Sólheimajökull: Where Iceland’s Fire Meets Ice

9. January, 2017

Ancient Icelandic legends say that the world was created by the meeting of fire and ice.  As far as Iceland is concerned, they were right.

Sólheimajökull, which means ‘the Sun’s home’, is part of a massive glacier on top of an active volcano. Together, volcano and glacier are responsible for the growth of Iceland.  When magma meets hard-packed snow and ice, the result is a violent explosion of steam and trillions of tiny sand-like fragments of rock that make up South Iceland’s dark, fertile plains and winding rivers.  The volcano is closely monitored and only erupts every 40-80 years so Sólheimajökull, despite its thrilling location, is quite safe for visitors.

As glaciers go, Sólheimajökull deserves to be in a class of its own.  Layers of volcanic fragments create black veins in the glacier’s pale blue ice. Like living marble, the face of the glacier is transformed day by day, shaped by the heat of the sun or layers of snow and freezing rain- a different kind of fire and ice.

Sólheimajökull is fantastic for people who love adventure.  Aside from the daredevil appeal of climbing slick ice and an active volcano, the ever-changing face of the glacier means that there are always new fissures, caves, and even waterfalls to explore before they vanish into the ripples of the glacier.  There is nothing at all like the milky, opalescent light in a fissure, when you have rappelled down its ice walls and look up from the bottom.  Nor anything like the rush of climbing back up those glassy walls with an ice axe in each hand and steel crampons on your feet.

Sólheimajökull is also scarred with uncountable streams of meltwater. Bubbling rivulets cascade down the ice, sometimes vanishing into azure sinkholes that echo with trickles and drips, other times gushing from hidden sources.

The taste of the water, needless to say, is sublime.  It’s like liquid silver, wine, and mountain air: intoxicating and exhilarating all at once.  But you need to work to get to it- a steep climb up the glacier with crampons and an ice axe is necessary before you can press your face close to the cool, diamond-clear glacial melt streams near the top and lap pristine water right from the surface.

To stand at the top of the glacier, is to feel not only a sense of accomplishment, but a sense of peace.  Around you, deep green mountains and rifts stretch towards the distant glimmer of the ocean.  You’re all alone, except for the wind.

When you decide to descend, remember to look back every so often.  It is not unusual to see rainbows so vivid they don’t look real.  Not that any of it feels real, anyways.  Not that it will sound real when you try to tell someone else about it.  How could it?

Sólheimajökull is a moving, shifting, turquoise mountain made of crystallized water, fire, air, and land which continues to give birth to Iceland, day by day, century by century.