Iceland is an incredibly unique island chock full of steaming lava fields, glaciers, volcanic craters, icebergs, waterfalls and endless geothermal activity. This landscape lends itself extremely well to outdoor adventure activities and there is a vast array to choose from in Iceland – did you know you can snorkel between tectonic plates? Hike a glacier? Or go ice caving? I spent 5 days in Iceland during the month of April and decided to get out of my comfort zone and turn it into more of an adventurous trip than I usually do…
The following outdoor adventure activities in Iceland are the ones I recommend to those seeking an adrenaline rush!
Take a Helicopter Tour
Okay, so taking a helicopter tour might not seem that scary… unless you’re scared of heights (I am!). However, this 40-minute helicopter ride in Iceland not only soars over the charming streets of Reykjavik below, it also ventures further afield across the mountains and steaming volcanic hillsides and lands in the middle of nowhere on a (dormant!) volcano. Where else can you experience that? My helicopter tour was made even more special by the pilot cracking open a bottle of champagne upon landing which I have to say, was a definite highlight of the whole trip!
Snowmobile Across a Glacier
The most common day trip to do in Iceland is the Golden Circle tour, which takes in the three sights of Thingvellir National Park (designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site as the oldest existing parliament in the world first assembled there in 930 AD), the water spouts and hot springs at Geysir; and the unforgettable Gulfoss waterfall. All well and good, but why just gaze at the scenery when you can see it up close for yourself… and what better way to do that than to take an exhilarating snowmobile ride across the spectacular Langjökull glacier!
As a solo traveller, I’m used to doing things on my own but when I realised everyone else on my tour would be riding across the glacier in pairs I started to get the fear… but after travelling all that way, not going ahead with it wasn’t an option. After donning our snowsuits and goggles we were given a demonstration on how to stop and start the snowmobiles and given some time to practice. It’s a lot harder than it looks! In the blinding April sunshine, our experienced guide led the way across the glacier and it was an incredibly humbling experience being completely surrounded by snow for miles upon miles. I did find it mildly terrifying, I’ll admit – but felt proud as I managed it on my own and I even managed not to topple over the snowmobile, unlike the people in front of me! Don’t forget your driving licence though – they will check.
Hike a Volcano
I don’t know what possessed me to sign up for a volcano hike while arranging my Iceland trip when I rarely even climb hills at home but it seemed like a good idea at the time. As far as adventure activities in Iceland go, this is up there with the most extreme ones. Remember the Icelandic volcano which erupted in 2010 and caused utter chaos worldwide because of the ash cloud? That was Eyjafjallajökull volcano. And that was the one I decided to climb. It seemed like a good personal challenge… and challenge it was.
This tour only runs from April until October and my tour was only the second of the season and there was a lot of snow. Like, I was thigh deep at the start. At that point, I really wondered what the hell I had been thinking! The tour begins with a long drive in a super jeep to the first stop at the spectacular Seljalandsfoss waterfall, where you have the opportunity to walk behind the fall and enjoy it from both sides. Then you make your way to Thorsmork valley where the 12-mile hike begins…
This hike is described as challenging and physically demanding and I cannot stress enough that it really is – especially in winter. Had I known what it was truly like I definitely wouldn’t have done it in the first place! While my physical fitness was fine for it, I am not an experienced climber and I’m also really, really scared of heights (I had hoped this would help me quash that fear, however!).
We had a group of 10, mostly women, and two guides. The hike was covered in snow and one of the guides went in front to kick out a path for us. The path was largely very narrow, with terrifyingly steep drops into the valley below and very little places to stop for a breather. We were warned at the start of the hike about a section called The Cat’s Spine (Kattarhryggir) – an extremely tricky knife-edge ridge. Had I researched beforehand and seen videos such as this, this or this there is no way I would’ve attempted it (especially in snow and ice, with poor visibility). At the start of The Cat’s Spine, I completely froze and didn’t think I could do it. One of the guides helped me across slowly as I tried not to look down (pretty difficult as it was so narrow that both drops to either side were in my field of vision!). Somehow I made it across, trying not to think about the fact I’d have to do it all again on the way back…
We finally made it to the top for a long awaited breather and lunch break. At this point, my legs felt like blocks of heavy ice and my phone conked out due to the freezing temperature. Soon, we were on the way back down the same route and god knows how but I made it over that ridge again. However, this hike wasn’t without a near death experience (thankfully, and surprisingly, not mine) when the woman behind me slipped and almost went flying down the side of the mountain. I have no idea how he managed to act so fast but one of the guides grabbed her with one arm and pulled her back up to safety while I pinned myself to the side of the mountain in the fear that she would grab me on her way down. That was the day that woman learned that Timberland boots are not suitable for hiking! Bet she won’t make that mistake again. Aside from my walking pole breaking (was I clenching it that hard??) we had no other disasters and made it back to the safety of the jeep.
Although this hike was the scariest thing I have ever done, it was an incredible experience and I would recommend it – but only if you are an experienced climber. It’s not for the fainthearted! If however you’re like me and enjoy signing yourself up for ridiculous personal challenges, go right ahead. Just be sure to wear really good hiking boots unless you want to die a snowy death.
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