From Iceland — Hiking Ban At Mt. Kirkjufell Might Be Illegal

Photo by
Steve Bennett

Earlier this month, it was announced that the landowners of Kirkjufell, Háls and Búðá have decided to ban all walks on Kirkjufell until mid-June, following the recent deadly accident at the mountain. According to the travel association Útivist, the ban might be illegal.

The association’s statement reads: “Concerns about the risk of accidents on the mountain are understandable. The growing traffic of unaccustomed and poorly equipped hikers has had disastrous consequences in recent years, as stated in the landowner’s announcement. Furthermore, rescuers have had to put themselves in very difficult situations following these accidents. This will not be overlooked, and it is therefore understandable that the local community of Kirkjufell has deemed it necessary to take some action.

“Nevertheless, the management of Útivist considers it appropriate to remind the public right that is discussed in Chapter IV of the Nature Conservation Act. The landowner’s ban on walking on the mountain is not in accordance with the law on public rights. It is not possible to put under the same umbrella the trips of inexperienced, poorly equipped hikers, who do not know the conditions, and the trips of organised groups who have a lot of knowledge to ensure safety and assess the conditions. The travel association Útivist has organised trips to Kirkjufell and has always ensured that safety is guaranteed as much as possible. The board of Útivist reiterates its understanding of the actions that the landowners have taken in light of the special circumstances, but at the same time, does not consider it a reason to limit the access of well-equipped and trained hiking groups and reiterates that it is not the role of the landowner to assess the risk of hiking trails in nature. The board of Útivist believes it is important to find other and more suitable ways to reduce accidents and deaths at Kirkjufell, including by installing information signs about the dangers that may be lurking in frequently visited places.”

Similarly to other Nordic countries, Iceland has legal rights, also known as the freedom to roam. This means anyone can hike uncultivated land without asking permission. Útivist’s statement refers to the freedom to roam when calling the hiking ban at Mt. Kirkjufell illegal. It is not yet known whether any response following the travel association’s statement will be released.

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