Seven peaks in seven days, I decided. Why? Mostly to prove to myself that I could still beat the mountains which I had traversed so easily in my youth. In a way, I was looking to remind myself of who I once was. I missed the feeling of freedom one gets in the brisk air. (And I also had to get in shape before hiking Laugavegur.)
“We should just head for the bar, right?“ I suggested to Pollý, my odd but lovely border collie/dachshund mix. She looked back at me with a blank stare. Maybe she was right; we were there, in front of the steep hills of my childhood mountain, Helgafell, we had to at least make an honest attempt at a hike.
Helgafell directly translates to the “Holy Mountain” and was the first one I ever climbed as a child. I was ten, looking for some beautiful palagonite to turn into a necklace. I found one and gave it to my grandmother, Ólafía. She never wore it.
Today, although it was 15º C and sunny in the city, a slight rain fell on the mountain. Mountains have a way of bending the skies to their will, I thought as we began up.
In just a minute up the steep hills, I was out of breath. Truly, I was in bad shape. Pollý, meanwhile, promptly ran up it before coming back down to check on me a few minutes later. “What was the holdup?” she asked with her wide brown eyes.
“Yeah, I know, my two legs aren’t as good as they used to be,“ I almost whispered to spare my breath. She ventured back up.
Palagonite finds a new owner
In almost an hour, we reached the top. At 21:00, there was a grey sky above me, but in the west, the red sun lingering over the ocean. I gave Pollý water from my bottle and drank the rest myself. I was spent.
“Only six mountains left,“ I said to Pollý, still trying to catch my breath. On the way down, I saw a relatively clean palagonite stone on the path. I picked it up and gave it to my younger son in the morning. He loved it.
Móskarðshnúkar is a part of Esjan, which you could perhaps, in good faith, call a mountain chain. Furthest to the east, there is an odd, almost mysteriously bright top, a little bit lower than the rest of the chain. The brightness is not due to any mysterious godly light—as some might say—but actually because the stones up there are bright coloured schist.
At first, I felt energetic, but it quickly dawned on me that I was in over my head. To survive, I made a system: forty steps, then rest for five seconds. So I counted. One, two, 35, oh my god kill me now! Forty! Rest. Now—keep on going you idiot.
And so I repeated myself until I got to the top of a flat hill—not the summit—sweaty as a mule. From there I could see white clouds starting to form around the light brown top. Just seconds later, and the clouds had engulfed the summit. It looked ominous, but Pollý didn’t mind. She just hiked on. So I followed her in good faith.
It’s okay to be scared
The top was so steep and covered with such thick clouds that Pollý decided to hike behind me for the first time in our adventures.
“It’s okay,“ I told her out loud as I threaded the narrow path, only seeing at most 50 metres around me. “It’s okay to be scared,” I added, perhaps more to reassure myself than her. When we got to the top, I took a selfie and sent it to my girlfriend. She insisted on calling the rescue team.
I was quite tired when I convinced Reykjavík Grapevine’s resident superhuman, Art Bicnick, and our brilliant intern, Poppy Askham, to climb Esjan, cook a meal on the top and film it all. Keep in mind that some Icelanders run up and down this mountain—literally—so I thought, how hard could it be? I had, of course, climbed Esjan several times, so I did know that summiting the iconic Reykjavík landmark was a bit harder than it looked. But when it started to rain hail near the top, well, I thought, perhaps this was a bit harder than I thought.
The bad eye
We did manage to climb to the top with the help of chains and Art Bicnick. Pollý—not to be confused with the human Poppy—who was soaked by the rain, didn’t like it when I had to lift her and almost throw her onto a higher ledge. She gave me a dirty look afterwards.
“You looked like you needed a hand,“ I told her apologetically. She didn’t respond.
Yet, we made it. And we cooked a ridiculous meal out of baked beans, bread and cheese. You can see the video above, or on our Youtube channel, if you dare.
I was in surprisingly good shape after Esjan and immediately felt the need to climb something—the mountain bug, eh? I had climbed over 2,000 meters in three days at this point, so I decided to hike Úlfarsfell, the big odd mountain in Mosfellsbær, which looks like a submarine when viewed from the north.
Direction or life choices?
I had hiked Úlfarsfell a couple of times before, but never really enjoyed it. It was too small, with too many joggers, sports idiots on mountain bikes, and Karens with walking sticks. That said, it was a site small enough to give me a break from the intensity of the other mountains on my list, so it was a good choice for day four.
Pollý and I found a sign in the small woods, just minutes after we started hiking, explaining that there were three options at Úlfarsfell: Not to climb the mountain and just linger in the woods, take the South “Easy” Path, or the Northern “Hard” Path. I stood there for a few seconds, feeling like this was about more than simple directions—it was a life choice.
Going in, hard!
“We’re going hard, aren’t we?“ I asked Pollý. She wagged her tail and showed me her teeth; her odd way of smiling and being friendly, often confused with aggressiveness.
The hill was steep but short. I didn’t even feel my heartbeat rising. In but a few days, I was getting into good shape.
There isn’t really a mountain top to speak of on Úlfarsfell. Only a flat hill mostly covered with the highly controversial Alaska Lupins. I threw some balls for Pollý into the purple fields, and she disappeared in the flowers briefly before returning with the ball for another round of fetch.
That said, the weather was beautiful and together, Pollý and I sat on a bench on the south side of the mountain watching the sunset.
“We’re getting good at this,“ I told her with a pat.
Vífilsfell is a tricky one. It was formed thousands of years ago in two different eruptions, which explain the odd shape of the mountain. The first half is just a merciless hike straight up the gravelly north side. My calves and thighs were in constant pain for half an hour, bringing me so close to despair that I restarted my counting system. I started with 40, but was soon down to just 20 steps between short pauses. Even Pollý had trouble finding solid ground as we were sliding a little bit downwards with every step.
The mountain is named for a famous Icelandic slave, Vífill, who came to the island with the first Icelandic settler, Ingólfur Arnarson. The story goes that Vífill would climb this mountain every day to check on the weather. Later on, he became a free man and settled there at the now-named Vífilsstaðir, which lies in Garðabær, where Iceland’s 1% live today.
Crawling fog, hidden top
It took me and Pollý around fifteen minutes to walk up the flat rocky hill. Looking back, I immediately understood why Vífill chose to check the weather there. In front of me, a huge white fog crawled from Nesjavellir in the North. It didn’t matter that currently, the sun was shining brightly over Reykjavík. Like I said before, these mountains have a way of bending the sky and weather to their will. It was officially a race. I would have to climb before the fog arrived.
The fog won. As we approached the top, we could no longer see the city, just the flat stones on the ground in front of us. It was like we were surrounded by fog machines or the breath of some ominous creature.
At this point, we reached our first chain, beautifully kept up by the Iceland Tourism Association. “You think you need help?“ I asked Pollý. In response, she jumped smoothly to one rock, then another. Impressive indeed.
Climbing up, I was greeted by an odd shape of an old troll standing out of a rock in front of me with white fog all around. Perhaps there is some legend about the troll of Vífilsfell, but I didn’t really find anything on Google.
The upside-down world
One more rope to the top and the rest was easy. That said, I couldn’t see much through the fog, even though the sun shone all around.
“This is the upside-down,“ I told Pollý. She didn’t understand a word and just looked at me blankly. I mean, what was I thinking? She wasn’t even born when ‘Stranger Things’ was a thing.
Keilir is a fairly straightforward mountain. It’s more about the hike, which journeys through grey lava carpeted by grey moss called Afstapahraun, which was flowing there in the 14th century. You can even see the edges of the lava, where it literally froze and became spikey, like a huge wave that just stopped in the middle of the air.
The area is now, once again, threatened by a volcano, Mount Þorbjörn, which geologists think could erupt anytime now. If you were looking to watch the glorious devastation, I’d suggest the top of Keilir, truly.
Anyway, Pollý and I got to the top of the mountain and back to the car in four hours. We were becoming naturals.
Finally, mountain number seven. I decided to hike Hengill last, mostly because I love this route. The hike starts at Hellisheiðarvirkjun, where the city area gets its geothermal power. And on the way, there is a geothermal area, with a hot river, which ends down at Reykjadalur, where many tourists, as well as Icelanders, visit over the summertime.
The hike is demanding. It’s 10 kilometres and up steep terrain. On this particular sunny day, our photographer Art once again joined us for a video, which you can watch on YouTube.
The route’s strengths are in its diversity. One moment you’re hiking in a moor, the next you’re surrounded by sharp rocks, overlooking Nesjavellir and Þingvellir at the same time.
But the true joy of the hike is at the end, where silence is absolute. At that moment, we could only hear our breath and heartbeats, as we stood on the summit, overlooking the whole southwest of this beautiful country.
The wind in the veins
On my way back down, I felt wind flowing within my veins. The palagonite had replaced my heart and the harshness of the rocky landscapes was now part of my skin.
And, without any sarcasm or corny poetry, I felt these mountains fill my soul again like they had done when I was young. And like then, now I felt like I was ready for everything.
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