PolarExplorers Team Traverses Iceland’s Vatnajökull

From May 15-23 a PolarExplorers team led by Annie Aggens and Eric Lillstrom traversed the Vatna Glacier by ski and pulk.

After being dropped off by super jeep near the Western edge of the glacier, our team was forced to sacrifice a half-day of travel and camp in the shelter of a glacial moraine to avoid gale force winds sweeping down from the East. The following morning, we navigated across 4km of mixed snow and glacial till with two river crossings, before stepping foot onto the Vatna Glacier itself.

Behind schedule, we skied long hours for two consecutive days to reach the comfort of the Grimsfjall Hut, on the caldera of the Grímsvötn (Iceland’s most active volcano). During a much needed layover day in the hut, we nursed injured feet and practiced crevasse rescue techniques, in preparation for the eventual descent.

In the two days that followed, the team made 45km of progress across the glacier in relatively calm and clear weather. Approaching Hvanna pass, we decided to descend to the east instead of go for the summit of Hvannadalshnúkur (Iceland’s tallest peak) due to a forecast of high wind and low visibility.

Starting the descent toward the Breiðamerkurjökull Glacier, the weather began calm and clear as we passed several icefalls, but the clouds moved in, shrouding everything in white, reducing visibility to almost nothing. Due to the bad visibility, we camped early and prepared to complete the descent in the morning.

The team woke up to rain. Travel became more difficult as snowy conditions gave way to bare ice and glacial till. Soaked to the bone, we continued following our route, Jokulsarlon (Iceland’s famous glacier lagoon) coming into view.

The exit off of the glacier proved easier than initially getting on and we were able to pull our pulks right up to a rough jeep road where our offload shuttle could pick the team up.

Team members- 5

Average temperature- ~0 Degrees C

Highest wind speed- 45mph

Distance- ~120km