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Climbing Esja

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Climbing Esja

Watch this audio slideshow of hikers climbing up and down Mt. Esja outside Reykjavík on a partly sunny and partly rainy—and a very windy—day. Hiking tours up to the 720-meter-high Þverfellshorn peak are a popular family affair, although the hike gets rather steep towards the end.

Narration and photos by Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir. These photos were taken in June 2008.

There are many good hiking paths around Reykjavík and Mt. Esja is probably the most popular one. The hike does, however, get rather steep towards the end, so some might refer to it as a climb rather than a hike.

Esja, which is located just north of Mosfellsbær, a neighboring town of Reykjavík, is a large mountain offering a variety of hiking routes. The most common route is up to Þverfellshorn peak, 720 meters above sea level.

Hikers aiming for Þverfellshorn have at least three different routes to choose from. The shortest route is, needless to say, also the steepest one. The easiest route is therefore also the longest one, zigzagging back and forth and up and down, until it finally joins the two other paths.

In this slideshow, the hikers have chosen the longest path up the mountain and the shortest, and steepest, on the way down.

The best route to take, and the most commonly chosen, is the one mapped out with signs of each of the six levels of the hike up to Þverfellshorn. Up until phase five it is marked with one boot, which means that it is an easy climb for most people.

After the sign that announces that phase two is about to begin, hikers who want to stay on the worn path take a downwards turn to the right and cross a bridge to the other end of the canyon.

Those who want a bigger challenge walk straight ahead and those looking for a long and easy hike should have turned right already after the phase one sign. They also walk across a bridge and then through a small pine forest.

It is interesting how the vegetation changes during the hike up Esja. Down by the parking lot and up through phase one there are many birch trees and colorful flowers. That phase is also known as Skógarstígur, or the “Forest Path.”

Gradually the landscape changes from grassy fields to moss and rocks with majestic, dark cliffs in the background.

Hikers can expect any type of weather while hiking up Esja. The weather in Iceland is notoriously unpredictable and it is not unusual to experience both windy and calm conditions, rain and sunshine or even a hailstorm within a few hours—even on a seemingly bright summer’s day.

The three paths meet at the beginning of phase five, Steinn or “Stone.” This is also where the easy hike ends and the two-boot journey begins. Those who have had enough can sign the guest book kept at Steinn and then make their way down the slope again.

But those who want to climb all the way to the top can continue up the rocky and steep slope ahead. Shortly thereafter they arrive at a new sign marking out the sixth and final phase of the hike.

Klettabeltið or the “Cliffs” is the only actual climb of the journey, marked with three hiking boots. The cliffs are steep and can be dangerous; this is why chains have been fastened to the rocks for climbers to hold on to.

The view from the top of Faxaflói bay, Reykjavík and Mosfellsdalur valley is absolutely worth the effort. A dial at the top marks out all the mountains that can be spotted in the distance in clear weather.

There is another guestbook on Þverfellshorn, so don’t forget to sign it!

If you want to continue with the hike, it is possible to walk across the top of Esja and descend the mountain in a different place, but if you walk down the same way, the Þverfellshorn hiking routes take between two and four hours, depending on your route of choice, speed and stamina.

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