Hvannadalshnúkur, Iceland

There’s really no “starting in the dark” when it’s spring in Iceland… Case in point.

So we started in the light at 3 AM from Vik, Iceland with the goal of crushing the country’s highest peak, Hvannadalshnúkur.  Side note: please don’t ask me how to pronounce this or literally any other Icelandic word.

We got to the trailhead of the standard route (Sandfell) at around 5AM.  The trail starts low at ~100 feet above sea level, i.e. Bainbridge Island hiking. It is easy to find the trailhead, and it starts off with glitz and glamour as it winds its way up a little waterfall and into the first valley. The trail was bare, loose gravel up until ~1500 feet when we rose above the first valley and onto the snowfield where we saw some casual, minor wind.

Minor Wind

Luckily the wind died down for us at the exact moment I took that picture and we headed up the first snowfield.  We were the only skiers/splitboarders on the mountain that day as it was filled with a variety of walking, guided groups.   One of the guides even asked if he could buy my board off of me later in the week… apparently there is a shortage of splitboards in Iceland?  #raiseawareness #icelandsplitboardshortage

From there it was one long, straightforward slog all the way up to the volcano crater, with the Kotarjokull glacier on the right and the Falljokull glacier on the left.  No rope is needed on this section but I have a pro tip: if you’re getting tired of carrying the rope, take it out of your backpack and tell the group “I think it’s about to get sketchy.”  After 5 hours of uphill, we reached the crater and steered left toward the summit.  Akin to the volcanoes in the PNW, the crater here is huge!  It took an hour just to cross it… then you still have to go up.


The true summit only took 30 minutes up to complete.  We had the whole thing to ourselves after smokeshowing the other parties and setting the line for the day. Congrats team (Calvin & Clay).

Summit #2

The way down was marred by a broken telemark binding (yes, I’m told it is still a sport) and some white out conditions.  But don’t get it confused, this is DEFINITELY a mountain you want to bring skis/snowboards.

We finished with two Icelandic beers… each.  Nailed it. Check out Einstok and Vífilfell for a tasty beverage next time you’re in the neighborhood.

Final measurables were: 17 miles, 7,000 feet gain, 11.5 hours, lucky weather.