Are you interested in climbing the tallest peak in Iceland? When is the best time to climb the highest summit?

Are you interested in climbing the tallest summit in Iceland? Read the travel diary about the guided trek on the top of Mt. Hvannadalshnúkur, Icelands highest peak.
 
The highest Mountain in Iceland is Mt. Hvannadalshnjúkur, or Hvannadalshnúkur, which is 2.110 meters high. Iceland’s tallest mountain sits on thee Öræfajökull volcano and it risis a massive 2.100m / 6.900 ft above Vatnajökull glacier. Vatnajökull, Europe’s largest glacier that extends for around 8,100 square kilometers (3127 square miles) and takes up 8% of Iceland’s total landmass. 
 
 
When is the best time to climb the highest summit?
The best months to climb Hvannadalshnukur is in April, May, June, July and August. The season can vary according to weather conditions, but it is usually from April-August.
 
 
Hiking highest mountain in Iceland is a challenge
I went up there with a large group of people back in June 2007 and it was a pretty tough journey. This was my first real hiking trip on a glacier but since I had been running quite a lot, I was confident that I was in good enough shape for it.
The main peak of Hvannadalshnúkur protrudes of some 200 meters up from the flat glacial plateau which is on a top of an active volcano. Don´t worry though, there are so many active volcanoes in Iceland that one more doesn´t really make any difference. But should it blow, boy, it is going to be a big one.
 
 
 
Two major eruptions under the ice
This volcano has had two major eruptions during historical times. The first one took place in 1362 which devastated the countryside to the degree that an area that was called “Litla Hérað” and “Litte Shire” was renamed as Öræfi which basically means “desert” or the “wasteland”.  This was fitting as it emptied the countryside of people, who either fled or perished and there were decades before people return to live in the much-diminished area.
 
 
Second largest eruption in Iceland
It is said that another peak called Hnappafell which was right next to Hvannadalshhjúkur was blown to bits in this eruption.  Geologists believe that the eruption emitted massive amounts of tephra or some 10km3. This material covered the East and South East of Iceland. From my recent experience of the ash from the Eyjafjallajokull eruption in 2010 I can tell you that this must have been something. The eruption of 1362 is estimated to be second largest eruption which has taken place in Iceland in the last 10.000 years. The impact of this catastrophic event on the people living in the vicinity and its livestock was terrible.
 
 
Volcanic eruption in 1727 
There was another major eruption in 1727 that was smaller but it went on for a year and was devastating as well. It is estimated that the flood that was ejected from the glacier reached 100.000 m3/sec which is like the water volume of the Amazon. 
 
 
Want to climb the highest mountain in Iceland?
If you are still interested in running the gauntlet of this active volcano below the largest glacier in Europe the trip will involve the following given that you go the more common route called “Sandfellsleið” as opposed to an alternative and tougher route called “Virkisjökusleið”:
  • Elevation gain: 2.000 meters
  • Distance: 10,5 KM
  • Duration of journey: 10-15 hours
 
The first leg of the hike involves an elevation gain of some 1.000 meters. When you have reached some 1.100 meters above sea level you reach the edge of the glacier. The guides split the groups into safety lines, but they are totally mandatory up on the glacier as it can be riddled with crevices. You will also put on your crampon and you will be carrying an ice-ax on your back. Safety lines are mandatory as the glacier is riddled with crevices. If you fall into one and get stuck, well you are in trouble.
 
 
Keep walking people, keep walking!
The second leg of the hike is from a height of 1.100 meters up to 1.800 meters. This can be a bit of a challenge as it is a bit monotonous. You basically walk nonstop up this really steep slope for ages. During my trip two people gave up from exhaustion and had to be escorted down by a guide. The rough weather we were experiencing wasn´t helping and at one point I was worried that we would suffer the same fate as a group that had to crawl down from the glacier before they reached the peak as the weather turned hellish in a blink of an eye. But the weather did not get worse.
 
Photo credit; © jesusisland 
 
Walking along the edge of the caldera
Finally, you reach the plateau and you will be thrilled to know that now you are walking along the edge of the caldera underneath the ice-sheet. When we had walked some time there a girl in my line stepped in a crevice and sank to her waist. The guy behind her just kept walking towards so the line connecting them didn´t really work to pull her up. I must admit that the language I used when I asked him to get  back so she wouldn´t sink any further isn´t really appropriate for a family-oriented travel article such as this. But I didn´t really get his attention until I yanked at the cord rather harshly. He woke up from his walk induced slumber and rather sheepishly stepped back to give her the leverage she needed to get out of the crevice.
 
 
Disaster strikes at the highest peak
Then disaster struck. A tourist who was not with our group stepped into a hole and twisted his ankle. Two of our guides had to get that guy down and I still think about how difficult it must have been. This meant that when we finally reached the peak we had to wait, and it felt like for ages, as the ratio of guides to tourists was pretty messed up.
 
 
Standing on top of Iceland
Getting up and down the peak is tricky. The guides need to escort people up and down. We had to wait until a guide was available for our group but we finally got up there. We stood triumphant on top of the highest peak of Iceland. 
The way down was pretty rough. We lucked out as the snow on the glacier hadn´t melted much during the day. Slogging in half melted snow for many kilometers is tough.  Fortunately, we only had conditions like that for the last kilometer of glacier or so.
 
 
Stay safe!
Never go on an Icelandic glacier without being escorted by a professional guide. There are many companies that provide tours to Icelandic mountains and glaciers. I suggest you join a highly rated tour and prioritize quality rather than saving a few bucks. Good guides that keep you safe make all the difference.
 
 
Things to do in the area of Skaftafell
Mt. Hvannadalshnjukur is a part of the fantastic Skaftafell National Park. There is so much to see and do there.
 
 
Affordable accommodation close by
If you are looking for accommodation near Hvannadalshnúkur I recommend the affordable HI Hostels close by. These hostels all have guest kitchen and self-catering facilities and can accommodate small and large groups; Vagnstaðir, Höfn and Vík.
 
 
 
 

Jon Heidar is the co-founder and editor of the travel magazine Stuck in Iceland, the oldest independent travel magazine in Iceland. Jon Heidar also works for the leading fintech company Meniga.

He loves traveling around Iceland with good friends, rock music, history, and cycling.