Journey to the Centre of the Glacier: Into The Glacier Langjökull

Into the Glacier, Langjökull, photo by: Alina Maurer

Visiting a glacier in Iceland is always a great idea, but have you ever been inside one? With ‘Into the Glacier,’ you can visit the longest man-made ice cave in the world all year round, drilled into Iceland’s second largest glacier, Langjökull.

Here is everything you need to know about how to get there, what to wear, and what to expect from a man-made ice cave compared to a natural one!

All you need to know!

How to get there: Driving to Húsafell

The ice tunnel is located in Langjökull, Iceland’s second-largest glacier, in the western part of Iceland. Langjökull covers about 950 km² (10,225 sq ft) and is between 1,200 and 1,300 metres (about 4,000 ft) above sea level. You can easily get there by driving to Húsafell, a large holiday and campground area just a 2-hour drive away from Reykjavík.

If you are not renting a car, you can also just book the experience with transportation from Reykjavík. When we went “Into the Glacier”, we booked the experience from Húsafell and also decided to stay in a holiday hut for a few nights.

There are numerous options for accommodation in the area. You can stay at the Húsafell Hotel or the campground, or you can book one of the summer houses in the area—most come with a hot tub, which is very relaxing after a day in the glacier!

I have visited a few ice caves in Vatnajökull National Park before, and with most of them, you need to prepare for a small hike before reaching the glacier outlet. 

When visiting the man-made ice caves in Langjökull glacier, you are driven to the entrance of the tunnel system. This is a perfect option for people who have difficulty walking longer distances or families who want to take smaller kids on the experience. 

What should I wear?

When we visited in late March, it was pretty frosty, with temperatures reaching down to -15°C (5°F) on top of the glacier, with strong wind gusts making everything feel even colder. So it’s important that you dress warm and wear good waterproof boots (you can also get overshoes at the Húsafell Activity Camp), as it is around 0°C (32°F) in the tunnels.

You should definitely bring along:

  • Waterproof shoes and warm socks
  • Warm winter jacket
  • Hat & gloves
  • Sunglasses for the trip to the glacier
  • Base-/Mid-layer clothing
An adventurous superjeep ride to Langjökull

If you choose to visit the ice tunnel from Húsafell, you will meet up with your guide at the Húsafell Activity Center, where you can also buy snacks and get gas! 

Our little group was greeted by guide and operation manager for “Into the Glacier”, Óskar and his Superjeep Wrangler Rubicon. During the winter season, from October 16 to May 31, all groups meet up at Húsafell. During the summer months, visitors with a 4×4 vehicle can also drive up the F-road 550 to the Klaki Basecamp themselves, from where they will be picked up with a specifically modified glacier vehicle. 

Please note that the driving conditions heavily depend on the weather and that you should not drive an F-road unless you are prepared for it!

 

Into the Glacier, Langjökull, photo by: Alina Maurer
Guide Óskar & his superjeep, photos: Alina Maurer
Into the Glacier, Langjökull, photo by: Alina Maurer
Into the Glacier, Langjökull, photo by: Alina Maurer

The bumpy ride from Húsafell onto Langjökull glacier takes about an hour, depending on the weather and the road. When we visited, a minor snowstorm surprised us once we ascended higher on the road to Langjökull. During some parts of the ride, Óskar needed to rely on his GPS due to poor visibility. At some point, everything behind the windshield turned completely white, and I lost feeling for whether the vehicle was moving or not – but Óskar had everything under control. What an adventure!

You are driven past an ancient road that, back in the days, chieftains from all over Iceland used to get to the parliament assemblies in Þingvellir. You also pass Ok, a former glacier that lost its status in 2014 after its ice mass became too thin to move by its own weight and was, therefore, declared dead. Sadly, the reality of melting glaciers and climate change caught up with us a few times more while travelling up to Langjökull in the form of memory cairns, which mark the former edges of Langjökull for each decade.

Into the Glacier, Langjökull, photo by: Alina Maurer
The edge of the glacier in the year 2000, photo: Alina Maurer
Being inside a glacier: What to expect?

After arriving at Langjökull, we make our way through extreme wind gusts, slapping us in the face with ice-cold air and snow. The entrance of the tunnel system is unexpectedly narrow and inconspicuous, but finally, it’s windstill and nearly warm inside at around 0°C (32°F) after the harsh conditions outside. 

Óskar leads us to the “dressing room” past some (emergency) portable toilets so we can put on our crampons. The tunnel is unexpectedly grand, with the ceiling reaching as far up as more than 3 metres and 3.5 metres wide. The ground is quite slippery, but the crampons help find grip immensely.

Generally, the man-made ice cave is accessible to all. Children can get sledges to be pulled through the tunnels for an exciting adventure, and people relying on wheelchairs can also book special assistance so they are also able to visit Langjökull!

While Óskar leads us further inside the glacier, he explains the different stages of how a glacier forms, which can be easily seen at the beginning of the tunnel. The snow accumulates over time, and if it “survives” one melt season, it compresses through the weight of the snow on top of it and forms a denser layer called “firn”. After more compression, the layers slowly transform into a thick mass of ice.

 

Into the Glacier, Langjökull, photo by: Alina Maurer

"The ice in here is about 150 years old. So when people are in the chapel, the ice slowly melts from their heat, and we breathe in that old air in small quantities that emerges from the air bubbles within the ice."

Into the Glacier, Langjökull, photo by: Alina Maurer
Óskar explaining the age of the ice in the chapel, photo: Alina Maurer

We pass the picturesque blue wall, where the famous “Into the Glacier” logo is stationed and arrive at the chapel. In the past, people have gotten married here, and some celebrities have even rented the entire ice tunnel for an overnight stay! So if you are looking for a special place for a special celebration, you can contact the team and have a truly unique experience arranged.

Into the Glacier, Langjökull, photo by: Alina Maurer
Shift manager Kiddi is enlarging the tunnel and cutting ice with a chainsaw, photo: Alina Maurer

The tunnels need to be maintained constantly, as otherwise, the whole cave system would disappear after approximately seven years due to the glacier’s movement. 

Inside the tunnel, you can truly see how the glacier moves and how it finds its own paths for water drainage through moulins and cracks that open up into big crevasses. Everything is constantly monitored and maintained, so the experience is very safe. Óskar showed us remnants of old crevasses that closed themselves again and also a current crevasse that has been in the tunnel for some time. You can also see the ash layer of the Eyjafjallajökull eruption from 2010 preserved in the ice layer, which is pretty cool!

The tunnel is 500 metres (1640 ft) long and runs in a circle, so you don’t walk the same path twice. During the visit, you have plenty of time to ask all sorts of questions and take pictures. The guides also explain different characteristics of glaciers during the tour, like the drainage system of moulins, the formation of crevasses and the construction process of the ice tunnel.

Natural Ice Caves VS Man-Made Ice Tunnel
Einar Rúnar Sigurðsson standing in the Sapphire Ice Cave.
Golli. Einar Rúnar Sigurðsson standing in the Sapphire Ice Cave

If you are unsure whether you want to visit the man-made ice cave in Langjökull or a natural ice cave, here are all the facts to make your decision easier!

I’ve been to three natural ice caves at Breiðamerkurjökull, a glacier outlet that is part of the Vatnajökull National Park and in my opinion, both kinds of ice caves have their own charm. I was truly astonished that one could witness the glaciers’ movement in the man-made tunnel firsthand and I did not expect that at all – I’ve also not had that experience during my visits in a natural ice cave, as you don’t go in that far. 

In the man-made ice tunnel in Langjökull, you are truly INSIDE a glacier with about 25 metres of thick ice above you and over 200 metres of ancient ice beneath you, way further in than you would be in a natural ice cave, which is pretty cool!

While the lighting responsible for the infamous blue hues in ice caves is undoubtedly better in a natural ice cave, as it is natural light and does not come from LEDs, natural ice caves are mostly only accessible during the winter months from mid-October to late March. 

Into the Glacier, Langjökull, photo by: Alina Maurer
Hidden waterfall on the way back to Húsafell, photo: Alina Maurer

Therefore, the man-made ice tunnel in Langjökull is a great option for people visiting Iceland in the summer, families with smaller children and people who have difficulties walking longer distances. In my opinion, both experiences have their own perks and are quite different from each other!

Not to forget, the journey up and down the glacier is an adventure by itself. Riding in a modified supertruck and witnessing the harsh elements while standing on ancient ice is truly mesmerising! Óskar even made an extra pit stop on the way back to show us a hidden waterfall. “Into the Glacier” does a great job of sharing important knowledge about glaciers, a natural phenomenon that will be lost in the near future due to climate change. Visiting the ice cave with Óskar was truly an experience that we will cherish for a long time to come!

You can book your “Into the Glacier” experience here via Iceland Review.

Glacial Flood Expected in West Iceland

Hraunfossar Waterfalls

A relatively high water level in a glacier lagoon by Langjökull glacier, West Iceland, suggests that a flood can be expected from the lagoon in the near future. Such floods have occurred before and are known to cause a very rapid water level rise in the rivers Svartá and Hvítá in the Borgarfjörður area.

The Volcanology and Natural Hazard Group and the University of Iceland published satellite images of the lagoon and surrounding area yesterday, showing a high water level in the lagoon. At least three floods have occurred from the lagoon before in the last few years; in August 2020, August 2017, and September 2014.

Eldfjallafræði og náttúruvárhópur Háskóla Íslands / Facebook. 

Typically, the floodwater runs under the glacier toward the southwest, where it runs into Svartá and then from that river into Hvítá. The Icelandic Met Office is monitoring the situation, in part with water level measuring equipment in Hvítá, which will be able to detect the peak of the flood.

The flooding could be dangerous to those travelling on or near the two rivers.

Puffin Rescued from Glacier

A group of people on a tour of Langjökull glacier got a surprise on Thursday when they found a puffin in the snow, RÚV reports.

The group was touring Langjökull in a specially designed glacier bus when they noticed the wayward bird. “He was lying there and couldn’t fly,” explained Sleipnir Tours’ Martha Jónasdóttir, who was leading the group. “We got out of the bus and couldn’t believe our eyes,” she continued.

Photo via Sleipnir Tours

They took the bird into the bus and gave him the chance to recuperate during the rest of the tour, after which they drove to Borganes in West Iceland and released it on the shoreline. Having had several hours to warm up in the bus, the bird had no trouble flying away.

Martha regularly leads glacier tours but says she’s never seen a puffin on a glacier. She says she’s seen ravens near the entrance of the Into the Glacier ice cave on occasion, but never birds of any kind on the glacier itself.

Erpur Snær Hansen, a biologist and the director of the South Iceland Nature Institute, told RÚV that he didn’t have any explanation for how a puffin could have lost its way and ended up on the glacier. Puffins often get blown off course in poor weather, he said, but they rarely end up so far astray.

39 Snowmobilers Rescued Near Langjökull Glacier

Search and rescue teams were dispatched yesterday evening after a blinding snowstorm battered a group of 39 snowmobilers on Skálpanes by the roots of the Langjökull glacier, Mbl reports. The group dug snow shelters as they waited for rescue units to arrive.

In an interview with Mbl, Sveinn Kristján Rúnarsson, chief of police in South Iceland, confirmed that police authorities and rescue teams had come to the aid of 39 snowmobilers on Langjökull glacier yesterday evening. As later reported by Vísir, the group was on a snowmobiling tour with Mountaineers of Iceland. The snowmobilers later sought refuge in two small company vehicles. All of the rescue teams in Árnes county and South Iceland were mobilised, as were all of the ski vehicles in Árnesy county and the Greater Reykjavík Area, a total of roughly 300 rescue volunteers.

Search and rescue units arrived shortly after midnight and helped transport the group to Gulfosskaffi (Gullfoss Café) for food and drink, medical assistance, and crisis counselling, which the Health Care Institution of South Iceland and the Icelandic Red Cross provided. The first members of the group arrived at just before 6 pm this morning; it was slow going, in light of weather conditions. None of the travellers were seriously injured, although many were wet, cold, and tired. The group comprised travellers of varying nationalities.

A strong westerly storm struck Iceland yesterday. Rarik reported power outages in three separate areas in West Iceland: in Norðurárdalur; in Eskiholt near Varmaland; and Vatnshamrar in Hafnarskógur. Roads were closed in Krýsuvík, Mosfellsheiði, Bröttubrekka, Holtavörðuheiði, among others. A foreign cargo ship in Hafnarfjörður also broke off its moorings this morning.