Hvannadalshnúkur, 2109m. The highest point of Iceland. An alpine expedition you will remember forever.
This mountain thrones gloriously over Southeast Iceland, and the idea of standing on its summit is a dream for many – visitors and locals alike. However, as the highest mountain on an island known for furious weather, it requires dedication, preparation, and a bit of luck to make the dream a reality.
To give you the best chance of making it a success, your booking is for a three-day weather window which gives us the opportunity to pick the best day!
In a Nutshell
- Summit trip to the highest mountain of Iceland
- Very long day (12-14 hours)
- Easy to moderately difficult (prior experience with crampons required)
- Requires very good fitness
- Spring time only
- It is a very long day, so we usually begin very early. A typical time is to depart from Sandfell at 3am.
- Starting nearly at sea level, the route immediately sets off at a fairly steep angle over scree slopes to an elevation of about 700m. It is important to set a very easy pace, as the day will be long and we do not want to burn our matches too quickly. About half way up this section there is a waterfall where we can take a short break and refill our water bottles.
- From 700m onwards the terrain eases off a bit until we reach the glacier at roughly 1.000m. We often already encounter some patches of snow here.
- We will take a longer break at the edge of the glacier, have a larger snack and prepare our rope team. Then we set off onto the mentally most challenging part, a very uniform upslope to the plateau at 1.800m. Depending on the snow cover we may need to navigate across some open crevasses in this section.
- Once at the plateau, we need to circle around the massive calderaof Öræfajökull and its transverse crevasses until we arrive at the base of the peak itself.
- We can often avoid wearing crampons until this point, but now it is time to put those on and get our ice axes ready. We also often stash most of our backpacks and gear at the base to lighten our load for the final slope. This part is often very compact or glazed and fairly steep, and requires some technical proficiency with crampons – but is usually mastered well enough.
- Once at the peak, it is time to take a moment and enjoy the majestic views across all of Vatnajökull. On good days you can see well over 150km from up there!
- Of course reaching the peak is only half way, but the return trip is usually without great difficulty and even what felt like an endless slope on the way up (from 1.800m down to 1.000) tends to go by quickly enough.
Throughout the tour, we will try to set a very easy pace to ensure we do not burn our reserves too quickly, and make brief stops every 40-50 minutes to refuel and hydrate.
Total round trip distance is approximately 20km, and the overall duration of this tour is usually between 12 and 14 hours.
Since our schedule has a three-day window and a potentially very early start on the first day, I would highly recommend to plan for staying at a hotel in the vicinity for at least four nights (arriving in the early afternoon of the day before the first day of the window, and leaving in the morning after the third day). For example, both Hotel Skaftafell or Fosshotel Jökulsárlón are nearby.
- Voice or video briefing prior to the tour
- Answering all your questions on gear, preparation hikes, nutrition, etc.
- GPS track to study and prepare
- Meeting at Sandfell
- Three-day weather window for the tour
- All glacier related safety equipment (helmets, harnesses, crampons, and ice axes)
- Private tour guiding by a trained mountain guide and professional photographer
WHAT TO BRING
- Excellent outdoor clothing is a must (three layers minimum).
- B1 or B2 class hiking boots.
- Down jacket to put on while we stop, have a snack, and/or take pictures.
- Sunglasses or ski googles.
- Two pairs of gloves (at least one very warm).
- Enough snacks to keep you fueled throughout the tour.
- Two litres of fluids (at least one in a thermos that will keep it from freezing).
- Comfortable backpack.
- Be efficient about the weight you will carry all day (bring a smartphone for pictures, but leave the heavy DSLR at home)
IMPORTANT TO KNOW
- This is an expedition into one of the most remote areas in Iceland. Safety is paramount and there are no shortcuts.
- Be prepared for a 14 to 16-hour hike over 20-25km and 2000+m of continuous ascent / descent.
- The three-day weather window gives us a good chance of finding a day with good weather, but cancellations due to poor conditions are a very real possibility.
- If we need to cancel entirely due to predictably poor weather, you will receive a full refund.
- If we need set off on the tour but must turn around later due to inclement weather, you will receive a 70% refund.
- If we need to turn around due to insufficient fitness or equipment there is no refund.