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East Glacial River2022-05-08T14:11:41-07:00

East Glacial River

The power and uniqueness of the Icelandic landscape is marked by volcanoes, glaciers, and waterfalls. The East Glacial River is born out of the Hofsjökull Glacier in the highlands and descends north towards the coast. The East is the only major river on the island that is without a waterfall, making it an ideal target for many rafters and kayakers. The 17 kilometer (11 mile) day section of the East carves deep into a remote gorge, constricting the glacial water into a world class section of continuous Class IV+ whitewater. Consistent flows, clean water, limited hazards and a big water feel make this the best section for rafting not only in Iceland, but all of Europe. If you are on a kayaking mission, this section is full of great boofs, big waves, and surfing.

Excited rafters on the East Glacial River
Beautiful canyon scenery on the East Glacial River

River Info

The consistent flows of the East Glacial River mean there is excellent whitewater accessible from late April through September. The shuttle is long, and involves a private takeout. While the Icelandic people can be open-minded to people walking on their land, linking up with the local rafting company, Viking Rafting, is more convenient than knocking on doors to speak with farmers who often speak little English. Viking provides camping, shuttles to the river, and guides for rafters and kayakers alike.

Safety

The East Glacial River would be considered Class V- by most US standards. The frigid glacial water, committing gorge, and an inability to scout every rapid means that teams who take this on should be boating at a high level. If you have any hesitation operating in this type of environment, hire a local guide to show you the lines and assist with logistics. 

The biggest hazard on the river is a long swim through rapids stacked on top of each other. The constricted nature of the river through the gorge gives the river a high-volume character. Prepare for limited and unstable eddies, massive boils, and powerful waves and holes.  Drysuits should be considered mandatory.

Permits

Permits are not required to run this stretch of the East Glacial.

Shuttle Info

The shuttle for the East Glacial is long, and it involves a private takeout. Our recommendation is to contact Viking Rafting and use their shuttle services and take-out. Alternatively, you can request permission to take-out on the land of a local resident. If you are driving on a road that has livestock gates, leave them exactly how you found them. 

The commercial put-in is here, and the alternate put-in, 1.4km downstream with a slightly easier road, is here. If you use the alternate put-in, hike down to the river on river left. The Viking Rafting take-out is here. Make sure to negotiate in advance with Viking Rafting for the usage of their take-out if you decide to use it.

Driving in Iceland

Don’t Speed: On the ring road, the speed limit is 90kmh. Painfully slow for most people, the speed limit is intended to reduce livestock accidents. The speed limit is enforced by hidden cameras all throughout the island. It is not uncommon for rental companies to surprise speeders with hundreds of dollars in fines at the end of the trip! If you are driving on a road that has livestock gates, leave them exactly how you found them. Every horse and sheep on the island has an owner. If you injure or kill any livestock while driving, you must pay the owner for the animal, regardless of where it was. Drive slowly, enjoy the landscape, and keep your eyes out for sheep and horses!

Stay on the road: Iceland is famous for its “F” roads that penetrate into the interior of the island. Have a good understanding of where your rental car is allowed to go. If you are able to use the F roads, stay on the clearly labeled route. Driving off road will almost certainly result in getting stuck, rescued, and paying a massive fine. Do some research before you leave to see when the roads open. Things start to open towards the end of Spring into Summer, but it varies based on region, snowpack, and road condition. When stopping to take photos, find a nice pull out to do so. There are many accidents when trucks and cars swerve to avoid poorly parked tourists. 

The runnable season for the East Glacial tends to be from late April through September. High water spikes can occur in the summer so make sure that you are monitoring the flow in the days leading up to your trip.

From 25-45 m³/s the East Glacial has large eddies and breaks between rapids. At 50-65 m³/s it is a mix of drop/pool and continuous. Eddies are less available, more unstable, and the boils become a hindrance.  From 70-120 m³/s the river becomes a freight train of water with huge features, massive boils, and few eddies. Commercial rafting companies will not operate higher than 120 m³/s. Flows tend to be steady and predictable for much of the year. Several days of south wind (warm air) on the glacier is the primary cause for the river to spike.

To check the flow gauge for the East Glacial, head over to this website. From the home page, click on “Austari Jökulsá” on the map (the Icelandic name for the East Glacial). See below for the location of the river on the flow map.

East Glacial River Location

Viking rafting logo

Viking is the leading whitewater company on the East Glacial River. From the guides to the equipment everything is tailored around safety and guest experience. This is why all of their guides hold Swift Water Rescue and International Rafting Federation (IRF) certificates. And why they provide drysuits to all of their guests – not the industry standard wetsuits.

Send a message to Viking Rafting.

East Glacial River Map & Guide

WARNING: Conditions change frequently and may make this guide useless. This guide is NOT a replacement for sound judgment, experience, or skill level. 

Class III Rapid

Class III rapid or river feature.

Class IV Rapid

Class IV rapid or river feature.

Put-In / Take-Out

The most commonly used access points.

Fun Zone

Well known surf waves, jump rock locations, and safe swim areas

Point of Interest

These include scout locations.

East Glacial River – Class IV+

The East Glacial river gorge is one of the best stretches of whitewater in Europe.  This 17km stretch of whitewater offers stellar views, continuous rapids, and big hits.

Length

Commercial put-in to Viking Rafting take-out is 17km.

Difficulty

Advanced to expert

Meters per Kilometer

Commercial put-in to Viking Rafting take-out is is 5.29m/km

Shuttle Time

Commercial put-in to Viking Rafting take-out is about 2.5 hours round trip. Google Map directions.

Kilometer 0 – Commercial Put-in: This is one of two options for put-ins on the East Glacial. If you are driving your own vehicle, never drive off road in Iceland and avoid any patches that look muddy, especially in the spring. It is possible to get stuck at the bottom of the final hill. If you have any doubts, just walk down to the river with gear. After June 1st, it should be okay with a decent vehicle.

Kilometer 1.4 – Alternate Put-in: It is easy to pull off the road here and walk directly down to the river left shore.

Kilometer 2 – Warm Up Rapid: Class III. Fun wave train on river right. This is a nice chance to warm up to the speed, power, and temperature of what is to come.

Kilometer 2.75 – Warm Up #2: Class III. Enter right and stay right through some fun, easy waves. The left side can be quite shallow at medium/low flows.

Kilometer 3.5 – Alarm Clock Rapid: Class IV-. A typical run enters on river right and drives left towards the center of the river. Run the center wave train and stay in the middle of the current as the walls constrict on both sides of the river. Many boats have flipped off of the right wall where the river constricts. Get ready to highside, and stay in that wave train. Welcome to the class IV gorge! Learn more about Alarm Clock Rapid.

Kilometer 4.25 – Commitment Rapid: Class IV+. Commitment Rapid has two primary features. A large, sticky hole starts on the left wall which takes up 3/4 of the river and a powerful later wave on the right. This hole is to be avoided by rafts at all flows. There is a low-medium flow boof for kayakers off of a flake in the center of the hole. The rafting line starts on center, entering the tongue with left to right momentum. The tongue leads into a large lateral wave – hit the wave hard and perpendicular (2 o’clock angle). If hit correctly, the wave will push you back to the center of the river. Afterwards, catch and eddy on river left to set safety. Learn more about Commitment Rapid.

Kilometer 4.4 – Screaming Lady Rapid: Class III+. Less than 100 meters below Commitment is Screaming Lady. Stay left and punch through a wave train into a narrow gap in the river. The right side has a decent hole that should be avoided. The boils in the pool above like to push boats into the left wall, which is ok as you want to enter from that side.

Kilometer 4.75 – New Rapid: Class III. Formed by a landslide in the early 2000s, this is the newest rapid on the river. Enjoy a great wave train on the right. The left side tends to be a bit rocky and shallow.

Kilometer 5 – Anup’s Hole Rapid: Class III+. Named after a legendary raft guide who had a long surf in the hole on the right; Anup’s Hole is layed out very similar to Screaming Lady. Find the nice wave train on the left into a narrow gap in the river.

Kilometer 6.4 – The Gates Rapid: Class III-IV. After a few slight bends, the river straightens out significantly. Expect fun, busy water as you approach the narrowest part of the river, the Gates. Start from the right side of the wave train with a slight left angle and drive towards the middle of the gap. The left wall is perpendicular to the current and will likely flip your boat if you hit it. The size and difficulty of this rapid increases dramatically with more volume. From 25-65 m³/s it is quite manageable. At higher flows, the waves are towering and fast – the gap also gets smaller.

Kilometer 6.5 – Bedroom Rapid: Class III+. A large pool gives a short break before the next rapid. Approach this rapid on the right with your angle pointing left. Stay center right the whole way. There is a very large hole at the bottom on the left that can be a boat flipper at medium/high water.

Kilometer 7 – Green Room Rapid: Class IV+. The most famous rapid on the river, Green Room is worth a scout if you are rafting or kayaking. There are basalt walls that jut out into the river from both the left and right. Catch the eddy below the wall on the left to scout this rapid from river level. Green Room is made up of three drops stacked on top of each other, with the center drop featuring a powerful hole. Lining up the second drop with a good angle and momentum are keys to keeping the boat upright. Learn more about Green Room Rapid.

Kilometer 7.6 – Surf Wave Rapid: Class III. Below Green Room is a really nice kilometer stretch of unnamed Class III rapids. Don’t let the relief of being below Green Room bring your guard down! Below these rapids, a long cable runs down the canyon on river left. This is a good marker for the epic surf hole just below. The surf hole is powerful and can flip rafts and provide a sticky ride for kayakers. Learn more about Surf Wave Rapid.

Kilometer 8 – Waterfall Rapid: Class III. A powerful yet straightforward rapid. Start on the left and t-up the big waves in the center. At the bottom, look back upstream to the waterfall on river right.

Kilometer 8.2 – Surprise Rapid: Class III. A strong, and rather large hole is located in the center of the river. While boats can certainly punch through, stay all the way left or right to avoid it. This hole can also be surfed on the fly by rafts and kayaks, but be prepared for a flip.

Kilometer 8.75 – S-Bend Rapid: Class IV. Featuring one of the best waves you will ever see, S-Bend is the final major rapid on this remarkable stretch of whitewater. As indicated by the name, there is a quick left turn followed by a quick right turn, with a glorious wave at the bottom. There is a good sized wave train just above the two bends. Entering with right to left momentum will follow the flow around the first bend. Change your angle quickly back towards the right and drive towards the wave in the center at the bottom.

Kilometer 9.5 – Cliff Jump : A nice cliff jump exists on river right below a class II wave train. You can see cables hung around a towering basalt column. Jump out into the main flow and swim back to the eddy.

Kilometer 13 – Confluence: Fed by the same Vatnajokull Glacier in highlands, this where the West and East Glacial Rivers meet.

Kilometer 14.5 – Arch: River Right. A basalt cliff is eroding in a unique way, creating a perfect arch with water flowing underneath. A nice surf wave exists just upstream on river right.

Kilometer 17 – Take-out: River Left. This is the Viking Rafting Takeout. This take-out is on private property. While you could ask a farmer for permission to take-out elsewhere, it is often difficult to find farmers on their land and they may not speak english.

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