This best-known volcano in Iceland rises 1,491 meters above sea level and can be seen from far away. No other mountain has erupted more often since the island’s settlement. Nineteen times has she blown fire and ashes all over the region. The first time was in 1104 AD, and since then regularly until the year 2000. Volcanologists expect her to erupt in the next few years.
The eruption in 1104 was very powerful. Ash was spread over most part of Iceland and the Þjórsárdalur valley close to Hekla became uninhabitable. This eruption was mainly an ash eruption, but since then most have been lava eruptions with little ash.
Through the centuries people have lived in fear of Hekla, and a number of superstitions have come about in connection with the volcano. It was believed that the gate to hell was on the top of Hekla, but nobody had the courage to climb the mountain to see for themselves. Old sagas claim that in the 15th century a local farmer climbed the mountain, but on the top he went mad and died a few months later.
Two scientists, Bjarni Pálsson and Eggert Ólafsson, climbed Hekla the first time in the year 1750. They searched high and low, but no gate to hell. And they didn’t even go crazy (or no crazier than an Icelander generally is to begin with).
Hekla is believed to be in the center of a very large volcanic system believed to be 40 km long and 7 km wide. The biggest part of the volcano was formed in a huge eruption about 7000 years ago. Even though Hekla has erupted many times over the last hundreds of years, she is still a mystery to geologists, mainly because she is not situated on an active rift zone, which would be likely for a volcano as active as Hekla.
Hekla’s eruptions have historically started very suddenly, but with good technology geologists can predict when they start, which was the case in 2000. On February 26, 2000 at 5:07 pm the seismographs showed some small earthquakes close to Hekla and growing pressure in the Earth’s crust. On 6 o’clock news, geologists reported that the eruption at Hekla would start very shortly. And by 6:17 pm Hekla woke up!
Hiking on Hekla is rather easy, although it is a time-consuming hike. The best way is to drive to Fjallabak, the area behind the mountains. The route is called Landmannaleið and is one of two ways to Landmannalaugar. Before long you see the turn-off for Hekla or Skjólkvíar. From the parking lot you follow a trail up to the volcano, part of which follows the course of the lava from the 1991 eruption. At the peak of the mountain you get a fantastic view over south Iceland as well as part of the area behind the mountains. The walk takes about six hours altogether. Keep your eyes peeled for that door to hell…