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  • Einar Páll Svavarsson

Herðubreið queen of Icelandic mountains


Herðubreiðalindir oasis in the Icelandic Highland
Herðubreiðalindir oasis in the Icelandic Highland

Mt. Herðubreið is a natural wonder located in the middle of the Highland. Many Icelanders consider this mountain to be the most beautiful in the country and often label it 'the queen of Icelandic mountains’. Herðubreið rises 1677 meters up from the Ódáðahraun lava desert and stands alone without any competition from other mountains. Therefore, as any queen deserves, the mountain can proudly express her dignity and stunning beauty from any angle. One of the secrets behind the queen’s breathtaking beauty is how she came about. She is what is called in geology a tuya (table mountain). A tuya is a mountain formed in an eruption below the ice where the magma explodes in water and piles up the ash, creating a mountain that looks like a pile of sand. When the magma has piled up enough ash to surface above the ice and water, the crater starts to deliver lava that floats on top of the pile, and the lava spreads out and creates a layer of lava and rock on top of the pile of ash. Herðubreið is probably the most stunning example of a tuya worldwide as table mountains are a rare species.

Highland map of Iceland
Highland map of Iceland

Herðubreiðarlindir oasis

Mt. Herðubreið queen of Icelandic mountains
Mt. Herðubreið queen of Icelandic mountains

Near Herðurbreið, on the east side, is an oasis called Herðubreiðalindir. At Herðubreiðalindir, there is a camping ground and a mountain hut where accommodation is available during the summer months. If you ever intend to visit the northern part of Iceland and go from there into the Highland, this is a spot you do not want to miss. Around Herðubreiðalindir and Herðubreið, there are interesting hiking trails. You can even hike to the top of Herðubreið and around the mountain. Both are challenging hikes that require good preparation, planning, and gear. You can get information about the hiking trails from the warden at the information hut.


Folklore and outlaws

Herðubreið seen from Drekagil
Herðubreið seen from Drekagil

From the time of settlement around the 10th century until the 19th century, Icelanders did not often enter the Highland. For centuries all kinds of folklore developed about this unknown part of the island. One story is about one of our most famous outlaws, Fjalla Eyvindur, and his wife, Halla. They were thought to have lived at Herðubreiðalindir, the oasis, for several years around 1765. They were probably among the first and very few Icelanders to take advantage of and appreciate the Highland area. If all the stories about them are true, they probably needed a lot of preparation to make it through the difficult winter. There are folklore tales in Iceland where people made up stories about places in the Highland that were much better than any place by the shoreline. Today we know that the Highland is completely uninhabitable and impossible to live in during winter.


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