A few final, easy steps, and we were on the roof of Iceland. A broad panorama of icefields and clouds stretched out around us. It had been just over nine hours since we started out.
It will come as no surprise to you that the next fifteen minutes or so were filled with smiles, hugs, congratulations, and lots of summit portraits. The weather was pretty much as good as could be expected - sunny, clear, and only mildly breezy. My only wish would have been for a few less clouds below us in the direction of Skaftafell - we should have, theoretically, been able to see our tents down in the campground!
Caro and Roland on Summit
Southern edge of Vatnajökull
Ewart on Hvannadalshnjúkur
Hatko and Lavigne on summit
Brian on Hvannadalshnjúkur
Since this would be the only time we would have a view to the north, I took a few minutes to examine the view in that direction. As far as the eye could see stretched the white of the Vatnajökull Icecap, Europe's largest. Off to my immediate left were the tops of the large valley glaciers we had seen from below at Skaftafell, along with jagged mountains at their margins. A beautiful scene, to be sure.
Poking out of the Icefield
Roland on Hvannadalshnjúkur
Chris on Hvannadalshnjúkur
After taking many pictures, and after having a good look at the landscapes leading off towards Vatnajökull, we prepared to head down. Most of the coastal plain below us was hidden beneath a cottony layer of cloud, giving us that always-neat sensation of floating above a white, fluffy sea.
The first part of the descent off of the summit to the crater floor below was quite slow. Again, Ewart was being a grade-A student when it came to securely planting his ice axe. He was not coming unstuck from that slope, even if a simultaneous volcanic eruption and magnitude eight earthquake occurred that very instant.
Crossing saggy snowbridge
Slopes of Hvannadalshnjúkur
After re-crossing the sketchy snowbridges, arriving back at the crater floor, removing our crampons and regaining our hiking poles, we started off on the long trudge across the crater. Everything so far had been a perfect success, and all we needed to do now was trudge the long ten kilometres or so back down to the parking lot.