Climbing
Snow/glacier/ice route
Alpine climbing NCCS rating
Grade I
Elevation Gain
991.00 ft (302.06 m)
Distance
5.82 mi (9.37 km)
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Vatnajökull Glacier, located in southeastern Iceland, is Europe’s largest ice cap by volume and the second largest in area. There are about 30 outlet glaciers that flow from the ice cap into the surrounding valleys, and some are accessible from the Ring Road that circumnavigates the island nation. One of the easiest accessed areas and most popular for ice climbing is Breiðamerkurjökuloutlet glacier. There are several outfitters that plan small group and private glacier tours as well as ice climbing tours for the more adventurous travelers.

Most of the outfitters are located between Skaftafell and Hali, so it is best to make arrangements to stay in one of the few hotels that dot this remote area well in advance of your planned trip date. The tour guides will provide all the necessary ice climbing and glacier equipment. You will be responsible for any personal gear and snacks when on the glacier, so plan ahead and pack what you will need for a day of strenuous activity. It is also a good idea to bring a waterproof and breathable jacket and pants, and to dress in layers.

The approach is a moderate hike from the shuttle drop off to the base of the glacier. Here, your guides will give you instructions on how to use the crampons and ice axes and a safety briefing on glacier travel. No experience is necessary to take on this adventure, but it is recommended that you be physically fit enough for four to six hours of moderate hiking. After the instructional period at the base of the glacier, the real fun begins.

With crampons fixed to the provided mountaineering boots, the hike up the glacier begins at the transition area where glacier meets dirt and quickly ascends about 500 to 1,000 feet above the valley below, depending on where your guides feel the best climbing will be for the day. More instruction on technique and route planning will be provided after the guides fix anchor points and ropes. The next few hours will be spent climbing different glacial walls and possibly a descent into and climb out of a crevasse or two. Once the climbing is done for the day it is time to make your way back down the glacier to the warmth of the waiting shuttle and hot chocolate back at the outfitters shop.

While in the area it is a short drive to Jökulsárlón, also known as Glacier Lagoon in English. This is a great spot for photographing the blue ice that has come off the glacier as it advances toward the sea. Here it is also possible to take a Zodiac boat tour of the lagoon.

Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)

Spring
Fall

Congestion

Low

Parking Pass

General Day Use Fee

Open Year-round

Yes

Pros

Beautiful scenery. Easy access. Beginner friendly.

Cons

Limited lodging.

Pets allowed

Not Allowed

Trailhead Elevation

423.00 ft (128.93 m)

Highest point

1,414.00 ft (430.99 m)

Net Elevation Gain

991.00 ft (302.06 m)

Features

Glacier
Big vistas
Waterfalls

Access

Hike-in

Typically multi-day

No

Permit required

No

Primary aspect

South facing

Drinking water

Snowmelt

Location

Field Guide

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