Hvannadalshnúkur is a peak on the northwestern rim of the summit crater of the Öræfajökull volcano, the highest active volcano in Iceland. It’s situated in Vatnajokull National Park and the summit, at nearly 7,000 feet, is Iceland’s highest peak. Öræfajökull has erupted twice in historical times (1362 and 1728) and evidence of this is strewn about the trail on the way to the summit, in the form of pumice. The 1362 eruption ejected 10 cubic kilometers of pumice (equivalent to the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo) and destroyed a nearby settlement with flooding, pyroclastic flows, and ashfall.
The ascent of the high peak is not trivial, requiring endurance for 15 miles round-trip and 6,600 vertical feet gained. This consists of hiking on volcanic terrain as well as crossing crevassed glaciers safely – a lot of the miles are on the ice, adding to the challenge. My first attempt on this peak was as a 22-year-old, after completing a research project in the northern part of Iceland. It was late July and the crevasses were too large to cross without extra gear, so I didn’t make it then. 15 years later, I’ve now stood on the top of Iceland with Ricardo!


photo: Ricardo Peña, Hvannadalshnukur, Iceland