The 7 Wonder Women of Vatnajökull

17. July 2017
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Icelandic Mountain Guides on skis

In 7 days, 7 female guides from Icelandic Mountain Guides completed a traverse of the largest glacier in Europe. This is a huge achievement, and we are extremely proud of them. That’s why this week, we are covering the story of how they did it, the challenges and they face along the way, and what they learned from the experience. 

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Starting off the ice cap

The Ladies from Icelandic Mountain Guides

7 amazing women, one amazing adventure. If you want to know a little bit more about who they are, check out their profiles below!

Svanhvit, Elin, Selma, Oktovia, ElisabetTinna, and Iris

The way across Vatnajökull, Europe’s largest glacier

The team decided the date a long time ago, made sure they had time off work and took a bit of a gamble as to whether they would actually be able to pull this off or not. They postponed by a day, leading to better conditions on the first day.

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6 of our Wonder Women

The first day, it barely rained on us when we got out of the car, and we were super psyched

Svanhvít Helga

Getting there is not the easiest thing in the world, requiring a super jeep journey of a solid 4-5 hours from Reykjavik. The team made some excellent progress on the first day, getting the pulk (or pulka) ready and then getting straight up on the ice cap and making a solid 7km of progress along the ice. Any kind of distance traversed on the glacier on the first day would have been a good result, and this was better than the team had hoped for. 

Just a month before, a team of male guides went out and completed a similar journey, and they only got 5km out on the glacier. And so, the Icelandic Mountain Guides ladies were off to a roaring start! 

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Starting on the right foot !

The first night did not require them to build a snow wall, but on the second day, the weather did not go according to plan! And in fact for all the days after that. As ever, you don’t conduct a journey like this for the fair weather. A journey like this one is purely based on adventure, physical and mental preparation, and most importantly, expedition.

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Wind analysis and snow wall building are essential to pitch a tent in the snow

Taking on a journey of expeditionary proportions first and foremost means that there is a level of uncertainty that other trips quite simply don’t have. Plans have to be changed last minute, modifications to the route. In the end, something will not work out. Especially here in Iceland, mother nature plays tricks on us, and Lady Fortuna is a fickle mistress. Remembering these two things out in the Icelandic highlands will see you complete most journeys safely. 

And so it was for the ladies and their expedition: the high-pressure area they were expecting to find over Vatnajökull moved away, and a lot of wind in the east came straight against them, with a healthy dose of white-out. 

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Happy expeditioners!

It’s definitely all in the preparation. And equipment. Between planning and equipment, you can defeat a range of bad conditions. The rest of the journey was a complete white-out. When everything is white, literally everything, there is a complete sense of disorientation, it is easy to start walking in circles when you think you are going straight. With the coordinates in the GPS for the way forward, adventure in their hearts, and a spring in their step, they continued onward. Be assured all our guides are highly and professionally trained.

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Taking a break!

A Glacial oasis

When we think of an oasis, we think of a delicious watering hole in the middle of a parched desert, an island of life in an epic barren wasteland, largely devoid of life. Well, this is the inverse of that, kind of. 

One of the nicest parts of the entire journey for the ladies, or indeed for anyone who attempts this journey, is the halfway point at Grimsvötn. It is easily the nicest mountain hut in Iceland, made most remarkable due to the fact that it is in one of the coldest parts of Iceland, but has a hot shower! How? Well, the hit itself sits on top of the most geothermally active area of Iceland! The ladies took a much-needed break here, and even had a cake with them for the occasion, which needless to say didn’t last very long!

Low sun on the ice cap

Hard times, but they made it!

Continuing on, the hardest part of the journey was the weather. Just dealing with the weather was a huge factor. On an expedition, everything becomes more difficult with the wind and the weather working against you.

Between the first day and the last day, snow walls were necessary for the middle five days. Making a snow wall (to break the prevailing wind so that it doesn’t cause too much discomfort / blow your tent away) takes a lot of extra energy. 

Staying warm while skiing is easy, but stopping for longer than 5 or 10 minutes can mean that the cold starts to set in pretty fast. Eating regularly is important, and a longer break for lunch is necessary. Setting up a bright orange tent for breaks, the ladies took shelter from the elements by digging a hole in the snow to be able to sit and protect themselves from the elements to be able to eat lunch without freezing.

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Stopping at the Grímsfjall hut

A moral tale: challenges of the way

With everything working against them, the team had themselves and the team itself. As ever, mental preparation is at least as important as other factors when attempting a journey such as this. By the end of the expedition, the constant struggle begins to take its toll on the team.

Oddly, on a journey like this, when your body needs the calories more than ever, eating actually becomes quite difficult. Expeditioners force themselves to eat more than they actually want to, and it’s absolutely vital that they do that! In addition, some of the dry “just add water” camping food is not exactly glorious or a joy to eat. Sumptuous food is essential to lift the spirits. Luckily, the ladies were able to look after themselves at the Grímsfjall hut for a bit in a warm environment before continuing on.


They’re all friends and have all worked together for some time. Usually, though, a short break and a bit of food go a long way to lift the spirits, and away they go. 

Getting some fresh air!

Lessons learned

What does somebody who completes a journey like this take away from it at the end? Most notably, sometimes there isn’t very much between you and getting into some serious trouble. If you’re well-prepared and you have the proper equipment, you CAN get yourself into most crazy situations and still get yourself out perfectly fine, and actually have fun. 

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One ski in front of the other

Next steps

The girls are already thinking about their next trip, but are apprehensive about choosing Vatnajökull unless the weather forecast is excellent all the way through. Apart from being much more pleasant to travel in these conditions, you miss out on the plethora of epic views that punctuate the journey. 

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Our lovely Wonder Women

Wishing the 7 Wonder Women the best in the future!

We just love it when our guides are able to get themselves out there and do a journey like this one totally on their own, using the knowledge and experience of years to be able to conduct an expedition like this. This is what Icelandic Mountain Guides is all about! Even so, we are so proud of them for taking on such a formidable challenge and going beyond their comfort zone. Hopefully, this will be the first of many expeditions that we will be able to report on! Until then, Stay tuned for more!

About the Author

Joseph Mattos-Hall

Hailing from London and born into a British/Brazilian/Italian household, Joseph came to Iceland originally to complete a master’s degree in Environment and Natural Resources from the University of Iceland: the rest is history.

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