Iceland – above and under the surface of the Langjökull glacier

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With global warming and vanishing glaciers, it might be hard to believe, but we still live in the ice age. Contrary to popular belief, it has not ended when Neanderthals and Wooly Mammoths died out. We are simply enjoying brief (in geological time scale) period of warm climate known as interglacial, and it is nearly over. As Starks would say, “winter is coming” (in a couple of millennia). However, human activity may have already changed the natural cycle and glaciers may never come back in its original shape.

We woke up after only 4 hours of sleep as we were hunting the Northern Lights under Kirkjufell mountain all night – to have a walk inside one of the glaciers when we still can.

Who would miss a unique experience traversing across a glacier in order to get some sleep? Not us. We make a short stop in the town of Borgarnes to get a coffee with a view on Borgarfjörður and surrounding mountain peaks. Borgarnes is also on the way to Húsafell – the base where all excursions to Langjökull glacier start.

Langjökull is the second largest glacier in Iceland and it’s located in the midwest highlands. We are going to need a ride by a specially modified truck as only this type of vehicle can drive on top of a vast ice cap.

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Going on top of a glacier is a bumpy ride but the views will blow your mind. 

The ice cap of the glacier through the windows may look vast, but it will disappear completely in approx. next 80-120 years.

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Wind shapes constantly the surface of the glacier creating various landscape formations.

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The layer of gravel melted into the surface makes the glacier melt slower. As the rocks accumulate, they absorb heat and protect the snow under it. Sometimes it leads to the creation of ice pyramids. You can spot them also in the Vatnajökull National Park.

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The vehicle parked just in front of a summer base on the glacier, where we were waiting to change to the snowmobiles. 

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It’s nearly noon but shadows are really long as during winter in Iceland the Sun is always very low above horizon. 

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It’s a perfect day to be on top of a glacier snowmobiling as visibility is very good.

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We leave snowmobiles in front of the tunnel that will take us inside the glacier to discover the hidden world that can be found under the surface. It’s the first and the biggest tunnel inside the glacier ever made.

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When we enter, the unknown world of frozen corridors opens in front of us.

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The color of ice under the surface is white as there is no Sunlight to reflect. However, the led lamps installed inside walls make it glow with various colors and the view is pretty out of this world. 

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The tunnel was supposed to be in a shape of a circle, but during construction a mistake happened and instead a tunnel in a shape of heart was created. Now, at the center of “the heart” the main chamber is located, which is a meeting point and a place from which all the corridors start.

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The history of changing climate is written here on the walls. The cross section of the glacier shows a scale of a snowfall throughout the ages and signs of previous eruptions in Iceland that formed black lines, where the volcanic ash was settled and later pressed by the gravity and glacier moving down the slope. 

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Glacier looks like a stable frozen object, however, the gravity makes it move and constantly reshapes it. Glaciers move quickest in the middle and slowest along the sides scratching the rocks on which they lies. Inner movements and forces in an ice cap create crevasses. Usually it is possible to spot them during a hike on top of a glacier. Enjoying this view from below and being so close to the world’s greatest wilderness is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

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As the glacier moves and melts constantly a maintenance work in the tunnel is always ongoing.

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A pool filled with glacial melting water.

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Before we leave we take off the crampons and get ready to go outside. The cave works as an igloo making the temperature higher inside than outside.

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We are all unfreezing and the windows of the monster truck, also our camera lenses get covered in steam. We enjoy the last rays of the sunset on our way back.

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The tunnel would quickly disappear with no trace if there would be no maintenance works ongoing. Naturally created ice caves in Vatnajokull National Park on the South of Iceland also disappear and the new ones are created every year.

Going inside of the glacier is a once-in-a-lifetime experience but it leaves a bitter taste to know you destroy the amazing world that you admire and your visit will not go unnoticed.

 

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