From Iceland — Hekla: The Medieval Gate To Hell

Hekla: The Medieval Gate To Hell

Published May 6, 2016

Hekla: The Medieval Gate To Hell
Andie Sophia Fontaine
Photo by

Elevation: 1491 m
Ascent time: 3.5-5.0 hrs
Length: 7-8 km
Map: 57
Elevation gain: 1040 m

Iceland’s best-known volcano

Hekla (1491 m) proudly stands as a dominant backdrop of the vast Southern Lowlands. It is a centre of a volcanic system, containing a number of crater rows and tuff ridges to the northeast and southwest of the mountain. The famed and very productive volcano looks like a high cone, seen from the south or north, but resembles an upturned boat viewed from the east or west. The crest, highest in the middle, is about five kilometres long, lined with craters. Snow and firn crowns the mountain and a small glacier nestles on the high northwestern flank. Hekla is mostly made of lava and tephra, up to about 8-9,000 years old, but within recorded history, the eruptions number over 20. The most recent eruptions occurred in 1947, 1970, 1980-81, 1991 and 2000. Large eruptions may last more than a year; the most recent ones, however, lasted for up to a few weeks. Many lava flows surround Hekla, making an approach difficult as the lava is both rough and dodgy. Most ascents start on the tephra plains of Skjólkvíar somewhat to the northwest of the mountain. In 2009 a warning was issued to hikers. Hekla could erupt in the coming years, with a very short prelude (approximately one hour), according to geophysical monitoring. The Hekla Centre is at Leirubakki (road 26).

Route description

Drive past Leirubakki and Næfurholt farm to the sign forLandmannaleið (F225, opposite Mt. Búrfell). Continue along the track until another sign for Skjólkvíar/Hekla. Most cars are able to reach a flat part below a big red crater (Rauðaskál), mid-slope on the left-hand side. Only a sturdy jeep can make the upper part of the northeastern ridge, via a track that ends at the steep slopes of Hekla. This shortens the hike considerably. In winter and spring, crampons may be essential. From the parking flat, start hiking steadily uphill, at first on the tracks, then along a marked trail. The markings disappear but in the summer a distinct trail leads you through an eerie, imposing, dark landscape, across crumbly lava flows, over compact ash and pumice and past craters to the two crater rim hills that form the highest part of Hekla.

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