Increasing awareness of climate change and wildlife conservation, coupled with a desire to experience a uniquely varying terrain, has meant that glacier hiking has enjoyed a surge in popularity.
Glaciers are one of the world’s most fascinating natural environments due to their dynamic nature. Glacier National Park, for example, attracts on average just under two million visitors each year – with half of these embarking on a hike of some degree and many locations around the globe welcomes walkers all year round.
These slow moving ‘rivers’ of ice currently cover about 10% of the world’s total land, and the only continent they’re not found in is Australia. However, these majestic formations have shown signs of retreating over the past 60 to 100 years and there are fears the melt could increase. To ensure you get your chance to discover just how cool glacier hiking can be, read on…
Europe is home to a wealth of glaciers, from Germany to France, Russia to Romania, and Norway to Austria. However, for a truly remarkable experience, Iceland and its 20+ glaciers come highly recommended.
Trips from national park Skaftafell offer routes suited to all abilities on Europe’s biggest glacier, Vatnajökull. There are several organised trips, which include sailing through the towering icebergs, scaling the sides of glaciers or gentle walks. It is highly recommended that you identify the type of holiday you want, along with your personal abilities and budget, before booking anything. Companies such as Arctic Adventures have some useful help and advice alongside a range of hikes you may find useful. Don’t forget to double check what equipment they provide, and what you need to bring should you choose to book something.
If you’re a keen photographer, make sure that you visit the stunning ice caves located on the south side of Vatnajökull. The blue ice of these hidden coves is mind-blowing, but the trip is only recommended to those who have good-quality equipment and know how to work their camera in limited light. Extreme Iceland offers a popular trip that provides most of your equipment – including a helmet, crampons and an ice axe. You will, however, need to take your own gloves and if you’re going to be handling expensive equipment, don’t skimp on your accessories. Something like the SealSkinz Activity Gloves, available at Polimil, will be perfect as they’ll not only keep your hands warm, but there is an index finger grip to ensure your finger never slips from the shutter.
The paramount US destination for glacier trekking is the Glacier National Park. Covering over one million acres and located in the US state of Montana, on the Canada-United States border with the Canadian provinces of Alberta and British Columbia, it’s a great place to visit for hikes and days out alike.
However, you need to get organised before you begin. Hikers need to accept individual responsibility for planning their trips and safely while hiking – so before you even consider setting out on any trek, stop by a park visitor centre to find out
if there are any warnings or recommendations that can help you make the trip a safe and enjoyable one. More information regarding trips and plans can be found on the Park’s website here, including trail maps and a range of facilities the park offers.
Along with Grinnel Glacier, the park also houses a further 130 named lakes, including the stunning Iceberg Lake, more than 1,000 different species of plants, and hundreds of animals- it’s the perfect spot for enjoying the best nature has to offer. Just watch out for the bears, as it is popular with grizzlies. Be sure to find out their preferred haunts before setting off so you don’t cross paths.
No roundup of the best glacier hiking hotspots would be complete with the Himalayan Glaciers. Not only do the Himalayas contain the highest peaks in the world, but the range has the third-largest deposit of ice and snow in the world, after Antarctica and the Arctic, and roughly 15,000 glaciers.
This natural abundance may leave you feeling a little overwhelmed regarding where to start, so it is advisable you look at an organised hike from an experienced adventure operator. Himalayan Glacier can offer trips from Nepal, Bhutan, Tibet and India so is a good place to start as any.