Jasper vs. Iceland volcano: climbing Eyjafjallajökull

This is the story of travel blogger, Jasper Ribbers’ — of the Traveling Dutchman — hike up the Iceland volcano, Eyjafjallajökull that famously erupted in 2010.  Read his exciting tale and enjoy his beautiful photos and the amazing video chronicling his adventure.

Hiking Eyjafjallajökull Glacier

In 2010, Western Europe’s air traffic ground to a halt after the massive volcano beneath the Eyjafjallajökull Glacier erupted several times. The volcano spewed heaps of ash into the air, blackening the skies beyond recognition. While the eruption did not cause a high number of fatalities, it was a stark reminder of the awesome and dangerous power of Mother Nature. Despite this recent blast of molten venom, I nonetheless embarked on a lifelong dream: to hike through Iceland’s glaciers and set foot atop this tumultuous territory.

The hike over the Fimmvörðuháls pass is one of Iceland’s most popular attractions. And for good reason; the hike features an extreme diversity in landscapes and natural phenomena not found anywhere else on the planet. Breathtaking waterfalls, a roaring river, canyons, glaciers, volcanoes and astonishingly beautiful mountain valleys are packed into a one day hike. Sounds incredible, right?

We began the hike near sea level at the site of a magnificent waterfall named Skógafoss.  The waterfall is an attraction in itself. Springing from the top of an eroded cliff that looms 200 feet above, the water comes down with such force that on impact, millions of tiny water particles are shot into the air, creating multiple full-colored rainbows.

The hike starts at the wonderful Skógafoss waterfall courtesy The Traveling Dutchman

The hike starts at the wonderful Skógafoss Waterfall, photo/courtesy The Traveling Dutchman

After taking in the incredible sight of the waterfall, we headed up a path along a steep hill. The first few miles were the most intense in terms of physical exercise.  The surroundings consisted of picturesque green hills and canyons as the hike continued along the Skoga River.

The Skoga river carved out deep canyons over the years The Traveling Dutchman

The Skoga River carved out deep canyons over the years, photo/courtesy The Traveling Dutchman

A change in the terrain

The scenery drastically changed as we approached the glaciers. Vegetation completely disappeared, and in its place stood rocks, stones, snow, and ash. Waterproof footwear was a true blessing on this part of the hike as we needed to cross several big patches of snow. Small streams of fresh water meandered through the glacier, providing us with a wonderful opportunity to fill up our water bottles with crystal clear glacier water.

This little stream is the last chance to fill up your water bottles with water

Last chance to fill up your water bottles with fresh glacier water! photo/courtesy The Traveling Dutchman

As we got closer to the highest point of the mountain pass, we saw more and more evidence of the 2010 eruptions. Lava rocks and black ash dominated the landscape. Steam trickled out of holes between the rocks. The hike led us right past the actual eruption sites. It was awe inspiring to stand in a spot where a violent eruption of scalding hot lava and ash had come bursting out from below the earth only a few years ago.

Icelandic landscape

Lava rocks mixed with snow patches and and black ash,photo/courtesy The Traveling Dutchman

Reaching the top

After eight hours of steady climbing, we finally reached the summit of the volcano. The view was absolutely stunning. The diversity of the landscapes surrounding the volcano was like nothing I have seen before.  We were very fortunate to have beautiful weather during the hike, which is highly unlikely given Iceland’s harsh climate.  Still, it wasn’t an easy climb, but sights and sounds were more than worth the effort.

The summit

After hours of climbing I reached the summit and was rewarded with this unrivaled view, courtesy The Traveling Dutchman

Shortly after we started the descent, we entered the Thórsmörk Valley, a fairytale landscape that we didn’t want to leave. We paused for a moment to absorb the breathtaking view before continuing on our way. The last part of the hike led us into the valley along some pretty steep and narrow paths. Iron chains and ropes have been fitted along the most dangerous parts.

Once we reached the camping site in Basar, we knew that we had to stay overnight. There are no busses leading back to civilization (unless you’ve arranged for your own transportation).

 I loved the views so much, I almost didn't want to go down!

I loved the views so much, I almost didn’t want to go down

A few tips for hiking the Eyjafjallajökull Glacier:

  • Bring appropriate attire
    Weather conditions can change very rapidly in this area, so make sure you are prepared for the worst, even on a sunny day.
  • You don’t need a lot of water
    There are plenty of opportunities to refill your water bottles during the first half of the hike and you don’t want to carry more than needed. About halfway through the hike, just past the only huts you’ll encounter, is a small stream that provides the last watering hole. Make sure you fill up all your bottles here!
  • Bring enough food supplies
    You will not be able to buy any food along the hike or at the camping site.
  • Bring a towel Showers are provided along the hike trail.
  • Hike between mid-June and late-August
    Hiking the trail outside this time frame is a bad idea. In the past, three hikers have died of hyperthermia when attempting to cross the pass in May.
  • Drop off items that you won’t need during the hike to be transported to the camp site:
     There is a bus going from Skógar to the camping site in Basar in the morning to transport luggage. For a small fee, you can drop off anything you won’t need during the hike (such as tents and food for the evening and next morning). Once you start hiking up the mountain, you’ll be very happy that you’ve left some items behind! Make sure you tag your bags with your name and destination so they won’t get lost.

Jasper Ribbers travels the world full time while running his internet business from his laptop. He documents his journey on his travel blog, The Traveling Dutchman. Connect with him on Facebook or Twitter

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