Dashing through the snow

Dashing through the snow on an eight-dog open sleigh...

For the huskies on Iceland’s glistening glacier Langjökull, the word ‘Walkies’ has a very different connotation from the norm. Our team of eight enormous husky dogs power through the snow, their tongues lolling excitedly despite the mammoth load of around 300kg. The whip of our guide, Siggi, lashes with expert precision, and he urges on the team with a chorus of guttural Iceland vowels, chirps and grunts. The view is quite literally breathtaking – it so cold that my every breath turns to frost, like the puff of an ice dragon. The surrounding mountains tower over us with an imposing, craggy majesty; our team is the sole splash of colour amongst the all-encompassing hue of blueish white, the only heartbeats in the freezing, deserted wilderness for miles around.

In just a few decades time, however, the frozen glamour of Langjökull may well be reduced to little more than a puddle. At the fringes of the glacier we can already see the ugly patches of greyish green as the Sun beats down mercilessly on the retreating ice. “Last year the glacier ended here...” Siggi points to a spot that is now the length of three manor houses away from the current snow line. Climate Change has proved to be a harsh master, with the glacier losing a staggering c.11 billion tonnes of ice a year.

“It is not just the glacier we fear for; it’s the dogs,” Siggi says, worry lines wrinkling his weather-beaten face. Although the temperature is well below freezing, (which, at the current height of the Icelandic summer, Siggi describes as “balmy”), the dogs are uncomfortable in the ‘heat’, which only climbs steadily every year. Siggi and his partner Klara fear desperately for their business, as the rising temperatures may see their source of income destroyed and their dogs shipped off to Greenland and northern Norway within their lifetime.

Around us, dark blue crevasses and potholes gurgle alarmingly, adding a perilous flavour to the journey, and the dogs skirt around them in with immense care and concentration. These yawning cracks in the ice have become an ever increasing problem with the summer melt; and only last year one of the team, Þorbjorn, narrowly missed death as his snowmobile was plunged into one such abyss in the treacherous conditions. As our sled grinds to a slow halt, we arrive at our destination intact. But we reminded that for Langjökull, the home of the mythical frost-giants of the Old Norse eddas, the future is a lot less certain, as the ice shifts ominously and the ancient glacier emits a dying groan.

Amelia Tudhope

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