|Kverkfjöll, northern rim of the Vatnajökull glacier.
|L=2,850 m, D=-525 m.
|local guide is advisable
|As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
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|explored by an French expedition.
The Kverkfjöll Ice Caves are probably the most famous glacier cave in the world, at least among geologists and cavers. The reason is how they were formed, by hot water from a volcanic spring below the Vatnajökull glacier. So they are actually a result of fire and ice.
The Kverkfjöll mountain on the north side of Vatnajökull glacier is a stratovolcano with a caldera, filled with ice. Kverkjökull is the name of a tongue of the glacier which branches off Vatnajökull glacier toward the north. The ice flows through a gap in the mountain, the term Kverk translates gap. The west side of the mountain is one of the largest geothermal regions of Iceland called Hveradalur.
The caves of this area were first explored by a French expedition in the eighties, who were able to follow the main cave about 2 km. However, the cave they explored does not exist any more, at least not the way they have seen it. The reason for this is the high speed of the cave formation processes. The hot water of the thermal sping melts the ice very fast, and the caves are destroyed very easily by movements or collapses of the ice. So they are among the shortest living caves known. As a result there are frequent collapses, and glacier caves are very dangerous. Local authorities warn, not to enter the caves as the entrances are rather unstable and blocks of ice may fall down.
There are two groups of caves, the Lower Kverkfjöll Ice Caves are located at the spring of the Jökulsá á Fjöllum, the biggest river of central Iceland, at the end of the glacier. This is a short walk from the Sigurðarskali hut where the 4WD track ends. The hot water of the river emerges from a huge glacier cave, the steam melts the ice and causes strange patterns on the ice walls and frequent collapses.
The Upper Kverkfjöll Ice Caves are located at Hveradalur, a famous geothermal area on the mountain. To reach it from the lower caves is a 2.5 hour walk, first up the glacier tongue to a Nunatak called Chocolate Hill, then along Langafönn towards the Kverkfjöll Hut. During the summer, guided walks on the glacier are offered. The area is a popular hiking area. The upper caves are larger than the lower ones, but not as spectacular. But the geothermal area is interestung, with hot sulfur springs and mud pools formed by rhyolite silt.