Photograph by BEN HORTON, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC IMAGE COLLECTION
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Iceland’s Vatnajökull ice cap, grooved by crevasses, draws intrepid hikers.
Photograph by BEN HORTON, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC IMAGE COLLECTION
TravelTraveler Magazine

Want to scale glaciers on your next trip? Here’s some expert advice

Get out on the ice with these expert tips from a National Geographic explorer.

“I’m all about getting people out on the ice,” says glaciologist M Jackson, a National Geographic 2017 emerging explorer and the author of the new book The Secret Lives of Glaciers. Of course, being on the ice can have its hazards. “Walk carefully,” she says. “Most people should use a local guide. And leave the vegetation intact—in years to come, that might be a thriving forest.” Here are three of Jackson’s favorite icy escapes for chills and thrills.

Iceland

Jackson calls the sparsely inhabited southeastern coast of Iceland “one of the most magnificent places in the world.” Here the massive Vatnajökull ice cap drains through a series of valleys into 30 epic glaciers, such as Skálafellsjökull. “Imagine an upside-down comb in your hand with thick blue glacier ice straining through the teeth,” she says. (Take an epic road trip via Iceland's Ring Road)

Africa

“Yes, there are glaciers in Africa,” the explorer says. And those in the Rwenzori peaks, aka the “mountains of the moon,” make the ultimate icebreaker for adventurous travelers. This range, on the border between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, has long supported equatorial glaciers, but they are disappearing fast, signaling profound cultural consequences for the Bakonzo people.

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Hikers climb up Mt. Stanley in the Ruwenzori Mountains, Uganda.

Accessible by road in the heart of Alaska’s rugged Kenai Fjords National Park, Exit Glacier acts as a realtime metric of glacial retreat. Interpretive signs detail the expanse where the ice once extended, leaving layers of forest, willow scrub, and loose moraine soil in its wake. The crackling blue mass “vividly shows what happens as our ice melts, and it gives the world clues for understanding what our future holds,” Jackson says.

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Ice climbers fall into a line paralleling a fissure in Exit Glacier, giving scale to the expansive mass of ice.
Meet more National Geographic–funded explorers at nationalgeographic.org/explorers.
Writer Katie Knorovsky previously worked at National Geographic Traveler magazine as an editor and currently lives in Asheville, North Carolina. Follow her travels on Twitter @TravKatieK.