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Hvannadalshnúkur is the highest peak in Iceland, reaching an impressive altitude of 2,110 meters (6,922 ft). It is the crown jewel of the Öræfajökull volcano, which is an outlet glacier of the vast Vatnajökull ice cap.
Hvannadlasnjúkur mountain in the Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland.
Best time to visit
March - June
Distance from Reykjavík
330 km (205mi)
64.022264, -16.67060935

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Hvannadalshnúkur Mountain in Skaftafell area, Iceland.
15 hours

Hvannadalshnúkur - Iceland's highest summit

Ascending the highest peak in Iceland, Hvannadalshnúkur (2110 m / 6900 ft) is a bucket-list worth climb to check off your list! The mountain is located on the northwestern rim of the Öræfajökull volcano and promises an unforgettable hike with breathtaking panoramic views. This is not a beginners’ hike; be prepared for a challenging climb befitting those with ample climbing experience and in fantastic physical shape. No special technical skills are required, but we recommend packing the items on our equipment list (see below). The climb will be mentally and physically gruelling, but it is worth it.

From €366/person

Hvannadalshnjúkur, the highest peak in Iceland, sits atop the Öræfajökull volcano in southeast Iceland and dominates the Vatnajökull National Park's skyline. Prominently visible along the Ring Road stretch between Höfn and Vík, this dome-shaped peak marks the highest point of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, an underwater mountain range delineating several tectonic plates.

Iceland's portion of this ridge rises above sea level, culminating in Hvannadalshnjúkur. The peak's ice-covered expanse, shimmering under sunlight, is a breathtaking sight. Despite not being technically demanding, the glacier's unpredictable nature, weather and ever-shifting crevasses make guided climbs essential unless accompanied by seasoned glacier climbers.

Snow-covered summit of Hvannadalsnjúkur with icy outcroppings against a clear sky

Historical and Geographical Significance

Hvannadalshnúkur, being a part of the Öræfajökull volcano, holds significant geological interest. The volcano's last eruptions in the 18th century were among Iceland's most devastating, leading to significant changes in the surrounding landscape. The peak itself stands as a sentinel overlooking vast plains, glaciers, and coastlines, offering a unique vantage point to observe Iceland's diverse geology.

Close-up view of the rugged and snow-dusted summit of Hvannadalsnjúkur.

The first documented climb of Hvannadalshnjukur took place on August 17, 1891, led by British adventurer Frederick W. W. Howell, with the assistance of local guides Pall Jonsson and Thorlakur Thorlaksson. Since then, the renowned mountain has continued to challenge climbers.

Fortunately, guided treks offer enthusiasts with decent physical fitness, endurance, and some mountain climbing background the opportunity to conquer the peak. Given the glacial landscape, climbers must be securely roped and accompanied by guides well-versed in glacial navigation to safely maneuver through the myriad of crevasses.

Group of climbers ascending Hvannadalsnjúkur with deep glacial crevasses visible in the background.

Summiting Hvannadalshnjukur

Two primary paths lead to the summit of Hvannadalshnjukur, both originating from the mountain's western side and encompassing roughly 2000 meters (6600 feet) of elevation.

The Hryggjaleið Route is accessible only until mid-July. This route from Virkisjökull glacier closes due to crevasses and icy conditions. Reserved exclusively for expert climbers, it's known for its high difficulty.

The Sandfellsleið Route begins south from the Skaftafell National Park's parking area. T0his standard route is the preferred choice for many. Traversing the Svínafellsjökull glacier, climbers will experience glacier walking and elementary ice climbing. The entire journey takes around 12 hours—8 hours ascending and 4 descending. It remains open most of the year.

Given its sea-level starting point, the 2000m ascent and descent in a day classify Hvannadalshnjukur's climb among the world's lengthiest and most challenging. However, unlike in the Alps, climbers won't feel air-thinning effects after ascending 6500 ft. Nevertheless, climbers need robust fitness and, crucially, endurance for a day-long challenging climb. Typically, guided groups allocate 6-7 hours for the ascent and 4-5 hours for the descent.

The climbing is strenuous - a physically and psychologically intense experience, only suitable for climbers with a high degree of fitness, focus and stamina. This is an expedition-level climb that’s challenging and demanding.

Furthermore, if you choose to climb the mountain independently without the assistance of local professionals, you must possess the necessary skills to use climbing equipment safely and confidently on steep mountainous terrain and glacial surfaces covered with snow. However, if you opt for a guided tour, all necessary equipment will be provided, and a trained guide will ensure your safety.

Questions and Answers About Hvannadalshnúkur Summit Hike

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