Kerlingaskarð pass is a rugged mountain pass on the Snæfellsnes peninsula in West-Iceland. This mountain pass lies 310 m above sea level and used to take people from Helgafellssveit on the northern part of the Snæfellsnes peninsula to Miklaholtshreppur on the southern part. It is now closed off to traffic and the paved Vatnaleið has taken its place since 2001.
In this pass lives a giantess!
Kerlingarskarð pass is no longer maintained and the road is in pretty bad condition. We drove just a short distance up the pass to get a peek at the giantess Kerling, the fiancée of Lóndrangur, which is located on the south side of the Snæfellsnes peninsula. Below is a photo of Lóndrangur cliff, which is closer to us on the photo.
I have written about Lóndrangur in part II of my Snæfellsnes travel-blog series, where I tell you about the church and the library of the elves by Lóndrangar.
Below is a video which I shot at Lóndrangar. This is such a beautiful place and should not be missed when visiting the Snæfellsnes peninsula.
Now, this troll in Kerlingarskarð pass, Kerling, got caught in the first rays of the sun on her way over Kerlingarskarð to join her fiancé at Lóndrangar. She was carrying a bundle of trout on her back and you can see the bundle on the Kerling rock if you look closely.
The pillar of rock, which represents Kerling, stands on top of Mt. Kerlingarfjall, high up - it cannot be missed as it sticks out like a sore thumb, so to speak. I had to zoom in on it considerably so the photo is a bit grainy. Kerling doesn't look that big when you are standing far below her, but it is huge! I have seen a photo of a man standing next to it and he looks tiny next to the rock.
It is believed that the troll is 21 meter's tall. The giantess has been mounted, as it were, once - back in 1948. Ágúst Bjartmarz from Stykkishólmur town lassoed the giantess and was able to mount it.
Kerling is a pillar of rock made of palagonite and we can read her story in Icelandic folklore. I have found several tales on this giantess and will tell you all the different tales, you just choose between them and decide which one you find to be the most believable ;)
Kerling was seemingly catching fish for the whole night in Lake Baulárvallavatn and had caught a whole bundle of trout. She was a little late in returning back and was turned into stone by the first rays of the sun on top of Mt. Kerlingarfjall. But as we all know then night-trolls get turned into stone if they are exposed to daylight.
Other stories tell us about Hvítbjarnarey island where there is a boulder in a rift in the rocks. It is of a different material than the other rocks on the island and the origin of this particular boulder is explained in Þjóðsögur Jóns Árnasonar - the Folklore of Jón Árnason:
"Several stories exist of the giantess, who lived in Helgafellssveit region or in the mountains around there, first at Helgafell, but as a church was erected at Helgafell, the giantess moved to Mt. Kerlingarfjall. Following are three of these stories of the giantess.
Hvítabjarnareyja island (Polar bear island) is one of the islands above Stykkishólmur in Breiðafjörður fjord. It was named after a polar bear, which came ashore on the island and lay to rest on a stall on the southern part of the island, which is surrounded by tall cliffs.
A giantess was on the mainland, people say that she lived at Helgafell before Christianity was adopted in Iceland and a church was erected at Helgafell, but trolls are no fans of Christianity and churches. See also:
The giantess noticed the polar bear on the aforementioned stall on the island and thus she walked on top of Þingvallaborg, which is opposite the island from the mainland, and threw a huge boulder over to the island to kill the polar bear.
But as fate has it the boulder landed higher up than she intended and landed on the cliff tops, which are above and on both sides of the stall. The boulder is still stuck above the stall, but the polar bear didn't get hurt.
Another account from this region in the west is that the giantess who lived in Mt. Kerlingarfjall, noticed that a man had gone fishing on a boat on Hrappseyjarsund strait, between Hrappsey island and Stykkishólmur town.
The giantess had a grudge against this man, the reason why is not mentioned in the account, and threw a huge rock towards the man sitting in his boat, but that rock landed on Hvítabjarnarey island and can still be seen there, but the giantess failed to kill the man.
Close to Nesvogur by Stykkishólmur town, one can find 3 little hummocks, which are believed to have been thrown there by the giantess in Kerlingarskarð pass, but she meant to destroy the church at Helgafell with these hummocks".
(Translated into English from Þjóðsögur Jóns Árnasonar - the Folklore of Jón Árnason).
You can join a lovely boat ride around the Breiðarfjörður islands, where you will get to see Hvítabjarnarey island and the boulder - and get to taste the fruit of the ocean. I have been on this tour twice and on the tour, we were told yet another version of the story on why the boulder is stuck between the two rocks.
The rock is said to have been thrown by the giantess, who had lived at Mt. Helgafell, as she wanted to throw it at the church at Mt. Helgafell. She missed and the rock got stuck here on the island. This story is similar to the one above.
Now, which of these stories tell us the truth about this situation... ;)
By now we should know that the giantess Kerling in Kerlingarskarð pass lived at Helgafell from where she fled to Mt. Kerlingarfjall when a church was built at Helgafell. But several other accounts exist on the giantess Kerling. I love such stories, that is why I include them all here ;)
I am going to add one other account, as it is relevant to the names of the mountains in the vicinity. The giantess was a night-troll (nátttröll) like these trolls were, they could only move around at night as they turned into stone as soon as the first rays of the sun hit them.
Once during the darkest months when it was approaching Christmas time the giantess Kerling went on a journey to visit her fiancé Lóndrangur by Snæfellsjökull glacier.
She didn't want to come empty-handed and had with her a horse, a barrel of skyr and a haycock (heysáta) for the horse, but as she arrived in the northern part of Hnappadalur valley, the haycock unravelled and fell down the mountain, which is now called Sátufjall or Mt. Haycock.
The giantess was in a hurry as it was getting late and didn't bother picking up the haycock. She tried to hang on the horse with the barrel of skyr, but soon the horse gave in. The horse, which she left behind, stands on the mountain between Sátudalur valley and Flatir.
In my photo above you will see the horse to the right in the photo and the barrel of skyr to the left - RHR.
In my photo below you will see Sáta (haycock) and the top, which is called Sátuhnúkur. I shot these photos from the south side of the Snæfellsnes peninsula. They are grainy as I had to zoom in on the mountains - and accidentally these 2 swans appeared in the photo :) RHR.
The giantess then carried the barrel of skyr on her back for a little while, but soon realized that she wouldn't get far this way and put the barrel of skyr down. It is now located where you can see one of the highest knolls on the mountain range.
When the giantess reached the east part of Kerlingarskarð pass she saw some men in the pass, maybe it was missionary Þangbrandur (a missionary who had been sent to Iceland by the Norwegian King Olav to introduce Icelanders to Christianity), but maybe these men were some of the Irish monks Papar, who were in Iceland before the Vikings arrived.
Nobody knows, but the giantess couldn't step over the mountain pass because it was too hot for her (trolls are not Christian and shun everything having to do with Christianity).
The giantess had to wait for too long and turned into stone!
Lóndrangur had stepped out of the glacier and waited for his fiancée - looking in the direction of Kerlingarskarð pass - he waited for too long and also turned into stone.
This is the love story of the trolls who stand forever separated on the Snæfellsnes peninsula. Both lovely and sad, right?
You can listen to an account by Kristján Jónsson in the Icelandic database Ísmús - which is a database on Icelandic music and cultural inheritance. The account is in Icelandic only though ;)
In the vicinity of Kerlingarskarð you will find the capital of the Snæfellsnes peninsula with many interesting hotels, galleries and museums:
To reach this area of Iceland you can rent a car in Reykjavík and drive around the peninsula. Also, check out these self-drive tours of Snæfellsnes:
Here is the exact location of Kerlingarskarð mountain pass on the map. Just remember that this road is no longer in use and in very bad condition, so don't go any further than the Kerling rock.
Drive the beautiful route Vatnaleið with lovely lakes and hidden waterfalls to return back to Reykjavík.
Have a lovely time on the beautiful Snæfellsnes peninsula :)