In Search of the Secret Ice Cave
We’re standing on the edge of Fjallsárlón. It’s a glacier lagoon adjacent to it’s more famous counterpart, Jökulsárlón.
It’s different, however. The water is murky brown like chocolate milk. Too opaque to peer through, the lake allows the meandering tourist to wonder what monsters may lurk below. This is Iceland, after all. The icebergs are stark white, piercing through the chocolate milk surface. And the starkest difference between it’s sister lagoon? Fjallsárlón is completely devoid of people.
It’s me and Eric, my newlywed husband, alone on the Icelandic terrain. We’re the first explorers to tread this uncharted territory. Or so it seems. Solitude. Love and solitude.
The hovering clouds are beginning to lift, revealing a glacial mass of ice, frozen in time for centuries. It’s massive and we’re tiny. It’s surreal.
Earlier that morning, as I lie awake from my buzzing alarm, I adjust my eyes to light by scrolling through my instagram feed. One particular photo makes me pause. It’s from fellow Michigan traveler, Shalee, and it says Iceland all over it. It’s of an ice cave that she and her friends had discovered the previous week. Amazingly, we have plans to travel toward the glaciers this day, so naturally I request directions, fingers crossed that I’d receive a response before we leave the hotel (and wifi) behind.
And naturally, when she rapidly responds within a few minutes, her directions are… vague. Detailed yet vague. Go ahead, take a look at her photo and read her directions in the comments:
Her directions: YOU NEED TO SEE THIS! The glacier that is just west of jokulsarlon, cross the bridge and it’s the next glacier over, the road is unmarked as an attraction but it’s dirt and no more than a 10 minute drive. It has another lake in front of it and if you hike around it to the west side, walk up the hill next to the glacier until you see a place where the dirt/mud dips down to a small canyon and go down there and it’s right there! Super confusing I wish I had better directions LOL! But sooooo cool!!
Unmarked dirt road, 10 minute drive, westerly glacier lagoon, bridge, lake, canyon… Yep, got it. Do you know how many unmarked dirt roads veer from Ring Road? Many. Do you know how many bridges span the road? Many. Do you know how many glaciers and lakes call Iceland home? Many. The quest for the secret ice cave seems impossible.
Yet here we are in front of Fjallsárlón and it feels right. We had driven several minutes down an unmarked dirt road before a bridge to a lake where glacier and earth meet along the other side. Seems accurate.
We begin our trek toward the glacier, knowing that’s our likely route to the secret ice cave. We underestimate the hike and the vastness that stretches before us. A few times we contemplate turning around, not knowing how long it will take to reach the secret ice cave that may not even be there.
There’s nothing like the stillness of Iceland in the middle of nowhere. We fill the empty space with conversation and silence, the sounds of tiny pebbles beneath our hiking booths and the slow inhale of pure air.
We walk around the entire lake, closing in on the massive wall of glacier.
Then, quick as a raindrop, we aren’t alone anymore. A tour group of 5, 10, no, probably about 15 people suddenly appear atop the hill we are about to ascend. I stop suddenly, feeling as though I’m intruding on a party I’m not invited to. My first instinct is to hide.
“Crap.” I whisper. Eric, the voice of wisdom in the relationship, says to just carry on. There aren’t any signs telling us we don’t belong… right?
Pretending that we know what we’re doing, we continue our walk until we nearly cross paths with the group. We smile innocently. The tour guide stops us, inquiring if we’re lost or need any help.
My inability to lie causes me to pause, but I’m not the one who breaks the figurative (and literal) ice.
“Actually…” Eric begins.
No! My “better to ask forgiveness than permission” philosophy begins to wave ugly red flags. No! No! No! Don’t say anything! Eric continues despite my telepathic pleas. “We heard there’s an ice cave over here. Is this true?” The guide hesitates. His hesitation already answers our question. “I really shouldn’t say anything…” he begins, rather uncomfortably. “But yes. It’s not too far from here. Just do not walk on the glacier. You do not have proper equipment and you need a guide. It isn’t safe alone.”
I think I hear the tour group whispering, like they’re cheated that they had no idea that they just walked in the vicinity of an ice cave.
Thanking him for his advice and information, we continue our hot (er… cold?) pursuit, along the hill adjacent to the glacier.
The secret ice cave exists. And it’s close.
Here’s where I hang up my adventure hat and put on my hard hat. Iceland is wild. Nature is unforgiving. What we did was a bit dangerous without a proper guide, but I swear, we were extremely mindful of our moves and contemplated every action. I’d add a “don’t try this at home!” disclosure, but what fun would that be? If you’re going to go off the beaten path, use your best judgment.
We don’t walk much further, eyes glued toward the glacier. Then we see it. The entry of THE ICE CAVE.
We know it’s an ice cave the moment it comes into view. The glacier is a dull white and gray, streaked with blue and black. It looks dusty. But the ice cave — that’s a sight. The opening of the ice cave is an unmistakably glimmering cerulean. You’d nearly miss it if you didn’t know what you were looking for.
Here’s the problem. The opening of the ice cave is quite far into the glacier. The only way to reach it is to jump across the gap between the land and walk atop the glacier to it. There’s no way that’s happening — we need to play it safe. Slightly deflated, I wonder if this is the end of our ice cave excursion.
“Let’s keep walking around the glacier,” Eric suggests. “I think we can get to the other side if we keep going.” And so we continue.
We carry on, marching along the mass of land adjacent to an even larger mass of ice. The earth is getting a little softer in a couple places. A few times our feet sink a bit deeper in the dirt and pebbles than comfortable. I begin plotting escape plans in case of the worst, then start writing tragic headlines in my imagination.
I’m beginning to doubt there’s a second point of access to the ice cave. I’m beginning to doubt this is a good idea.
Then we hear it. An isolated rainstorm. The sound of dripping water is just ahead. We hasten our steps. We peek around the corner as the path turned. There it is, in all it’s easily accessible glory.
THE ICE CAVE. (!!!!!)
It’s melting. Rapidly. It sounds like a small waterfall. We look at each other from the safety of firm land: should we do it?
The ground slopes down to the foot of the glacier, where the ice cave sits. We judge the scene, plot our route, and precariously step our way to the ice cave.
Now at the base, it arches above us. We’re in awe. The cave is a magnificent blue, glistening from it’s own shine. It looks to be made of the smoothest glass you’d find at the finest glassblower’s studio. The cave is small, but impressive in every other way. We elevate our voices over the sound of the melting ice to share our amazement with each other.
My heart is racing, on the edge of exhilaration and adrenaline. Who knew that standing in the midst of nature’s raw and dangerous beauty was such a thrill?
It’s a bit of a paradox, exploring between the solid wall of glacial ice that has lasted for centuries and the delicate ice cave slowly being reduced to water. Both futures uncertain, yet one seems so much more fragile than the other. Standing there, I feel a bit like both — powerful like the glacier but temporary like the ice cave.
We have our moment with the no-longer-secret ice cave, then begin the return journey.
Within minutes, we encounter another traveling couple. We ask if they’re heading to the ice cave — they have no idea what we’re talking about. Passing on the information torch, we fill them in on the secret, urge them to be safe, and imagine the wonder they too will experience when they discover some of Iceland’s magic.
And so goes the cycle of hidden treasures when traveling, from one traveler to the next, much like our own situation that day.
Whether you read it on a blog or hear it from a passerby as you aimlessly roam, sometimes we find secret ice caves and sometimes secret ice caves find us. And we all can share the experience of a place. Wherever that place may be, one thing is certain: there sure are many beautiful secret ice caves on this planet, and the only way we’ll find them is if we go out and travel.
We trek back to our rental car, fulfilled by Iceland’s beauty. We enjoy our solitude. Love and solitude.
And silence. The sweet, raw, untouched, Icelandic silence. Though this time, I know that Iceland is silent because she’s hiding a secret.
If you’re planning a trip to Iceland, check out a few of my other posts:
- 7 Reasons You Need to Visit Iceland (Before It’s Too Late)
- The Cursed Rocks of Iceland
- Recommended 9-Day Iceland Itinerary
- Where to Stay in Iceland
- What to Wear in Iceland
- Food in Iceland You Need to Try
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