The Legend

Trolls or tröll are common in Icelandic legend. They were believed to live in caves in the mountains and were generally only moving about at night. If a troll was caught outside by the rays of the sun at sunrise, it would immediately turn to stone. The Kerling or Witch of Kerlingarfjall is perhaps the most famous of the Icelandic trolls. This is a legend that has been inspired by the enormous pillar of rock that sits on the southwestern rim of the mountain (Figure 2). Legend has it that she originated in the mountainous region of Hítardalur to the east. For some reason she decided to move to a new abode further to the west, some say to be close to the legendary giant or troll Bárður Snæfellsás, who resided in Snæfellsjökull volcano at the west tip of the Snæfellsnes peninsula. The female troll is called skessa in Icelandic. On her journey to the west, the Kerling or skessa packed most of her belongings on a very large horse and carried the rest. But all of the burdens proved too much for her and the horse.

The Kerling or the 20 m high stone pillar in southwestern part of Kerlingarfjall, that gave rise to the legend of the female troll or skessa. (Figure 2)

As she progressed west, she first dropped the bail of hay that now makes the mountain of Sáta. Then a barrel full of skyr or yogurt had to be left behind, making up the mountain of Skyrtunna (literally meaning a barrel of yogurt). Finally the horse gave up and its remains form the mountain Hestur (literally horse in Icelandic). Anyone who has seen this mountain will agree that its profile is exactly that of a very large horse, Still, the Kerling kept going and she tried to speed up, as she needed to get to a cave before sunrise. But as she reached the southwestern part of the mountain, the first rays of the sun came over the horizon and turned her to stone. Figure 3 is of a sculpture of the Kerling during her voyage, by the artist Ingibjörg H. Ágústsdóttir. The pillar of rock that makes up the Kerling is a spectacular needle of basaltic tuff or móberg. It is remarkable that this column has not fallen over but we must expect it to collapse at some time in the future as erosion and weathering of the soft tuff continues. Only one person has actually
climbed to the top of the Kerling column. This is Ágúst Bjartmarz, a carpenter in Stykkishólmur. In his younger days in the year 1948 he hiked to the top of Kerlingarfjall and managed to toss a rope over the top of the Kerling. This made it possible for him to climb all the way up.

A wood carving of the Kerling or female troll in Kerlingarfjall, by Stykkishólmur artist Ingibjörg H. Ágústsdóttir. (Figure 3)