Let me tell you about the hiking path to Hvannadalshnjúkur, Sandfellsleið, that is the most popular trail to the peak. I have hiked this path three times, and know one thing or two about this trail. First let me tell you about the volcano.
Hvannadalshnjúkur is the highest summit of Iceland, 2110 meters (6900 ft) above sea level. Hvannadalshnjúkur peak was believed to be 2119 meters, but more thorough investigation in 2005 revealed that it is 2110 meters.
This peak is part of Vatnajökulsþjóðgarður (Vatnajokull National Park), one of four National parks in Iceland. The peak is located in the north-western rim of the Öræfajökull volcano, one of the biggest volcano in Iceland and is often compared to mount Etna in Italy. Öræfajökull is a glacial volcano. This volcano has erupted two times in historical times, first in 1362 and second time in 1728. The second eruption in 1728 destroyed all the countryside called Litlahérað (Small shire) known as Öræfasveit today in East of Iceland (Skaftafellssýsla).
Kindly note that no one should hike this glacier volcano without a guide. The glacier is changing rapidly every year, new cracks appear, and current cracks can be bigger or even smaller. This hike is for experts in hiking. Always listen to the guide and do what he asks of you. They have years of experience walking this trail and know of every danger there is on the way.
It is practical to keep few things in mind before leaving home for this hike.
Where to stay?
Skaftafell in a tent.
There are also more accommodation nearby.
I recommend that you sleep both before and after your hike at the same place.
You start hiking at midnight. Usually hikers are back at 16:00 next day. After a hike like that is good to rest for short time, eat well and them get early to bed again.
Think about good nutrition before hike, what to bring with you and what to eat right after.
Be in time to find a guide. You could have to book a guide with long time in advance.
Always carry GPS with the trail. The glacier almost has its own weather system, so we never know when it starts snowing, heavy wind or even fog.
This hike takes about 16 hours.
I recommend signing up on Safetravel.is the official source for safe adventure in Iceland.
How to get there.
We arrive at parking lot at Sandfell. Sandfell is abandoned farmstead, former church and priesthood in 1931. From there you follow the hiking trail leading west. I do not recommend wearing a lot of clothes on this first part, because it is steep, and one can start sweating, which is not good on the first meters. After about 500 meters you find the last spot where you find drinking water, in about 200-meter altitude. Of course, you can melt snow on the way. I recommend filling up your bottle here. At about 700 meters altitude we enter the first snow. At about 1100 meters we arrive at Línusteinn (Line stone). Here is the place where I and my group stop to eat and put on our equipment. Ahead is the “Death slope” a long trail to the top of the volcanic crater of Öræfajökull in 1750-meter altitude. This is a very long slope and is truly amazing being there when the morning sun comes up and shines at you. Next part is about 3 kilometers distance on flat trail over the crater at the roots of Hvannadalshnjúkur, at about 1800 Meters altitude. At this stop, it is necessary to put on crampons and eat something. I recommend taking your backpack all the way to the top as well. If you leave your backpack, you never know if you find it again if the weather changes. You also want to have all your gear with you in case of bad weather. This last part is steep and goes up 300 meters in altitude. Beware of very dangerous cracks in this part, experienced hikers for this are have had problems here.
Usually when I hike this trail, I start at midnight and I’m at the top at around 08:00 in the morning. It is almost impossible to describe the feeling standing on the highest peak of Iceland in the morning in clear skies, no wind and sunshine. This I have done for three times, and every time is like the first. It is cold up there, but your hard and mind are filled with warmth and happiness.
When we have taken photos and enjoyed the moment, filling our phones and cameras with selfies, it is time to start walking down. Be sure that walking down is no less work and is as dangerous as hiking up the glacier. We walk the same path down the glacier. On your way back, if the weather is good, it is spectacular photo opportunities. The view from up there is amazing.
Here you have my equipment list:
Hiking boots. Must be well over your ankle.
Hiking leg gaiters
Hiking socks, soft and warm
Underwear, wool or fleece (I always recommend wool)
Sweater made of wool or fleece.
In my backpack
Compass, map and GPS
Food for the day
Some snacks for walking, like dried fruits, chocolate or nuts.
Water bottle. It is necessary to have plenty of water during glacier hike.
Thermos, containing hot chocolate, tea or coffee. I recommend hot chocolate, it makes you warmer then tea or coffee.
Camera and binoculars.
Sunglasses and or ski goggles.
Sunblock and lipstick.
First aid kit, including second skin and pain killers.
Toilet paper, wet paper towel and plastic bag for waste paper.
Hat, mittens and buff headwear.
Water and windproof jacket and pants.
Belt with climbing carabiners.
Crampons that have already been fixed for your shoes.
Glacier crack rescue kit.
I ask everyone to remember this is our nature. We should all respect that, so only leave footprints, and take away memories.