Hvannadalshnúkur | Iceland

Iceland was a critical mountain for me in this project. I wanted to climb it in the fall of 2017 but it was not possible due to crevasses and in november volcanic activity started in Öræfajökull just next to Hvannadalshnúkur. An eruption could sabotage this whole project. So I have been monitoring the situation close the last months and as soon as the climbing season started in early april I went to Iceland to climb the highest mountain 2110 m.

I wanted to do this mountain on skis because I thought it was a mountain that would work good with skiing since it´s a big glacier. So I asked around for some company and found the mountain guide Floris Flo in the Facebook group Alpine Climbing who said he would take me.

We started at sea level at 7 am in the morning and hiked up with our skis on the backpack for the first two hours. There were fresh tracks from three people so there were other people on the mountain too.

The last point to fill up your water bottle. I love Iceland. It´s my favourite country and I have been 16 times.

Me and Flo had actually three different opportunities marked in our calendars for climbing this mountain during april to make sure we got a weather window. That can be tricky on this mountain. But we decided to go for the first possible one and I flew in to Reykjavik and he picked me up on a sunday afternoon. We drove five hours to Skaftafell and took in at a hotel. The next day weather was bad with snow all day and clouds so we spent it just relaxing. I think it was very nice since I came straight from climbing Norways highest mountain on skis and my feet were sore with some blisters from my ski boots.

The next day was what we had waited for. High pressure. Not too many clouds. Some sun. No too much wind. Or at least not until the afternoon… So the first hours were pretty amazing hiking and skiing in Iceland.

We caught up with the people before us after two hours and they were three guys from The Netherlands who was going for the summit by foot. When they saw we had skis they wish they had brought their. There is almost no information on skiing this mountain online and when I askes Icelandic Mountain Guides who organize tours here they told me it could not be done. But I found a YouTube video of some guys skiing it and thought if they can do it maybe I can too. As I wrote in the blogpost about Norways highest mountain that I did on skis too I did not know how to ski 3 months ago so I have been learning for these mountains.

We took very few breaks on the way. Maybe it was only two or three and a few minutes each. But if was enough to eat something small at least. Here we also stopped to put our skis on and skin up for the next part!

Weather was amazing and the snow fantastic. It had snowed about 40 cm the day before. We were so excited to ski down this!

It´s a very long way to the top… 22 km roundtrip and more then 2000 altitude meters. And when you get up on the plateau it´s just never ending skiing for a long long time. But we enjoyed the nice weather and to be in this beautiful place. Flo said “it´s like going to the gym” and I can really understand what he mean.

And even if it was -13 degrees it was warm for us in the sun when we skied uphill. Flo explains the route. I like to know where I´m going to learn instead of just follow the guide. Navigation is important in the mountains and I would soon be aware of a good reason for that…

After skiing forever we finally got closer. The summit is up there and here is also where the crevasses starts. We roped up and continued together the last part up to the summit push.

Somewhere around here we put down the skis to continue the last part on our feet with crampons and ice ax. There were actually some proper mountianeering with the last part. There were some crevasses we needed to cross and sometimes we built anchors to pass them safely and sometimes we crawled over them to let our weight spread out to not fall through. There were also a pretty steep traverse and wall to climb up before we got to the plateau.

And after walking over it and up a little bit we stood on the top of the highest mountain in Iceland! Amazing!!

The view from the summit <3

But as you can see weather got worse and Flo said we needed to get down fast. We knew there was going to be windy and bad weather later in the afternoon but it took us longer to get to the top then expected. I don´t know why we hiked and skied not too slow and had only a few short breaks but I guess the last part took a while with the crevasses. Anyway in just a few minutes it´s started to blow pretty bad and on our way down we could no longer see the tracks we came up because the blew away so fast. When we climbed down the steep part there was so much snow blowing in my face I could not see anything. I was never scared but I was kind of worried we would not find out skis again because the wind blew the snow over them so they got buried. But we did! And then we traversed the plateau forever in the wind. Sometimes it was almost a whiteout so navigation became so much harder. I was happy I was with someone who had been up here many times before.

Then we finally could start to ski down but what we thought was amazing snow was too much powder haha so it might not have been the most beautiful skiing and with bad sight too and trying to avoid crevasses on the way down or ending up in the wrong place I felt like I skied with the worst technique ever. But it was fine. At least we were getting down in the storm.

With the windchill it was colder then -20 and both med and Flo got some first stages of frost bite on our fingertips. My fingers still feels weird.

We never saw the guys from The Neatherlands again but they were way behind us already an hour after we passed them so they made the right choice to turn around. Weather was too bad for a later summit.

And when we finally got back to the car the clock was 9pm so it had taken us 14 hours to climb this mountain! My feet were killing me and I got new blisters and infected old ones. I had 13 compeed on my feet this day but it was not enough. So it was a lot of pain. I wanted to scream sometimes because of that pain but I just tried to hold it together and not complain about it. Why is ski boots so uncomfortable?

After the climb we did something no guide recommend anyone – we drove all the way back to the airport to take the morning flight from Iceland. Flo was going home to Belgium and I went to Germany for a photo job. It was a long drive and we got no sleep that night. We stopped at Iceland Air hotel in Kirkjubaejarklaustur and begged them to make us pizza even if it was too late (and they did!!!) to get some food. I was starving after this day, only eating some snacks.

I left Iceland very happy and had an amazing time there.

Mountain no 35