In the Shadow of Vatnajökull is an off-the-beaten path, 4-day guided trek in one of the most remote hiking areas in Iceland. The landscapes in the Eastfjords are quite different to what you typically see in photographs of one of the world’s most photographed islands, so if you are looking for a different Icelandic hiking experience, this trek will definitely fit the bill.

From bare rocky plains to deep canyons with glacier tongues, spectacular cliffs to green valleys and multi-coloured mountains, this trek leads you through an area that has been shaped and molded by the enormous Vatnajökull glacier – the largest glacier in Europe.

THE BASICS OF THE SHADOW OF VATNAJOKULL TREK

Closest Major City: Reykjavik, Iceland.

Start: The guided hike starts in Egilsstaðir, East Iceland.

Accommodations: Mountain huts.

Costs: The cost of this trek (including a wilderness guide, all meals, transportation and accommodation) is around USD$1300. On top of this, you will need to get yourself to and from Egilsstaðir, either by flying, driving, or bus.

Length: 4 days.

When to Go: Tour companies offer the trip during July and August.

Recommended Company: Icelandic Mountain Guides. I have done several treks with this company in both Iceland and Greenland. There is a reason they are the premier outdoor adventure company in Iceland.

Approaching Geldingafell Hut
Approaching Geldingafell Hut
Approaching the canyons
Approaching the canyons

HEALTH

There is little to worry about from a health perspective while hiking in East Iceland. If you are moderately fit and can carry about 10kg in a backpack, you will be fine on this trek.

The most important thing to keep in mind is Iceland’s very changeable weather. It can be raining one minute and then bright sunshine the next – so make sure you come prepared with appropriate clothing to cover all eventualities. Yes, even in Summer, you should hike with a base layer, mid-layer and a quality waterproof/windproof complete outer layer.

Sunrise at 2 am Egilssel Hut
Sunrise at 2 am Egilssel Hut
River valley
River valley

ROUTE OF SHADOW OF VATNAJOKULL TREK

After about an hour’s drive from Egilsstaðir, the hike starts seemingly in the middle of nowhere on the side of the road in the Eyjabakkar area, just east of Mt. Snæfell. For the first 2 days, there is no trail, as you make your way over rocky ground, approaching and then following the edge of the mighty Vatnajökull glacier towards the deep canyons and impressive striated cliffs of Tröllakrókar.

From there, a trail appears to lead you past an incredible landscape of mountains, glaciers, and fanciful rock sculptures. This is Tröllakrókahnaus – one of the most impressive areas in East Iceland. Heading further south, you descend into the glacial river valley where the landscape again changes with the appearance of colourful rhyolite mountains, Iceland’s famous moss, and even some trees!

Iceland’s Shadow of Vatnajökull Trek Itinerary

Day 1: Egilsstaðir – Geldingafell. 6-8hrs.

Day 2: Geldingafell – Egilssel. 6-8 hrs.

Day 3: Egilssel – Múlaskáli. 5-7 hrs.

Day 4: Múlaskáli – Eskifell – Höfn. 6-8 hrs.

Route options:

  • Depending on the weather, the guide may take a longer (closer to the glacier) or shorter route on Day 2.
Studying the route
Studying the route
Approaching the ocean
Approaching the ocean

ACCOMMODATION ON SHADOW OF VATNAJOKULL TREK

This guided tour utilizes rustic but comfortable huts that break the trail into its different sections. These provide dormitory accommodation with mattresses and sleeping bags (you have to bring your own liner), a kitchen, and toilet facilities (the first two huts are dry toilets, the last hut has flush toilets). The hut at Múlaskáli also has showers (for an extra fee), but there is no internet and nowhere to charge devices at any of the huts. Make sure you bring enough batteries!

Into the river valley
Into the river valley
Trees in Iceland
Trees in Iceland

FOOD

Once you leave Egilsstaðir, there is no food available for purchase. You will be required to carry a portion of the fresh food for the trek with you (as well as your personal items), but Icelandic Mountain Guides has more food cached at each of the huts that the guide will use to prepare basic but filling meals.

Breakfast and lunch are a “make your own” affair from a variety of ingredients – mostly bread/crackers, cheese, processed meats, spreads, and cereal/porridge for breakfast. There is always plenty of food so you won’t go hungry. The company also provides snacks, but you may want to bring some extras in case you feel like something different to what they offer.

Written by: Lisa Germany – you can read Lisa’s extensive trip report on the Shadow of Vatnajökull hike with Icelandic Mountain Guides.