It was a with a feeling of disbelief, that I lifted my head out of the icy water, ever so slightly, and glanced around at the frozen landscape. The frigid surroundings combined with the snorkeling gear I was wearing just did not compute in my brain.
When the average person pictures snorkeling they see turquoise water, tropical fish, and bikinis. I too pictured snorkeling this way but, instead of heading to a tropical paradise to try my hand at the sport for the first time, I headed off to Iceland; in the middle of the winter.
On the day of my snorkeling tour with Arctic Adventures, I woke up early to pitch black outside my window. I stumbled into my winter gear of tuque and heavy boots, grabbed my day bag, and headed out the door to wait for my tour pickup. It was freezing outside! And here I was waiting on a street corner to go snorkeling.
After being picked up, the tour headed into Þingvellir National Park where we would be snorkeling the Silfra Fissure.
The Silfra Fissure is a unique gap between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates that constantly fills with fresh spring water. The force of the spring water creates a slight current, which moves any debris out to Lake Thingvellir, and creates crystal clear waters for recreationists. The visibility in the fissure is about 100 meters down, making it clearer than some tropical waters.
Once we arrived at the park, we were given instructions on how to get into the massive dry suits we would be wearing. As the water temperature in the fissure never gets above 4 degrees Celsius, and we would be in the water for 30 to 40 minutes, the need for the expansive dry suits was apparent.
While standing on the frozen ground, I began putting on my dry suit. It was quite a process and involved putting on a sleeping-bag-type liner, squeezing my head through a tiny rubber hole, almost burning my hands on the gloves that were filled with boiling water, and finally, having all of the air sucked out of my suit. By the time I was properly attired the only part of my body that was exposed was my lips.
I then gathered up my snorkel and fins and waddled over to the launch point.
As I neared the water I started to get a bit nervous about being cold but, down the rusty ladder, I went. When my feet, hips, torso, and finally, my shoulders were all under water I instantly relaxed. I was completely dry and actually, quite toasty warm. Then I put my face under water. Wow! It was so clear! I felt like I could reach out and touch the bottom but, after trying remembered it was over 100 meters below me.
Once the whole group was in the water we began following the light current through the fissure. It was eerily relaxing. I saw no fish and little plant life. Nothing moved under the water except the snorkelers in front of me. The stone walls that contained the water were smooth and jagged, the sand at the bottom untouched, and the constant blue wall ahead begged to be explored.
Nearing the end of the fissure I tore my eyes away from the underwater world for a few minutes and I was treated to the sight of ice covered cliffs and frozen ground extending into the water. Having snorkeling gear on and seeing the winter surroundings, confused my brain; frozen and snorkeling just did not compute. The excitement this created can only be compared to summiting a truly daunting mountain.
The final bit of the tour was what really cemented the “I went snorkeling, in Iceland, in the winter” reality. To exit the water I had to clamber up an icy embankment and then trudge through snow and ice in flippers to the waiting gear trucks. Hauling my body out of the freezing water onto the frozen ground was a once in a lifetime experience, and walking in the snow with flippers on was something I never even considered doing.
The whole tour boiled down to one mind blowing experience and it was this tour that sparked my serious case of wanderlust.