Roughly translated, Vatnjökull is the “Lake Glacier” and it is not only the biggest glacier in Iceland, but it is Eurpoe’s largest piece of ice and is more than 300 square miles and almost a mile thick in places. Vatnjökull is home to Europe’s second and third largest volcanoes. .It is also the home of the highest mountain peak in Iceland called ‘Hvannadalshjukur’. This peak is over 2000 meters and takes a 14 hour hike to get to the top and back. The Vatnjökull Glacier has many outlet glaciers (or glacier tongues) that can be accessed for activities such as hiking or photography.
Iceland’s glaciers are huge rivers of ice that cut deep grooves into the landscape. During ice ages, the whole of Iceland would have been under glaciers as they forged the fjords. They also affect the height of the land and with recent melting and shrinking of the glaciers, the town of Höfn in East Iceland has risen a few feet causing issues in the harbour for small fishing boats. In the mountains surrounding glaciers, you will also notice how the horizontal striation lines are not horizontal but slant downwards towards the glacier. Those line were perfectly horizontal when the mountains were created.This means that glaciers, like faith and Earthquakes, can move mountains.
The easiest outlet glacier to access is Svinafellsjökull. There is a road leading from the ring road down to the glacier tongue. The road is in terrible condition and despite many millions of tourist tax dollars, the road hasn’t been graded in over 5 years. Any car can drive this road, but it would be extremely uncomfortable in a small car.
Although it is easy to access, it is not the safest choice for a glacier hike. Recent mud slides have closed this glacier for hiking. The glacier guides now use a nearby glacier outlet for hiking tours. Svinafellsjökull is a ‘Game of Thrones’ location.
Skaftafellsjökull is a glacier outlet descending from Vatnajökull Glacier (Iceland’s largest ice cap). The panorama scene was photographed from the ring road close to Skaftafell National park.
These are many hiking trails in the National park. This picture was taken from a viewpoint on one of the hiking trails as it split to the right just before Svartifoss waterfall. The viewpoint is a fair hike if you go via Svartifoss waterfall. There is a more direct path close to the visitor’s center which takes you straight up to this point. Although it s called a viewpoint, any point along the edge of Skaftafell hill can work equally well.
There are 2 benefits to making this hike in the Summer time. Firstly, the days are long enough to take your time with the hike. Secondly, the mountains are usually free of snow, so the glacier stands out much better and has a good contrast against the mountains.
The reason for shooting this view as a panorama was to communicate both where the ice was coming from and where it is going to. On the right of the scene, yo can see how the glacier ice is breaking up and melting into the lagoon and eventually the rivers. To the left you can see the glacier rise up into the mountains and even getting lost in the clouds. So the panorama is able to tell the whole story when an individual frame at 24mm would only tell you one half of the story.
The Vatnjökull Glacier has some of the best glacier lagoons in Iceland. As the glaciers advances and shrinks, it leaves deep channels that fill with the melt water and sometimes even icebergs.
The famous ice lagoon is usually full of ice bergs that can be blue. It is also possible to see stripes of black in the ice where a volcanic eruption has covered the glacier in black ash. The lagoon is so close to the ocean, that it is possible to see icebergs on the black sand beach.
The glacier lagoon at Fjallsarlon is often full of icebergs as well. The lagoons is much smaller than Jokulsarlon. but it is possible to see the ice calving from the glacier shelf in the Summer.
The following tours may include the Vatnjökull Glacier. The longer tours may allow opportunities for hiking.
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Glacier Ice Photography
Here are some more pictures of ice in Iceland.