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 often triggered into a photo-frenzy when they sail into it, through a narrow passage along mountainous rocks that shelter the harbour 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 279 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.
Sheer cliffs, ladders and chains
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. And there are ladders and chains to help you up the steep sections at the bottom. It takes about 45 minutes to reach the top, and about 30 to get back down again – not counting the time needed to enjoy the great views, a picnic or a Wilderness Coffee along the way.
Wilderness Coffee on the rocks! 😉
I made a detailed description of this walk, including lots of pictures of what the track is like, and what you can expect along the way. I hope you will enjoy it as much as I did.
Shaped by volcanic activity
The chain of craggy rocks on the north side is 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 cliffs 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 were merged together into the present island of Heimaey. The shifting and changing of the island is still an ongoing process. 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.
The start of the track
The track starts at Eiðið behind the small end of the harbour. The first part consists of a series of ladders against the cliffs, before you reach the grassy slopes and rolling 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 drop-offs 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.
Recently a new sign has been placed at the bottom of the first ladder, to inform people and encourage them to take care and responsibility when they go up the track.
This track contains steps and ladders – not to mention ropes and chains…
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.
The steep & rocky part
After scrambling up the gravel heap at the bottom, you’ll reach the first set of ladders. A path of steps leads across a grassy slope full of wildflowers up to the third ladder.
The first and second set of ladders and steps.
The third and last ladder goes 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.
Looking down the track (and several ladders)…
New and improved ladders and steps
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, reaching comfortably above the ledge. 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.
Still, it’s probably the trickiest part of the track.
Ropes and chains on the ledge below the sheepcage.
Pleasant grassy ridge
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. Usually it’s quite sheltered from the wind too, and worth a little side-trip at any rate.
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.
The track above the sheepcage
After a relaxing break, it’s time to conquer the daunting sheepcage ledge, and continue on the track further up. There are chains attached to some of the steeper and trickier parts.
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 intersection and final approach to the top.
Steep drop-off to the seaside… the notorious Dufþekja.
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 on a regular basis as a way of exercise. And perhaps some friendly competition amongst each other too – to see who has gone up the most times within a year. When the sun goes down, it’s a popular hangout spot for the local sheep too 😉
Heimaklettur is the only Vestmannaeyjar peak with its own guestbook. The light on top also doubles as a beacon for incoming and outgoing regional planes.
The guestbook at the top.
From the top you can walk a little further down the hill on the other side, to enjoy a stunning view over the other kletturs forming a beautiful circle of cliffs around the harbour. On clear days you can see the main land with Eyjafjallajökull and Hekla in the distance, and the vast lava fields coughed up by Eldfell in 1973.
Ring of kletturs and lava fields panorama.
Candles on Heimaklettur
When the days grow shorter, candles are often placed on the slopes along the cliffside facing town, for people to enjoy some pretty lights blissfully shining during the darker days of the year.
Candles light the way in the impending darkness.
Usually you can spot one or two candles. But around Christmas and New Year it gets totally out of control, when Heimaklettur is decorated with a multitude of candles all over the upper slopes. It’s an incredibly beautiful sight.
I’ve added my own candles a couple of times too… 😉
The sunset views from the top of Heimaklettur are absolutely magical! This is what the midnight sun looks like… Luminous clouds & pink skies throughout the night. It’s like fiery red & orange northern lights! This was taken around 01.30 hrs on Solstice night (20-21 June 2018), with an amazing view to Eyjafjallajökull across on the other side. The sun took a short break down the horizon at 23.40 hrs, and was bright & shining again at 03.05 hrs.
If you’re up for another klettur, you can continue on to Klif – the one with the flat top and the beacon on the other side of Eiðið. Or go up behind Klif to the HáHá plateau, for the stunning ridge walk around Herjólfsdalur.
Looking towards Klif on the other side.
You can read how to get to Vestmannaeyjar in this article.
(c) Nancy Claus – Wilderness Coffee & Natural High
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