Ever since settlement in the Viking age in the ninth century (or perhaps earlier if you want to believe carbon dating rather than old manuscripts) there has been a “highway” running through the Kjolur (or “Kjölur”) route on the Icelandic highlands which runs from the northern part of Iceland to the south.
There are many tales of migrations and travel on the Kjölur trail in the Viking age. During the tumultuous age of the Sturlungs in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries small armies would use this route to race north or south to confront their enemies or chieftains would use this neutral ground for negotiations (which they would usually renege on).
The disaster of the brothers from Reynisstadur
In early winter 1780 Kjolur gained notoriety when two brothers and three of their retainers from the wealthy farm of Reynisstadur froze to death (or suffocated in their woolen tents) with hundreds of their newly bought sheep in a snowstorm. Their remains were found close to the Kjolur trail, by a hillock now called Beinhóll or “Bone hill.” It got its name from the bones of the animals that perished in the snow and cruel frost. Of course, there is a lot more to this story but it suffices to say here that Kjolur is thought to be haunted after this tragic event.
You still want to go on the Kjolur trail?
Stay safe in the Icelandic highlands
The disaster mentioned above happened in the start of winter but in the Icelandic highlands you need to be careful and remember that anything can happen there in terms of weather even during high summer. You can be walking in really hot weather with the sun shining at one time then 15 minutes later you can find yourself in a hailstorm. So follow all the great advice at the Safetravel website if you intend to hike in the Icelandic highlands.
The Kjölur hiking trail is often called the “Ancient Kjolur Road” which identifies it from the modern gravel road that runs from north to south. The hiking trail is a lot “greener” then the environment around the driving road. During the a lot warmer middle ages it must have been a real treat to travel that way (if you were a rich chieftain on a horse in good weather during summer that is). I imagine that the vegetation is only a shadow of what it used to be during those times.
The Kjolur hiking trail runs something like this:
Hveravellir – Þjófadalir
Hveravellir is a pretty amazing place. It is located between two glaciers, Langjokull glacier to the west and Hofsjokull glacier to the east. Its name, Hveravellir can be translated to something like “Hotsprings fields” and yes, like Landmannalaugar it does have pretty nice geothermal pools and nice huts for an overnight stay. There are a number of things to do up there. I remember arriving there in the afternoon after a long bus ride from Reykjavik and after exploring the hot springs and caves around Hveravellir I was feeling my usual restless self. I decided to run to the 6KM way to the “Strýtur” at the edge of the Kjalhraun lava field which lies to the west. The view from up there was totally worth the run and I didn´t even miss dinner! The view up there is all mountain ranges and glaciers and of course the vast lava field of Kjalhraun.
Hveravellir – the outlaw refuge
Another interesting fact is that Hveravellir was the base for the famous Icelandic outlaw pair Eyjolfur and Halla which lived their for years far away for what passed for civilization 18th century Iceland. There are many remains from their staying at Hveravellir.
Hveravellir – Þjófadalir
The first leg of the journey is from Hveravellir to Þjófadalir (Valley of thieves) is a 12KM route which takes about 4-5 hours to walks. The elevation gain just some 70 meters so it is pretty flat and and easy walk. You come to an old small hut in Þjófadalir and for your viewing pleasure there is the mountain Rauðkollur or “Mt. Redhead” and the view toward the massive Langjokull glacier. The name “Valley of Thieves” comes from the probably mostly erroneous that this valley was the refuge of sheep stealing outlaws. Please note that stealing sheep was considered an especially heinous crime in Iceland so this was considered a refuge of hardened criminals of the worst sort.
Þjófadalir – Þverbrekknamúli
I am not even going to try to translate the name “Þverbrekknamúli” but this leg of the trail is some 13KM and again it takes some 4-5 hours and is pretty flat. The grand looking Hrútfell (literally “Male sheep Mountain”) is to south and is a fixture for the journey. You cross a small bridge across the river Fúlukvísl (literally “Foul river”) to the hut at Þverbrekknamúli. The surroundings there are so varied that a lot of hikers spend to nights at the hut and take to time to explore them.
Þverbrekknamúli – Hvítárnes
The third and last part of the way takes some 4 – 5 hours and runs for some 14KM. You cross the river at Fúlukvísl river and walk across a nice green landscape towards the Hvítárnes hut by the Hvítarvatn lake.
How to get there?
Hveravellir is accessible by the “Kjalvegur” gravel road which cuts through the center of Iceland. You can also book bus trips to Hveravellir with the SBA Nordurleid or Reykjavik Excursions bus companies.
Written by Jón Heiðar Þorsteinsson
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