The highlands southwest of Egilsstaðir form a huge, wild and impressively bleak expanse of moorland around the edges of the Vatnajökull ice cap. Overlooking everything is the permanently snowcapped, sharply ridged peak of Snæfell which, at 1833m, is the highest freestanding mountain in Iceland, formed from the eroded core of a long-extinct stratovolcano. While climbing Snæfell needs experience and equipment, you can approach the base on the way to the Kárahnjúkar hydro dam, built to provide power for an aluminium smelter down on the coast in Reyðarfjörður. You’ll also pass by Snæfell if you’re hiking the increasingly popular five-day route through Lónsöræfi. Either way, keep eyes peeled for reindeer, geese and whooper swans, all of which breed and feed up here in large numbers.
On clear days Snæfell looks stunning, the black-streaked flanks rising above desolate moorland to a brilliant, snowy pyramidal tip; sadly, the usual vista is of the lower base vanishing into cloud. There’s a sealed road running south off Route 910 which ends up at a viewpoint above the little Kelduá reservoir, just 5km east of Snæfell; the white glow south from here is Vatnajökull, and the 15km-long valley in between is Eyjabakkar, annual nesting grounds for upwards of three thousand pairs of pink-footed geese. Original plans to flood this valley for hydro power caused such widespread protests from environmentalists that the site was shifted to Kárahnjúkar.
The main road to Snæfell’s base is the four-wheel-drive-only F909, which winds out via several river crossings to the mountain’s west side. Once there, a 30km hiking track circuits Snæfell, which is also at the start of the long hike south to Lónsöræfi.
Top image: Roadtrip in Vatnajokull National Park, Iceland © Nokuro/Shutterstock