Wikimedia, Creative Commons, Photo Credit: Matias Ärje
Hvannadalshnúkur, or Hvannadalshnjúkur, is the highest peak of Öræfajökull volcanic glacier in Vatnajökull National Park and the tallest mountain in Iceland. Its latest measurement finds it to be 2,109.6 meters (6952 feet) tall.
Due to the fact Iceland is located over a rift valley, where the tectonic plates are pulling apart rather that crushing together, most mountains do not reach over a thousand metres, making it a remarkable sight.
Geography of Hvannadalshnúkur
Hvannadalshnúkur is a pyramid-shaped peak, that is covered in ice throughout the year. It can be seen from many parts of the country, particularly from the area between the towns of Höfn and Vík on the Ring Road that encircles the country.
It forms part of the crater around Öræfajökull, which conceals a particularly violent volcano. It had a massive eruption in 1362, destroying many farms and killing an unknown number of people. The lava wiped out every settlement around it, all the way to the shore, and pumice was so thick that it posed a huge risk to sailors.
The area was unsettleable for decades. When people finally returned to it, forty years later, it was named Öræfi, which meant ‘the area without a harbour’. Now, it is synonymous with ‘wasteland’.
It had another, although less dramatic, eruption in the year 1727. Even if the consequences were not so widespread, glacial floods pouring from the meltwater of the ice were known to have killed at least three people and destroyed one farm.
Wikimedia, Creative Commons, photo credit: Gummao
Hiking on Hvannadalshnúkur
Hvannadalshnúkur can be hiked near, by taking routes in all different parts of the South Coast, but hiking on it requires experienced mountain guides.
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. Though you do not need to be an expert hiker, a good level of fitness is required.
The views from the top are well worth the effort.
Other sites in Vatnajökull National Park
Vatnajökull National Park is a vast area in Iceland, and Hvannadalshnúkur is just one site that should be visited if heading to the area.
Incredibly close by are two of the country’s most popular destinations. One of these is the Skaftafell Nature Reserve. This beautiful oasis is a wonderland of glacial tongues and lagoons, crystal clear streams, waterfalls, mountains and lava landscapes.
This reserve was once an independent National Park, before the creation of the greater Vatnajökull park.
The second major site is Jökulsárlón, a vast glacier lagoon and Iceland’s deepest lake. This lagoon fills with enormous icebergs, which break from the glacial tongue of Breiðamerkurjökull and slowly cruise their way over to the ocean. This was only enveloped into the park in 2017, but now is entirely protected.
While here, it is worth walking to the nearby shoreline, called the Diamond Beach after the icebergs that wash up here.
In this area, it is very important not to climb on the ice. When afloat, it is constantly rotating, and the lagoon has shockingly strong currents. When on the beach, they are melting and unstable.