Iceland: Walking the Center of The Earth in Snaefellsjökull

Hikers climb Snaefellsjokull Glacier. Jackie Sheckler Finch Photos.
Hikers climb Snaefellsjokull Glacier. Jackie Sheckler Finch Photos.

Hiking the Majestic Snaefellsjökull in Iceland: Is it the portal to the center of the Earth?

By Jackie Sheckler Finch
Senior Travel Writer

Today I walked on a glacier that is said to be the entrance to the center of the earth. I’ve seen many glaciers in my travels but I’ve never set foot on one, especially such a reportedly supernatural place. In fact, every day on my 10-day cruise of Iceland aboard the Ocean Diamond brought exciting discoveries.

Massive snow mounds make humans seem small atop Snaefellsjokull Glacier
Massive snow mounds make humans seem small atop Snellsjokull Glacier.

About the size of Kentucky, Iceland is a country like no other: 15 active volcanoes, 10,000 thundering waterfalls, 800 hot springs, immense lava fields, glaciers covering 11.5 percent of the country. Then there are the whales, puffins, fuzzy Icelandic horses (don’t dare call them ponies), erupting geysers, postcard-pretty fjords, Northern Lights and Midnight Sun.

Iceland has a population of 325,700 with most people living on the coasts. Reykjavík is by far the largest city with a population of 121,230. In comparison, Kentucky has a population of 4.43 million. But, of course, the Land of Fire and Ice has many uninhabitable areas such as glaciers, volcanoes, hot springs and geysers.

Iceland ProCruises

The first Icelandic-owned expedition cruise line, Iceland ProCruises set in June 2015 with its 224-passenger, 105-crew superyacht the Ocean Diamond. Although a new company, Iceland ProCruises is a subsidiary of Iceland ProTravel – a leading DMC in Iceland. Owners Gudmundur Kjartansson and Anne-Cathrin Brocker are seasoned veterans in Icelandic travel and tourism bringing their expertise to each cruise.

Our cruise embarked from the capital city of Reykjavik, stopping every day in a different place until we returned round circle to Reykjavik. The Icelandic cruises are offered only during the summer months of June, July and August when the sun shines all the time. No sunrise and sunset. Just sun.

I thought the 24-hour daylight in Iceland summer would be a bit unnerving. It wasn’t. I was so tired from my full days that I had no trouble sleeping despite the sunshine. Ocean Diamond cabins have heavy window shades for blocking out the light. “We are used to it,” guide Magnus explained. “It’s the way our life has always been. We don’t rely on dark to make us sleepy. We sleep when we are tired.”

Snefellsjokull Glacier isa popular hiking challenge.
Snefellsjokull Glacier is a popular hiking challenge.

Then he added with a wink, gesturing to his eyelids, “We are born with shutters. We just close them and go to sleep.”

Snaefellsjokull Glacier and Iceland history tidbits

During our bus ride to the Snaefellsjökull Glacier, our expedition team leader Hermann Guõmundsson shared some background about Iceland and what we were going to see. He also shared a local joke that I hade already heard several times since arriving in Iceland.

When the first settlers came to Iceland in 784, they immediately set about cutting down trees to create today’s treeless landscape. “The land was 40 percent forests back then,” Hermann said. “Today, it is about 1.2 percent of forests.”

By the way, I was told in Iceland that it is proper to refer to a person by the given name in writing– Hermann. The last name is patronymic, not a family name. It reflects the father or mother of the child and not the historic family lineage.

For example, if Jón Einarsson has a son named Tom, the boy’s last name will be not Einarsson like his father’s. Instead, it will be Jónsson, meaning he is the son of Jón. If Jón Einarsson has a daughter and names her Jane, her last name would not be Einarsson but Jónsdóttir – the daughter of Jón.

Reforesting Iceland

Anyway, back to what Hermann was saying – despite efforts to reforest Iceland, the island is still recovering from those early Vikings and the island deforestation. Then Hermann told the joke – “What do you do in case you get lost in a forest in Iceland?”

He waited a few seconds for travelers to think of an answer. Then he zinged, “Just stand up and you can find your way out very easily.”

Glacier considered one of the world’s energy centers

Atop Snefellsjokull Glacier it is difficult to tell where sky meets ocean.
Atop Snefellsjokull Glacier it is difficult to tell where sky meets ocean.

The glacier we visited is one of the most famous sites in Iceland primarily because it was featured in the novel “Journey to the Center of the Earth” by Jules Verne in which the entrance to the mysterious interior of our planet is located on Snaefellsjökull.

“The glacier is considered one of the energy centers of the world,” said expedition team member Birgir. The earth supposedly has about seven main energy centers and this remote part of Iceland has long been associated with supernatural forces and mystery,

When all the hoopla around the year 1999 turning into 2000 happened and people feared computers would malfunction and the world would be chaos, many people went to Snaefellsjökull to escape the catastrophe. “What they were afraid of didn’t happen but many people showed up here just in case it did,” Birgir said.

The glacier is an active volcano, having been built up through numerous eruptions during the last 800,000 years. Three eruptions have occurred under the glacier in the past 10,000 years, the last around 250 AD. Snaefell means “Snow Mountain” and the glacier mountain was first climbed in 1754 by Eggert Óafsson and Jrarni Pálsson.

Riding a snowcat up the glacier

For our trip, we took the easy way. We rode a snowcat to the top but I did see several people walking up the steep climb. Snaefellsjökull Glacier tours on snowmobiles and snowcats are available during summer months between May and August.

In our open snowcat, we sat on benches with metal bars lowered in front of us, much like an amusement park ride. We soon saw the necessity for those restraints as those of us with our backs to the incline kept sliding forward into the people across from us. On the way down the glacier, the people opposite of us were doing the sliding.

The sun shines round the clock during summer months in Iceland.
The sun shines round the clock during summer months in Iceland.

The bumpy ride to the 4,800-foot-top was exhilarating and eye-popping. On clear days, the shores of Greenland can be glimpsed beyond the North Atlantic Ocean. Looking around, it was a scene of otherworldly beauty. Hard to tell where the blue of the sky met with the blue of the ocean or whether the white puffs in the sky were clouds or snow.

Makes me want to reread Jules Verne or maybe tonight I will dream about journeying to the center of the earth. After all, I had walked on the portal to the center that very afternoon.

Planning your trip

For more information: Visit Iceland ProCruises or Icelandic Tourism Board.

Getting there: Reykjavik is a five-hour flight from Boston or Minneapolis on Icelandair. Beginning March 16, 2016, Icelandair will offer four weekly flights to Iceland from Chicago O’Hair International Airport.

When to go: Iceland ProCruises offers cruises during Iceland summer months of June, July and August. Temperatures range from highs in the 50s to lows in the 40s. From mid-May to mid-August the sun sets for only a few hours per day and it is effectively light for the whole 24-hour period.

Currency: The currency in Iceland is the krona and one American dollar equals about 115 krona. So that price tag for a sweater that costs 23,000 krona isn’t really as expensive as it looks. But almost everything in Iceland is costly because Iceland is an island and many of its products must be imported.

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