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Winter Hikes to Holy Mounds

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Winter Hikes to Holy Mounds

Photos and text by Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir.

The Iceland Touring Association (FÍ) organizes various hiking trips across Iceland throughout the year, including a project called ‘one peak per week’, where people sign up to join FÍ on hikes to 52 mountains in one year.

The first are lighter hikes with the intensity gradually increasing; Iceland’s highest peak, Hvannadalshnjúkur at 2,110 meters, is scheduled in May, almost ten times the altitude of each of the four hikes in January of 215, 270, 296 and 340 meters.

Two of these mountains, or perhaps mounds, rather, are called Helgafell or “Holy Mounts”, and are two of seven mountains by that name in the country.

There is a common misunderstanding that fell means “small mountain”, while fjall refers to a proper-size mountain. In actuality, fell is a mountain that stands alone, as opposed to being part of a mountain range.

The hike to Helgafell in Hafnarfjörður (340 meters) begins in Kaldársel (see the road signs on the way from Reykjavík through Hafnarfjörður towards Keflavík International Airport), a popular recreation area for locals and the site of the town’s spring.

The mountain is made from layers of basalt, which piled up during volcanic eruptions underneath the ice age glacier. From the peak there is a view of the surrounding lava fields, settlements in the capital regions and other mountains in the vicinity.

According to FÍ’s guides, there is a connection between the two Helgafells in the capital region; there is some evidence that they may have been used for time calculations by the position of the sun in paganism.

The other and lower Helgafell (215 meters) lies in Mosfellssveit (take the first turn to the right after following signs to Þingvellir while driving through Mosfellsbær).

On the day of the hike in Mosfellssveit the serene winter weather and powder snow of the previous hike had been replaced by rain and slush and poor visibility.

A hospital run by the British military during World War II used to stand at its base, the remains of which are clearly visible.

A nurse who died in an accident in Mosfellssveit is said to haunt the place after two soldiers fought for her affection (or was she murdered after choosing one above the other…?).

From the mountain’s peak, there is a splendid view of the islands of Skerjafjörður, Mt. Esja and Úlfarsfell and other surrounding mountains.

For further information about FÍ’s tours, visits the association’s website.

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