Denise in Iceland

The most beautiful ice age ever

Denise Vorberg

Denise Vorberg

  • is only 30
  • lives in Innsbruck
  • works as a doctor
Hello, I’m Denise – and the one you can see in the photos of the Iceland trip. I’m 30 and live in Innsbruck where I work as a doctor. I am absolutely passionate about the mountains. I’m completely in my element when I’m hiking or climbing, I feel peaceful, strong, and at one with nature when in the mountains. Having specialised in rescuing injured people from mountains, I’ve also been able to spend time there thanks to my job. From time to time, I also have one of the most enjoyable part-time jobs as a model. This year, I’ve been lucky to travel to Iceland for Jack Wolfskin. Everyone in Europe has been talking about Iceland since the HUH chant at the European Football Championships and Iceland’s slightly crazy, yet unbelievably likeable fans. But even before all that, I had been tempted by the breathtaking, rugged, and unique nature that it has to offer. What I can say: it went above and beyond my expectations. Let's get started!

# icecaves Absolute must-sees!

The photos of the caves are probably already enticing you in, but I would like to start from the beginning of the trip and tell you about the arrival. But don’t worry, we’ll get to the caves soon!

If you want to go to South Iceland from Innsbruck, brace yourself for an adventure in its own right. First of all, you have to go to Munich, and then take a four hour flight directly to Reykjavik. We didn’t have time to visit the city this time, but I will definitely do it on my own in the future. Instead, our great guide Björgvin was waiting for us, who was our leader and fountain of knowledge for the next three days. Björgvin is the living image of the Icelandic stereotype: tall, red-haired, and always in a happy mood. Our super jeep driver Vidal, however, was not red-haired, but just as happy and robust for what the elements had in store for us. We reached our base, Hoffell guest house, after travelling by car for around five hours from Reykjavik, driving along the famous Icelandic ring road that circles the entire island. It gave us the opportunity to get a first impression of this majestic landscape and its many inhabitants – reindeer and Icelandic ponies.

Björgvin tells us about “normal” Icelandic weather, which sounds like a crazy version of our weather in April. Snow, sun, rain, and wind can all happen within a matter of 15 minutes, and even all at the same time. Where then, if not here, is the right apparel the be-all and end-all?

Hoffell guest house is our home for the next four nights. The special highlight of this small, informal hotel is the hot tubs, which are filled with water from natural hot springs. What great fun and luxury to be able to relax in such a hot tub after a day out on the ice.

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29.02.2016
10.33h
VATNAJÖKULL, ICELAND
64°24′N, 16°48′W
 -9ºC
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Full of anticipation: Christian, Johannes and meon the way to the first cave.
Denise on the Vatna Glacier
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Sapphire Ice Cave

64°24′N, 16°48′W
Sapphire Ice Cave

Sapphire Ice Cave

This ice cave is situated at the Vatna Glacier, one of the biggest glaciers in Europe. Measuring 8,300 km2 and with an average ice thickness of 400 m, it makes up more than 8% of Iceland. The western half lies in an active volcanic zone and the south is bordered by huge mountains.

Ice caves

Ice caves

Ice caves are formed when cold air constantly flows into a downwards opening. As warmer air is lighter, it flows upwards. This maintains the icy-cold climate. In an ice cave, temperatures are permanently below freezing.

Climate and climate change

Climate and climate change

The average temperatures in Iceland are 0–3°C in winter and 12–15°C in summer. These relatively mild temperatures can be explained by the warm Gulf Stream, which flows past Iceland. The first consequences of global warming are emerging in Iceland: ice tongues are pulling back, and some small glaciers such as Ok are melting and disappearing.

The country of ice and volcanoes

The country of ice and volcanoes

The Icelandic word for “ice” is “îs”, and the national language in the country of ice is Icelandic. Glaciers make up around 11% of the territory. Additionally, there are around 31 active volcanoes in Iceland, making it the biggest volcanic island in the world.

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After going to Iceland, I’ve got to admit that I find ice caves a lot more impressive than ‘normal’ ones.
Denise in the Sapphire Ice Cave
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We set off early the next morning. Today, we’re going to discover various ice caves at the foot of the Vatna Glacier (Vatnajökull). Jökull is the Icelandic word for glacier – an important word seeing as 11% of the island’s surface is covered in them!

This amazes me, as I had not expected to find such big glaciers here. The Vatna Glacier is the biggest in Iceland, and at 8,300 m2, makes it the third biggest in the world.

During the night, it snowed a lot more than usual for this time of year, meaning that Vidar, our great super jeep driver, had to put his skills to the test. The drive alone is spectacular – you really need a four-wheel drive to cross the open and partially muddy and wet terrain. The closer we get to the lagoon, the more breathtaking the views are.

The walls of ice tower above us in unimaginable heights. Even as an experienced “mountain woman”, I can’t escape the impact of this view.

The magnitude feels even greater here than in the Alps because we're at sea level and the rock face of the icebergs seem, on the one hand, more impressive and imposing as a result of their rugged escarpments, yet, at the same time, they also appear exceedingly filigree due to their clarity. It doesn’t matter how much you’ve read or researched about them: the view is indescribable!

The same goes for the caves – the “Sapphire Ice Cave” truly lives up to its name.

I hardly know how to put what we experienced and felt into words. Absolute amazement is probably the most accurate.

I need to point out that these glaciers have been here since the ice age. You can see traces of ashes in them from volcanic eruptions that happened over hundreds of thousands of years ago. Besides two gigantic clumps of ice that stand either side of the entrance like watchmen, God only knows how they got there, the entrance opens up to this wonder made from ice and colours. Light comes in through a hole right at the top, making the cave sparkle in a thousand shades of blue. I’m enchanted by this magic, but at the same time, we’re continuously reminded by the loud cracking of the ice that we’re underneath a huge glacier that is constantly moving. All this excitement makes you feel a bit queasy. The ice is alive!

Once we’re back outside, we strap on our crampons and climb the glacier to get to the waterfall cave. However, it unfortunately didn’t survive the snow fall the previous night and is now buried in snow. Björgvin explains to us that it’s quite normal for the guides, and that they always need to have a plan B or C, as nature and weather make the plans in Iceland, not people!

I like that. It has something resembling originality and "at one with nature", which has somehow gone missing in our everyday lives.

Using our head torches and regular torches, we eventually reach the third cave – “Rock n’ Ice”. What sounds like a disco in the 80s is a small cave that actually “rocks”, and you can tell just by looking at it. The ice glimmers in black and sparkles – wow!

I never would have thought that ice could reflect the light in so many different colours. On the way back past the crevasses and huge caves made from glacier water, the colours seem to change every single minute. If it wasn’t for the cold wind, you could almost imagine sitting down and watching the ice change colour for hours on end. It’s crazy – I'd never have thought I'd be captivated by it! For the lads, however, you have to physically stop them from climbing the ice walls! Either way, we’re all impressed and frozen to the core! The hot tub is ours when we get back!

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Cool name, cool cave.
Denise, the cave explorer
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#glaciallagoon Traces in the black sand

The next morning, we set off when it’s still pitch black. We’re going to watch the sunrise at Iceberg Beach near the glacial lagoon.

Our timing is perfect: dawn breaks as we park the jeep, just in time to take the first photograph of the sun emerging from the water. The light this morning is breathtaking, it shimmers softly in pale yellow to orange, from white to light blue.

The contrast between the black beach and the ice floes, which almost look as though they have been thrown in the water, is truly majestic. The soft waves of the ice lagoon make a continuous rushing sound. Sometimes, you get a moment that is absolutely perfect!

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01.03.2016
14.42h
FJALLSÁRLÓN LAGUNA, ICELAND
64°01′07″N, 16°23′06″W
 -7ºC
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Sitting back and relaxing on the ice. I want some of that!
Denise on the black beach
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This scenery! It’s wonderful. It looks like something from a science fiction film!
Denise looking for contrasts

What’s crazy is that you can’t get enough of these lagoons and caves, because their variety is determined by constant changes in light and weather conditions. Even our Mr Unflappable, Björgvin, who sees them nearly every day, still gets excited about them over and over again. It’s great to watch! When we reach the Fjallsárlón glacial lagoon in the afternoon, we discover a closed sheet of ice. It’s unusual for this time of year and so we’re all really pleased about it. We strap on our crampons again and conquer the glacier.

Around 100 metres away from the edge, Björgvin lets us have a look: it’s the perfect place to enjoy the spectacular views of the icebergs and the water as they shimmer in turquoise, dark blue and black.

There was another tasty surprise on the way back: probably the best roast lamb ever. Prepared and eaten in a small restaurant on the ring road, which looks like a detached house from the outside. And as the night drew in, all eyes were on the sky, hoping to see the Northern Lights! We were in luck. What an unbelievable spectacle of nature!

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#glacierhike The snow princess of hiking

The only thing that can get in the way in Iceland is other tourists. It was really important for us that we discovered glaciers, caves, beaches, etc. that were off the beaten track. It’s not just more beautiful, but also more exciting! Thanks to Björgvin and Vidar, we had a distinct advantage compared to private travellers. We didn’t have to do any of our own research but still got to see some of the most beautiful places on this phenomenal island.

My tip for all Iceland visitors – even without Björgvin – make sure you get away from the tourist highlights!

Iceland is almost deserted, and when you leave other people far behind, the “essence” of this unique nature is much more powerful and direct. This is what I felt, at least.

For example, a great tip is the Crystal Ice Cave. It is slightly secluded and the entrance had been buried by snow for a few days. We managed to get inside in spite of this, by crawling through a small hole in the surface of the glacier. The cave boasts multiple chambers that can only be accessed through small paths that you have to negotiate on all fours. But it’s worth it. Here, we were treated to a unique play of colours in all shimmering shades of white and blue that you can imagine: the name Crystal says it all.

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02.03.2016
10.33h
JÖKULSÁRLÓN LAGUNA, ICELAND
64°04′13″N, 16°12′42″W
 -2ºC
Map
Jökulsárlón

Jökulsárlón

Jökulsárlón can be translated into English as “glacial lagoon”. Over the last 40 years, it has actually grown by 10 km2 to around 18 km2 due to global warming and the glaciers that have melted as a result. Icebergs that measure up to 15 m in height are typical of Jökulsárlón and float on the surface of the water, guaranteeing spectacular views.

Skaftafell

Skaftafell

Skaftafell is an extinct volcano in the Vatnajökull National Park. Due to the many eruptions in the past, the landscape here is filled with unique contrasts. Ice tongues, jagged mountain ridges, flowering meadows, waterfalls – all existing beside each other. The Skaftafell climate is relatively mild and the flora and fauna there are highly diverse.

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It feels like a real mountain expedition with the crampons.
Denise on the glacial lagoon
The colour of the ice

The colour of the ice

The differences in colour within the icebergs are breathtakingly beautiful. Icebergs seem white, as they are formed through compacted snow and lots of air bubbles. The ice shimmers in various shades of blue when there is less air inside – depending on the structure of the ice crystals, different amounts of light are absorbed. Black ice is an Icelandic “speciality”: here, you can see ice with volcanic ash trapped inside.


Perfect weather, the perfect companions.
Denise on the way back
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Climbing icebergs. A woman’s got to train!
Denise on the glacial lagoon

Did I mention the seals? If I haven’t already, then I really must! These cute creatures are also regular visitors to the local glacial lagoons and, of course, absolute tourist magnets. We loved it every time we saw them.

Especially in the large Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon, the seals make themselves comfortable on the floating ice floes that have been broken off the Breiðamerkurjökull ice tongue by ice water.

You can often see their noses appearing out of the water. It’s so sweet! Unfortunately, it was eventually time to go home. There was one last hike in store on the way back to Reykjavik at Svinafellsjökull. The glacier scenery is strange but beautiful. You don’t have to be a mountaineer to get here, but you should expect to have to do a bit of climbing. Every minute you get new and divine views: whether snow-covered slopes, or turning around 180 degrees, lush, moss-green mountain fields. Or a lake that is formed by parts of the ice tongue regularly breaking off.

The lake also changes colour, depending on the last time the volcano spat out ash. We were lucky that it was glittering in a magical turquoise at the time.

The last photos are from the sunset with a view over the sea. What more could you want?

Even during the flight back home, I’m thinking nostalgically about this unique landscape. And, of course, the great group of people from the German team – thanks guys – you really know how to have fun! And the funny, friendly, and cool Icelanders. The best thing about this island is the unbelievable diversity of the landscape on just this tiny piece of land. Don’t miss out!

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On 07.09.2016

Lars in Norway


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