Ascent of Snæfellsjökull on 2016-05-20

Climber: Greg Slayden

Others in Party:Petter Bjørstad
Pål Bjørstad
Date:Friday, May 20, 2016
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:4x4 Vehicle
    Elevation:4744 ft / 1445 m

Ascent Trip Report

Friday, May 20th:

Our plan today was a ski ascent of Snæfellsjökull, perhaps the most famous peak in Iceland as well as its second most prominent peak (after, obviously, the island high point). We had probed road F570 from the north yesterday and found it blocked by snow at 320m, so today we thought we’d try the south approach, which promised a shorter distance to the peak.

We left Ólavsvík early and drove west, south, and then back east, rounding the tip of the Snæfells peninsula on Route 574. We then headed north on the rough gravel road of F570, but it was not long before a set of giant snowballs blocked the road, obviously put in place by road crews. We were only at 290m, but reasonably close to the peak, so we parked, got ready, and at 8:15 AM we were skinning uphill on our skis. A snowbank right next to the car provided continuous coverage up to the main snowfields of the peak.

The forecast called for some morning overcast changing to sun by afternoon, so the clouds and flat light did not bother us. Pretty soon the terrain was all snow-covered, and there were random snowmobile and snow-cat tracks scattered about. I was, as usual, slower than Petter and Pål on the uphill grind. We unexpectedly spotted a line of ski lift towers ahead, apparently abandoned now but once used for snow-cat skiing. We paralleled these towers for a bit and then took a steep line up the east ridge of the main peak. The snow was getting a bit icy, with thin areas of powder snow here and there, and I tried to avoid the ice as much as possible to avoid slipping backwards on my skis.

Our ridge seemed to lead to a high rounded summit ahead, and I held out hope that we were near the top. But the flat light of the overcast day, and the lack of scale, tricked me—it was just a very minor bump. From its top we could see the upper part of the peak now, with the striking triangular summit horn distinctively beckoning, several hundred meters above us. We had to drop down a 10-meter step to get to the broad slopes that led uphill, the angle now gentler than on our ridge.

There was a snow-cat track leading up to the peak here, as we had seen on other previous peaks on our trip, but thankfully no actual machines. We just skinned uphill at a good clip, I struggling to keep up with my Norwegian friends, until we were at the base of the summit pinnacle, arriving at 11:15 AM. This saddle, between the pinnacle and a lower ice-coated bump, was apparently where the snow-cats (and most hikers) stopped. While resting here, a lone German hiker suddenly showed up, the only person we saw on the mountain all day—we chatted briefly and he headed down--he did not have the gear to get to the actual summit.

The pinnacle was a steep cone of icy snow, topped by a couple of rime-coated bumps. Clearly not skiable, we took off our skis and put on crampons and got out our ice axes for the 50-meter climb. It turned out to be easier than we thought—the footing was good up the steep snow, and a shallow icy chimney between the two ice bumps was not hard to scramble up. The summit was a very small perch.

The clouds were starting to break up, and the views were expansive despite the overcast. Happy to be on this summit, it was interesting to see that we were surrounded by ocean on three sides on our peninsula. The south peak, 4 meters lower, was an icy blob not too far away. We took our photos and then carefully scrambled down, the ice chimney requiring the most attention.

At 12:05 PM we put our skis back on and has a fun time zipping down the peak. As usual on this trip, the snow was not orgasmic dry powder or soft corn, but still an excellent surface of skiable ice crystals or proto-slush. Turning was easy and fun, and there was enough sun to get some contrast in my vision. As usual, I was the fastest downhill, making up for my uphill slowness.

We avoided our little ridge bump from the ascent, and I yelled to Pål that I was headed to the old ski lift and then I hit the steepest fall line I could for a while. Near the old lift I finally stopped to wait, but Petter and Pål never showed up even after ten minutes. I skied down a little more and finally saw them, way to my right (facing downhill)—they were deviating a bit more from our uphill route that I was. I skied over to them and we stayed together back to the car as we had to navigate past rocky ground and snow, that, as usual, was turning into deep slush.

I was trying to stay on our upward GPS track, but I blew it and took a snowfield that led away from the car, forcing us to remove our skis and carry them about 200m over to the car over grass and rocks. We were back at 12:45 PM, our last backcountry ski adventure of our vacation complete.

The F570 road now had a number or cars and buses on it, including a big tour-bus that may have been taking a bunch of tourists to the snow-cats parked near our spot for an expensive ride to the summit. It was hard not to feel smug about our free and more athletic climb.

We then drove along the south side of the Snæfells peninsula and then Highway 1 south to Borgarnes, the first real population center we hit after over an hour or more of driving. We toured a local park there and had a hearty lunch at a museum restaurant, and then headed inland towards Reykholt to look for some hot springs and/or lodging. After quite a bit of aimless meandering we eventually settled on spending the night in a farm guesthouse accommodation mentioned in my guidebook, at a place called Brennistaðir on dirt route 515. It was a very rural and quiet farm, and I enjoyed meeting the friendly family who lived upstairs.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:3826 ft / 1166 m
    Total Elevation Loss:3826 ft / 1166 m
    Round-Trip Distance:7.3 mi / 11.7 km
    Quality:8 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Open Country, Snow on Ground, Snow Climb, Ice Climb
    Gear Used:
Ice Axe, Crampons, Skis, Ski Poles
    Weather:Cool, Breezy, Low Clouds
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:3826 ft / 1166 m
        Gain Breakdown:Net: 3793 ft / 1156 m; Extra: 33 ft / 10m
    Loss on way in:33 ft / 10 m
    Distance:3.5 mi / 5.6 km
    Route:E Slopes
    Start Trailhead:F570 Closure  951 ft / 289 m
    Time:3 Hours 20 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Loss on way out:3793 ft / 1156 m
    Distance:3.8 mi / 6.1 km
    Route:E Slopes
    End Trailhead:F570 Closure  951 ft / 289 m
    Time:40 Minutes
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip

 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by Greg Slayden
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Note: GPS Tracks may not be accurate, and may not show the best route. Do not follow this route blindly. Conditions change frequently. Use of a GPS unit in the outdoors, even with a pre-loaded track, is no substitute for experience and good judgment. accepts NO responsibility or liability from use of this data.

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