A group of hikers ran into difficulties on Hvannadalshnjúkur, Iceland’s highest peak at 2,110 meters, due to poor visibility last weekend. While most people stop at the summit for only half an hour, they were stuck there for three hours without food because they had left their backpacks further down. The full trek usually takes between 12 and 14 hours.
Hiking Hvannadalshnjúkur. Archive photo by Páll Stefánsson.
Snowfall covered the track that was supposed to lead them down the mountain and hid crevasses of which there are many in the area—the peak is on Öræfajökull, part of Vatnajökull glacier—and the guide’s GPS monitor wasn’t functioning properly, Morgunblaðið reports.
Concern spread among hikers and they considered calling search and rescue. However, they were in telephone contact with an experienced mountaineer who assisted the guide in leading the group safely down the mountain.
“To be stuck at the summit for a long time in extreme cold is deadly serious. One member of the group was already exhausted on the way up. When people have left their backpacks and have little food, not much has to happen for things to go wrong,” said Leifur Örn Svavarsson, a guide at Icelandic Mountain Guides, who was also on the mountain at the time.
The group’s guide, who was working independently, has years of experience in hiking Hvannadalshnjúkur and the group was not critical of his work.
However, the incident sparked discussions on the qualifications of mountain guides; regulations on their training are non-existent in Iceland.
The Ministry of Industry and Tourism is now working on a regulation on the training of employees in the recreation industry, as is in place in most other European countries.
“In Iceland the typical attitude is that there aren’t any demands made on professionalism in tour guiding,” Leifur said, calling for strict regulations on the training of guides.