The path up the mountain goes through many crevasses, and involves steep inclines over icy ground, both of which pose some dangers to those unfamiliar with the area.
We loaded up my gear and headed for the trailhead, a four-hour drive plus stops for gas and food. We arrived about noon, and then took 45 minutes getting our gear organized—skis, boots, ropes, ice gear, clothing, and everything else. We hit the trail at 12:45 PM, unconcerned about darkness at this latitude in early April.
The first 600m/2000’ or so of trail was dry, but we brought our skis anyway—Petter and Pål had lightweight telemark skis they could put on their packs and leather telemark boots good for hiking, but my heavy randonnee skis and boots both had to be lashed to my pack, since I didn’t want to destroy my plastic boots (and feet!) by hiking in them up a rocky trail. We chugged uphill as fast as we could, making our first rest stop at 350m to fill up our water bottles and chat with some Icelandic skiers headed to a side slope. More steep, rocky/gravelly, and well-defined trail took us up a ridge past some rock formations to a flatter area, where, at 765m, we found a snowbank and put our skis on.
We now had 1000m of seemingly endless snow slope to ascend. I was using climbing skins, while Petter and Pål used klister wax on their telemark ski bases. I could definitely climb straight uphill more easily than they could, but their lighter gear and better skiing skill meant that their switchbacking was just as fast as my straight lines. We toiled up the initial snow slopes to a notch, and then pretty much straight up a huge slope that never seemed to have an end. The weather was stellar, with blue skies and great views behind us to the nearby ocean. We saw a few other parties, including two women carrying their skis downhill in their arms, apparently afraid of the relatively benign slope.
Near the top of the snow slope a very minor crevasse was bridged by a snow ramp, and not long after that the snow slope abruptly stopped and we were on a huge flat expanse of snow (apparently the “crater” of Öræfajökull volcano), with the icy pinnacle of Hvannadalshnúkur on the far side. We headed over the icy snow, with Petter and Pål soon leaving me way behind on their fast Nordic skis. I plodded on the best I could. A party of snow-moving showshoers was crossing the crater, and once near the pinnacle a group of climbers came off the summit, put on their cached skis, and cruised down past us happily.
Petter and Pål had stopped to have a snack and I passed them, heading straight up to a bergschrund which looked like the logical place to take off skis and start using crampons and ice axes. I got there first and rested, but when Petter and Pål arrived they thought we could ski uphill past a tricky crossing of the bergschrund at ridge corner. Skeptical, I followed them, but the nice platform our skis provided made the crossing OK. We stayed on skis and switchbacked uphill, our edges gripping well in snow that was really just intricate crusty ice crystals. I was a bit out of my comfort zone but soon realized this terrain was perfectly skiable.
Soon we were nearing the final summit dome, where the last obstacle was terrain covered in two-inch high knobs of hard blue ice—it was very difficult and awkward to ski up through these, but we were determined to make a complete “skis to summit” ascent. Finally, at 6:35 PM, we were at the snowy 2110-meter high crest marking the summit of Iceland. The weather was still clear, but the wind and cold did not make us want to linger long. We congratulated each other, took photos, and gazed out at the ocean to the south and the vast Vatnajökull icefield to the north.
Petter and Pål left first, and I peeled off my climbing skins, locked down my binding heels, and switched my boots to ski mode and took off at 6:55 PM, instantly finding the blue ice knobs basically unskiable. So I sidestepped down a meter or two to small patches of soft powder, made my first turn, and was down below the blue ice very shortly. I actually found that the icy crystalline snow of the summit pinnacle was easy and fun to ski on, and I made short work of the steep switchbacks above the tricky bergschrund crossing. The telemark skis of the Norwegians were a bit problematical on this terrain, and Petter in particular had to traverse and kick-turn to get down. Pål and I were faster and were soon at the bergschrund—he went first, his left ski on an icy bump and his right ski in space as he suddenly dropped down. I balanced my right ski on the bump, put my left ski in the snowed-in crack, and with pole-push motion got across to the safer lower slope.
After waiting for Petter to get across the tricky spot, I blasted tight turns down the lower slopes of the pinnacle and started the long traverse across the flat crater below. Once again, Petter and Pål were way faster, and my skinless randonnee skis were hopeless on the icy, flat terrain even with my heels unlocked. They had to wait a long time for me at the small crevasse at the top of the main slope. We easily crossed the little snow ramp, and then the fun really began, at least for me. The snow was now a heavy but velvety soft corn, the slopes pitched perfectly for nice turns, and the evening light at 8 PM at this latitude was magical.
I was fastest, given my superior downhill gear, but Pål, making expert telemark turns, was not far behind. Every hundred vertical meters or so, we’d stop to admire the views and wait for Petter, who was traversing and kick-turning above. Overall, the skiing was amazing--the scenery, and the knowledge I was descending a major peak, added to the good feelings. One minor mishap occurred when Petter found one of his skis in a small crevasse—it was too small to be dangerous and he only fell down harmlessly on the main snow surface.
At about 9:10 PM we ran out of snow after a 1345m/4400’ descent from the summit, the last 1000m straight fall line. We put our skis on our packs and started the long trudge down the rocky, dusty trail to the car. At the water break spot, the same place as in the morning, we ran into the four Icelandic skiers again—they had now adopted my practice of snapping their plastic boots wing-like onto their skis on their packs. We chatted for a while and headed down, passing them as we neared the car. We were at the trailhead at 10:15 PM. We didn’t use our rope, harnesses, ice axes, or crampons due to the early-season deep snow cover, and I was happy and surprised to have skied off the actual summit.
We were all very tired, and I in particular had been awake for nearly 30 hours, including a long flight and a 2000-meter climb. So we simply pitched our tents in the field nearby, ate some snacks, and went to bed as quickly as we could
April, 8 2019:
We awoke around 8 AM, packed up our tents and camping gear into the over-stuffed CRV, and headed off counter-clockwise on the Ring Road, looking for more peaks to climb, especially “P600s” (peaks with over 600 meters of prominence). But it started raining not long after we got underway, and the remainder of the day was very overcast, windy, and intermittently drizzly. We stopped at the famous Jökulsárlón iceberg lagoon, but the horizontal rain and wind made us bail pretty quick there. In the town of Höfn we looked for a restaurant, but they were all closed. I thought we might try to climb the nearby peak of Fjarðarfjall, since it was very close to the highway, but its steep slopes and crenellated summit ridge looked very daunting, especially given the weather.
On a three day trip, starting up alongside the Svinafellsjökull Glacier, we took two days (a short rainy one to begin with) to make our way to the saddle between Hvannadalshnúkur and Snӕbreið, at almost 1900 m. Next morning we made a short side trip ascending Hvannadalshnukur by a ramp from the northwest, I estimate about 35 degrees steep. Back to the saddle, we packed up and walked around the summit to join the Sandfell route for our descent.
05/14/16: So thrilled to be on top with Michael, Carol, Steve, Julie, and Jim--along with our guide Johann
#1 5-14-16 With Team Utah: Jim, Steve, Lana, Carol and Julie and a fit, congenial Icelandic team. Lead guide Johann from Mountain Excursion. Excellence at every turn: preparation, teamwork, attitude, weather (but, yes, wind), proper safety measures. Under 14 hours r/t with nice mix of breaks and hiking. Hiked the entire night and never used headlamps! I agree with the several comments made on this page: do not underestimate this peak.
ideal weather! Our guide Johann said he's never seen so much snow up there. With 5 friends from Utah and 11 Icelanders. We started ~ midnight, summit ~07:40. Awesome views all around!
We enjoyed a late season ski descent on Hvannadalshnukur. When we arrived in Skaftafell, the local guides told us they had stopped guiding clients on the peak three weeks before our arrival due to crevasses that had opened beyond what they felt were safe to guide. We decided to investigate the route, and found snow bridges that crossed the 5 crevasses on the route. Conditions included poor visibility due to fog, (~100' visibility for most of the ascent) making a GPS with a preloaded track a necessity.
Did this as a day trip with the Icelandic Mountain Guides. Fun trip and straightforward trip.
Sat out three days of foul weather before we got a chance to score. Took us 12 hours to get to the top and back down. Post-summit beers felt well deserved.
Bit of a slog but no chance of getting lost. The path was well trodden to say the least!
Normal route climbed with Glacier Guides and two others. Nice route, lots of snow, lots of wind at the top. 15 hours total.
We had to turn back at 1600 meters due to extreme weather conditions. Beautiful views, I'm coming back in 2011 :)
Went with a big group from Boot Camp (www.bootcamp.is) and our guides were Iceland Mountain Guides (www.mountainguides.is).
We started around 5am in overcast weather with very light rain.
When we were up to 700-800 meters the clouds suddenly vanished and we climbed in a beautiful weather. Clear skies and calm wind.
We reached the summit after about 7 1/2 hours of long walk. A bit of wind on the summit but beautiful views!
We were back at Sandfell 12 hours after we began.
In a group of 8 (1 guide and 7 guests) to the summit. Not difficult but a long hike of 24.5 Kilometers (up and down) and 2000 m elevation gain. Fine day with good weather over the clouds and awesome views of Vatnajökull-Icefield.
Turned back just short of the summit due to bad weather storm coming in - I am not bitter honest!!!!!!!!!
Group of 8 made it to the summit. The winds were incredible. Cloudy most of the ascent...then magically a few meters from the top, the clouds lifted and it was glorious.
Reached the summit with 8 other guys, Storm was our guide from Icelandic Mountainguides. Despite the fog, it was a great trip.
Winds of about 50-60 mph and rain forced our group to turn around about 6000 feet. Other than crevasses, the climb is relatively easy although there's a lot of elevation gain. Will submit trip report once I get all the Icelandic peaks I climbed added.