Heimaklettur is the biggest rock in the jumbled chain of cliffs wrapped around the harbour of Heimaey, the main island of Vestmannaeyjar.
The harbour entrance is stunningly beautiful. People coming in on the ferry are regularly going into a photo-frenzy when they sail into the harbour, through a narrow passage along those cliffs, that shelter it like a protective arm from fierce tides and rogue winds coming in from the north. Heimaklettur rises up at the end of it, and sits proudly across from the harbour, watching over it.
At 285 meters, it’s the highest mountain on Heimaey, and the defining landmark of the island. Its bulky shape is visible all around town. It literally means Home Rock.
In wintertime, candles are often placed on the slopes along the cliffside facing town, for people to enjoy some pretty lights blissfully shining during the darkest days of the year.
The chain of rocks on the north side are the oldest part of the island, forged by volcanic activity from the hotspot underneath about 40.000 years ago. Initially the harbour kletturs and the rocks around Herjólfsdalur were two seperate islands. Later on they were connected by Eiðið, the small isthmus that runs between them. Stórhöfði, the headland to the south, was formed as a third island about 6000 years ago. When Helgafell arrived to the scene, all three islands merged together into the present Heimaey. The shifting and changing of the island continues in present history. Only as recent as 1973 Eldfell made its sudden and spectacular entrance, when it erupted out of nowhere in a grassy field next to Helgafell.
With sheer cliffs rising up on all sides, Heimaklettur may look a bit daunting and inacessible at first sight. But there is actually a walking track to the top.
It only takes about 45 minutes, and about 30 to get back down the same way – not counting the time needed to enjoy the great views, a picnic or a Wilderness Coffee along the way 😉
The track starts from the side of Heimaklettur behind the harbour. The first part consists of a series of ladders against the cliffs, before you reach the grassy slopes and meadows that lead to the top.
In case of emergency, dial 112 😉
The walk can be a bit tricky in some places, with narrow paths, steep dropoffs and provisional steps carved into the rocks. There are chains attached at crucial points, to help you along the more precarious parts. But it should not be attempted in howling winds or horizontal rain. Or if you are sensitive to vertigo or fear of hights.
If at any point you feel unsure about continuing, whether it’s a case of wobbly knees or a sudden bout of nasty weather rolling in, you always have the choice to turn back. It’s no fun being blown off the mountain, or slide down a steep grassy slope into the harbour.
But don’t let that discourage you. It’s a spectacular and exhilarating walk, with stunning views to be enjoyed on all sides along the way. Especially when the weather is fine.
Here’s a photo impression of the walking track. I hope you will enjoy it as much as I did 🙂
The start of the track.
The first and second set of ladders and steps.
The third and last ladder leads up to a ledge with a (usually empty) sheep cage. The sheep are roaming freely around the grassy meadows further up. There’s a chain and a rope attached onto the ledge, and some small steps carved out into the rock to the left side of the ladder.
The third ladder, leading up to the sheepcage ledge, the view along the way, and looking down the track (and several ladders)…
Up until a few years ago, this ladder didn’t reach all the way to the top of the ledge. You had to balance on the upper steps to get hold of the ropes, braving wobbly knees and decide if you felt confident enough to make this rather big leap – with nothing else but the rope to hold on to while doing so.
But now it has been replaced by a new and improved version, that reaches comfortably higher up. This makes it a lot less complicated to get hold of the ropes and step onto the ledge. After that, the rest is relatively easy.
Ropes and chains on the ledge below the sheepcage.
Still, it’s probably the trickiest part of the track.
If you feel unsure about continuing at this point: there’s a broad & pleasant grassy ridge near the bottom of this ladder, around the corner to the right. It’s an excellent place to enjoy a picnic and great views over the harbour and town.
Grassy ridge to the right.
View to Klif, on the other side of the Eiðið isthmus.
Intricate folded lava structures on the cliff face, and the view from the end of the ridge.
Harbour view from the ridge.
Wilderness Coffee on the rocks 😉
Usually it’s quite sheltered from the wind too, and worth a little side-trip at any rate. After a relaxing break, it’s time to conquer the sheepcage ledge, and continue on the track further up.
Continuing on the track above the sheepcage.
More narrow & rocky tracks, some with chains attached to the side.
Traffic jam on the track may occur at any time 😉
After some narrow and rocky sheep tracks along steep sides, you’ll reach an intersection, where you take a sharp turn to the left. Soon after, you will reach the broad and grassy upper parts of Heimaklettur.
The upper part of the track.
Final approach to the top.
At the top there’s a guestbook to leave your thoughts and impressions of the walk. Some locals frequently write in it; they go up to Heimaklettur on a regular basis as a way of exercise. And perhaps as a friendly competition amongst each other, to see who has gone up most times too 😉
The guestbook at the top.
From the top of Heimaklettur you can walk a little further down the hill on the other side, to enjoy a stunning view over the other kletturs that form a beautiful circle of rocks around the harbour, the main land with Eyjafjallajökull in the distance, and the vast lava fields coughed up by the Eldfell in 1973.
Ring of kletturs and lava fields panorama.
The sunsets are magical too! 😉
If you’re up for another klettur, you can continue on to Klif – the one with the flat top on the other side of the the Eiðið isthmus, across from Heimaklettur.
Going down, looking out over Klif on the other side.
(c) Nancy Claus – Wilderness Coffee & Natural High
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