Iceland // The west coast //


Enter the Snæfellsjökull crater, which is kissed by Scatari’s shadow before the first of July, adventurous traveller, and thou wilt descend to the centre of the Earth.

Journey to the Centre of the Earth, Jules Verne

Made world famous in the nineteenth century by Jules Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth, Snæfellsjökull stands guard at the very tip of the peninsula to which it gave its name (Snæfell means “Snow Mountain”; Snæfellsnes means “Snow Mountain Peninsula”). It is from here that Verne’s hero, the German geologist Professor Lidenbrock of Hamburg, descends into a crater in the dormant volcano under the glacier and embarks on a fantastic subterranean journey accompanied by his nephew and an Icelandic guide with the very un-Icelandic name of Hans. The professor has managed to decipher a document written in runic script that leads him to believe that this is the way to the centre of the earth; rather inexplicably he finally emerges on the volcanic Mediterranean island of Strómboli. This remote part of Iceland has long been associated with supernatural forces and mystery, and stories like this only strengthen this belief – at one time the glacier even became a point of pilgrimage for New Age travellers, though they’re not much in evidence today. The 1446m, three-peaked glacier sits on a dormant volcano marked by a large crater, 1km in diameter, with cliff walls 200m high; three eruptions have occurred under the glacier in the past ten thousand years, the last around 250AD.

Experienced hikers have a choice of ascents, though you’ll probably need ice axes and crampons, and should also first talk to the national park office in Hellnar (late May to mid-Sept daily 10am–5pm; t436 6888, about the condition of routes and the likely weather. There are two trailheads: either east off the four-wheel-drive-only Route F570, which clips Snæfell’s eastern flank as it runs for 18km between Ólafsvík and Arnarstapi; or at the ice cap’s northwestern corner, via a track running east of Neshraun. Hiking trails cross between these two starting points via the glacier’s apex, Jökulþúfur (1446m), which sits atop three crags on the crater rim – allow at least four hours to make the crossing, not counting the time it takes to reach the trailheads themselves.

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