Information about Esjan

Mnt Esja and Reykjavík. Photo from Wikimedia, Creative Commons, by MartinPutz

The mountain Esja, often called Esjan, is situated in Kjalarnes in the south-west corner of Iceland.

Only 10 kilometres from the city of Reykjavík across Faxaflói Bay, the mountain towers over the capital’s skyline. In reality, Esja is not a true mountain in itself, but a volcanic range, the highest peak of which reaches 914 metres (2,999 feet) tall.

Geology and History

Esja's formation dates back to the beginning of the last Ice Age. Magma rising from eruptions formed layers of lava beneath a glacier, and when the ice retreated, it ground much of it away and left the mountain in its current form. 

Since Iceland is situated on the boundary between two tectonic plates, Eurasia and North America, the continuous tension pushes the sedimentary soil to the west. This makes the western part of the range the oldest (at about 3.2 million years) and the eastern part the youngest (at about 1.8 million years). 

Esja is composed of basalt and tuff rock.

Hiking and precautionary measures

Because of the mountain's proximity to the capital city (less than an hour by car, or accessible by taking two regular buses), Esja is an extremely popular hiking destination for locals and visitors alike. The path up the mountain is divided into different sections, with signs indicating the difficulty of each route. 

The most well-known paths lead to the separate summits of Þverfellshorn (780 metres / 2,560 feet) and Kerhólakambur (851 metres / 2,790 feet).

The highest point is called Hábunga and requires an additional three-kilometre trek northeast from Þverfellshorn. Approximately 200 metres from the top, hikers find themselves at a large rock named Steinn where they are faced with three options: continuing on the marked trail, climbing directly to the peak, or simply enjoying the great views before descending.

When hiking Esjan, it is important to be equipped with proper hiking gear, with a good knowledge of your capabilities. It is also imperative that you get the weather forecast ahead of arrival, so you know what precautions to take. 

Avalanches and accidents can and do claim lives; in fact, according to The Iceland Touring Association, Esjan holds the most accidents in Icelandic nature. If you take necessary precautions and do not push your limits, however, you minimise the risk to yourself dramatically.


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