A suggested ban on winter hiking at Mt. Kirkjufell may be illegal, states travel association Útivist.
Following a fatal hiking accident on Mt. Kirkjufell this October, the landowner suggested a ban on hiking during the winter. Mt. Kirkjufell, a mountain known for its iconic shape, has attracted many tourists in recent years, especially since its inclusion on the popular television show, Game of Thrones. The fatality was the third in four years.
Iceland, like many other nations in Northern Europe, has traditional legal rights known as the freedom to roam in English. These rights grant the public access to lands owned publicly or privately. Notably, these rights exclude economic activities. Many tourist sites have begun charging fees for parking and bathroom infrastructure, leading to a debate between where the line is drawn between these traditional rights and the necessities of mass tourism in Iceland.
The Environment Agency of Iceland states: “Walking is permitted on uncultivated land. However, please avoid taking shortcuts over fenced areas, pastures and private plots. Follow the rules in areas under special wildlife or vegetation protection. Follow marked footpaths, where they exist. These paths make for a safer trip, as well as reduce wear and tear on sensitive natural elements. Landowners may not hinder passage of walkers alongside rivers, lakes and ocean, or on tracks and paths. There should be a gate or style close to any hindrances.”
Last week, landowners of Kirkjufell stated that the mountain may be closed to hiking until mid-June. The landowners stated that foreign tourists often do not recognise the dangers posed by the mountain, and decide to hike the popular mountain even in dangerous weather conditions.
The travel association stated its understanding of the landowners’ actions, but stated that other precautions must be taken that still maintain the right to access.
In an official resolution, Útivist stated: “The landowner’s ban on walking on the mountain is not in accordance with the law on public rights. The board points out that it is not possible to put the trips of inexperienced, poorly equipped hikers, who do not know the conditions, and the trips of organized groups […] under the same umbrella. The travel association Útivist has organized trips to Kirkjufell and has always ensured that safety is guaranteed as much as possible. The board of Útivist reiterates its understanding of the actions that the landowners have taken in light of the special circumstances, but at the same time does not consider it a reason to limit the access of well-equipped and trained hiking groups […] In this light, the board of Útivist believes it is important that time be used to find other and more suitable ways to reduce accidents and deaths at Kirkjufell, including by installing information signs about the dangers in frequently visited places.”