Saturday, 1 September 2018

Climbing Kirkjufell

Four years ago we saw this mountain and that was it for my friend.



He dreamed of its stepped precipices and airy apex. It had to be climbed some day. This is Kirkjufell, church hill, shaped like a steeply pitched roof or old-fashioned tent. It is possibly the most-climbed hill in Iceland. It is certainly the most photographed. It isn’t particularly easy. But if like my friend you are lured by its distinctive shape, tempted by its easy road access and modest height of 468m… and you intend to visit Iceland some day... read on.



Bog cotton waved in the breeze as we set off at 6am, following an obvious path alongside a fence from the top of the road. Behind us a car park for Kirkjufellsfoss, the local beauty spot, a new path around a small but excessively picturesque waterfall. Ahead of us a young German couple in matching orange coats who would eventually — possibly wisely — refuse the final ascent. A bit of wind, some ice, poor visibility, and we would have done the same. The path was clear: accounts I had read from eight years ago said it was not. This increase in erosion suggests climbing Kirkjufell has gained in popularity in the Instagram age.



We weaved up this volcanic ziggurat on exposed grass terraces until after about an hour the path stopped in front of a cliff. A rope dangled over it, silently daring us on. Dryness gripped my throat as I calculated the chances of survival should one of us slip. A woman died here last year. Two things — no, three — pushed me on. The first was that my companion went first and encouraged me up. The second was that two girls in the campsite the night before had told us they had climbed Kirkjufell. If they did it then dammed if I couldn’t. And the third was plain old YOLO.



We reached the top of the rope. We were committed now. A fulmar glided past, eyeballing us. Ravens croaked.

"I'm not looking forward to coming back down that."

"Me neither."

 There were two more ropes. A group of three Czechs were making a meal of descending the top one. Would you like to see a picture of the top rope? OK, here you go:



Shall we take a closer look?



Gaaah! I refused to use the rope.

"I might not do this," I told my companion, who went first again then coaxed me up. And we had done it! A fine viewpoint.



Well, we had half done it. We still had to get back down. But the roped sections were easier in descent, for me at least — I had to help my companion down one of them.

At the bottom we saw a solo European marching up with a large rucksack. Was there a path? How did you get up? What was it like? she wanted to know, seeming enthusiastic if a bit clueless. We recommended leaving her pack at the bottom of the first rope and on she merrily went. “Do you think she’ll be alright?” asked my companion.

“She looks more hardcore than us,” I replied, thinking of how much more easily scared we get by stuff like this as we age. “I think she will be fine.”

Descending Kirkjufell: