. Perhaps that makes it even more special, knowing that this experience was fleeting by its very nature.
How an ice cave is formed
An ice cave is formed from the movement and the melting of the glacier throughout the year. The size and shape of each ice cave can be drastically different. Some take on snake-like tunnel formations whereas others form building sized archways or have an enclosed spherical shape. One thing is true for all ice caves in Iceland though, they don’t last long. Especially now that the temperature is rising year on year. It’s rare that the same ice cave will last until the following year. That means every winter season, when it gets cold enough to safely enter the ice caves, I am seeing them for the first time too.
I have mixed feelings when I remember that the ice cave where I first learned my craft has long gone. That first winter, I worked almost every single day, taking groups across the glacier. The weather can be turbulent at times but that winter was particularly wet and windy. Wet feet, strong winds and blustering snow make glacier hiking more challenging on days like that. But I was in my happy place despite the changing weather conditions. After all, Iceland’s weather can change in an instant so I’m always hopeful that the sun will come at any minute. The following winters were far better weather.
The guest experience
A shared love of the outdoors, environmental science and a little adventure is what often bonds my customers on these trips. As we ventured across the glacier, I would regularly pause to chat to the group about the effects of climate change.
Each step was another chance to get a great picture and travel further onto the glacier. Passing cracks in the ice, side stepping vertical holes and gazing a the ice sculptures in the distance is mesmerising to say the least. The hike to the ice cave is just as stunning as the cave itself. By the time my group and I discovered the blue ice cave together, the science and wonder of moving glaciers was fully understood.
Entering the ice cave
Upon ducking our heads down into the cave and walking through the secret icy cavern, we felt a sense of calm. The cave protects you from the elements, even on the stormiest of days. I always have to take a second to remind myself how lucky I am that this is my job.
The quiet feeling of content emblazoned on my face as we explore an ice cave each time is apparent to the customers too. We take our time to uncover every inch of the cave. The translucent blue hues around the doorway and the darker blue cornices deep into the cave created an atmospheric tone rarely seen outside of a movie set.
A shared love of the outdoors, environmental science and a little adventure is what often bonded my customers on these trips.
Before leaving, I always explain the uniqueness of this particular cave, how it is formed and its life expectancy. The shocked faces of the guests as I reveal that this ice cave may only have a few weeks left, is something I never really get used to. The melting of a glacier is a natural phenomenon. But it’s the speed of the melting that’s changing. This is why a blue ice cave rarely lasts more than one winter.
A lasting effect
The walk back is always filled with questions as often, the sight of a moving glacier is enough to inspire immediate change in people’s lives. Guests want to understand their experience more before waving goodbye. I sometimes have customers engaging me after the tour too via facebook, often asking follow up questions about their experience.
Sadly, the place where I first fell in love with Iceland has disappeared completely. Perhaps that makes it even more special, knowing that this experience was fleeting by its very nature. The memory will have to do. Luckily, the visceral reaction you get when sliding your hand over the blue ice for the first time is not something you forget in a hurry.
Ryan Connolly is Co-Founder of Hidden Iceland. Hidden Iceland specialises in private trips, taking you to some of the hidden gems of Iceland with a passionate and experienced guide.
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