“I Moved To Iceland To Be A Glacier Guide”
If you’ve just finished complaining to someone about your latest existential crisis; or maybe you’re reading this at your desk, taking a break from staring up at the clock – you’re about to meet a young Aussie that will completely change your perspective on a life well-lived.
26-year-old Stephanie Langridge recently decided to leave Sydney behind to move across the world to Iceland (a country she had never visited), and work in sub-zero temperatures as a glacier guide.
But how do you go from studying a media degree and working as publicist to leading hiking tours on the Falljökull glacier and carving safe passages out of dangerous ice crevasses?
For Steph, it wasn’t as simple as a quick career change. Instead, her path took her to Peru, Patagonia, Chile, Norway, Canada, Antarctica and back to Sydney – not to mention a 180 degree shift in her mental state.
MTV Travel spoke to the self-proclaimed “badass mountain lady” to find out what motivates her, the view from the icefall and what’s next…
Describe your life before the move – could you have predicted where you are now?
Right after I landed my first big contract, one of my best friends passed away and I lost the ability to work, or do anything much at all.
I realised that although heartbreaking, their death had presented me with a very premature opportunity to realise the life I was living – overworking and hanging onto my mental health by a thread – really wasn’t sustainable.
I didn’t own a raincoat before I set off last year for Antarctica, Canada, Patagonia and Peru, but I decided I wanted to challenge myself and the cold was first up on the list of my character-building pursuits. I’ve always been a very physical person and spent ninety percent of my time hiking, rock climbing, and mountaineering.
When I returned to Sydney I bluffed my way into abseiling and window cleaning hi-rise buildings. I liked to think of it as urban mountaineering. I wanted to prepare myself for the adventure I had my heart set on – becoming a glacier guide in Iceland.
What drew you to Iceland and being a Glacier guide?
While I was travelling I started to appreciate having less belongings and feeling less tied down. When I got back to Sydney I threw out and donated about three quarters of my stuff. It worked out quite well, because I only had two weeks’ notice to move!
While the glaciers in New Zealand were a closer option, I really wanted to get as far away from Australian life and culture as I could. Iceland wasn’t really on my list until a friend I had met in Antarctica landed a job working day-in-day-out in this extreme and beautiful secluded corner of the world.
Describe your average day on the ice.
My day-to-day consists of leading two hiking tours on the Falljökull glacier in Iceland’s south east, where we go up and into the icefall of the glacier. The icefall is like a series of ice sculptures that in summer are constantly growing and collapsing.
The opportunity to show people the effect climate change is having on Iceland’s glaciers and the climate world-round is an enormous privilege, and I’m basically getting paid to play in the mountains with a giant axe all day. I really could not be happier.
From window washing to step cutting! @jmyles08 snapped a shot of me on a tour this week, attempting to hack out a path in the ice fall. No one rolled an ankle, so todo bien! My goodness, every day I am so full of gratitude for this little life I have. It snows and I'm like a happy little kid waking up to Christmas every morning. The skies are blue, the lagoons are still, the ice is plentiful and the moss is vibrant and colourful. This is paradise to me.
What was the biggest challenge?
My first few days I was up high in the icefall for training with freezing rain and sideways wind below -5 degrees Celsius. My hands turned into claws with these gross bloated sausage fingers. Everyone else was walking around guiding like it was completely fine, but I was totally shell-shocked and wrapped up in two extra layers. I definitely had to steel myself. I had put all my eggs in one basket to move to Iceland, but I didn’t for a second think of heading home.
When real winter and the darkness comes later this year I’ll have to make sure I have a steady supply of cod liver oil and down jackets, but I’m welcoming the incoming discomfort.
What was your “pinch me” moment?
Literally every single day, without fail. Its summer right now, so today I walked out my front door and got five minutes of gorgeous sunshine and a view of the vividly purple Alaskan lupine in the fields. Sometimes I stop at work and appreciate the view of the rain clouds making their way steadily across the black plains into the sea, or peek out from under my sopping hood to see the blue sky and sunshine shimmering off the streams in the next valley over.
Daily I’m excited and deeply humbled by the giant white hunks of glacier that lord over everyone in the south of Iceland. I live in the most ridiculously beautiful place on earth.
It’s made me incredibly present and appreciative of both the geography of the land, the people here who want to work to preserve it, and of the choices I made that led me here.
What’s your advice for people who want to make a big move? And more specifically to Iceland?
I really wanted to get away from the rhythm of city life and Australian life in general. It felt too much like I was spending money to make money, to have money, to buy things that made me happy – a really stressful and unfulfilling cycle.
So the next question was; where can I go? The UK was too similar without the hot perks, the US out of the question, and Canada a possibility.
When Iceland came on the radar, it ticked all the boxes I didn’t know I had; progressive society, English-speaking, incredible nature, and isolation. Figuring out your boxes in advance might help, but leave yourself open to being surprised. I think having the right expectations of the place you’ve chosen to call your new home, and being kind to yourself about your ability to adapt and find comfort is essential.
How did you afford the move and how long did it take to save?
I’ve always been very open about my finances because I think, “how can you afford to do all this?” is a very common question.
I managed to save about 50% of my pay after tax. I took out a bank loan before I left for South America in addition to six months savings and my tax refund. When it came time to decide whether to go home or to continue on the borrowed money I chose to continue knowing it was an investment in my happiness and well-being.
When it came to moving to Iceland with two weeks’ notice, I applied for a credit card and was able to delay paying for my flight to Iceland. I’ll be completely out of debt this October, so I think it was a well-judged investment.
Where next? Will you come home?
I’m thinking about moving to New Zealand’s south island next October to work on one of the glaciers there to work on further qualifications, which will probably the closest I get to moving home to Australia.
I have my Canadian visa for a few more years as well. After I turn 30 my options for working around the world change again, and I’ll have five years of hard ice experience under my belt.
Antarctica is still my goal. It gave me my first real ice and wilderness experience, however, it’s in a class of its own. I well and truly fell in love with the ice-life down there, and the thought of eventually working on a research base or a cruise ship continues to drive me in my new career.
Can you see our little friend? 🐋 This is without a doubt the most impressive photo I have ever been a part of. Showing you guys this photo feels like I'm showing you a photo of my boyfriend and squealing and touching it and exclaiming over how handsome he is. I would put a ring on Antarctica if I could. . Photo by @pmhunter56 aboard the zodiac cruising around to rescue me should I careen into uncertain waters and fall A over T into the sea. . . . ❄️#antarctica #nekoharbour #seakayaking #gadv #gadventures @gadventures #humpbackwhale #polarhullar #coldworld #lifehappensoutdoors #lifeofadventure #onelifeliveit #sheexplores #womenwhoexplore #wildernessbabes #sheisnotlost #polar #wearetravelgirls #shewentwild @shewentwild_ @she_explores #wanderlust
I’m very accepting of the compromises I’ve made to be here, and the reality of living in the national park of a tiny little volcanic island in the Arctic. There really isn’t anything more I could want in my life; I’m prepared to work hard, and I’m extremely grateful for the position I’m in.
I don’t discount the experiences that have led me here for a second.
23-Year-Old Inspiring Amputee Travelled Europe Writing Each City On Her Prosthetic Leg...
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