Elevation: 378 m
Ascent time: 1.5-2.5 hrs
Length: 3.5 km
Elevation difference: 280 m
One of the first sights that greets a visitor to Iceland is a cone-shaped mountain a few kilometres east of the main road from Keflavík to Reykjavík. Its name is Keilir. The mountain looks like a true volcano, and indeed, it is one—but of slightly different origin than most similar (and larger) mountains. It’s a subglacial formation from a volcanic fissure eruption beneath the ice cap that covered the Reykjanes peninsula during the last Ice Age. It is attached to a low ridge that dates from the same eruption. The volcanic material, manly tephra, piled up in a large cavity in the ice, while meltwater continued to enter the vent.
Later, after the ice vanished, scree slopes developed. In the photography book ‘The Essence of Iceland’ (2009), I wrote of Keilir: “You come to the country flying. On the way to and from the international airport a mountain greets you, as long as the day lasts. One of those you recall long afterward, or always. Not so bad, having a mountain for a friend.”
The approach walk, on moss covered lava, is excellent, as is the climb, despite the dusty, loose scree, and there are fine views.
The lava road to Keilir is found off road 41 between Keflavík and Reykjavík, about halfway between the two cities and a short distance southwest of the Vatnsleysatrönd road (420). Drive to the grassy plains of Höskuldarvellir. Park where the road makes a sharp eastward turn. Follow the right-hand side of a low ridge for a few hundred metres. A broad trail leads into the rugged lava flow. You are able to follow it to the southwest and descend from the lava onto gravel flats. Head for a spot where the Keilisbörn ridge connects to the cone of Keilir. A trail marks the ascent route, steep and loose at places. Use a proper map for reading the distant environment.
Difficulty rating: 4
Overall rating: 6