Ten Man-Made Avalanches Last Week

At least ten avalanches from March 28 to April 3 were caused by human activity, according to the Iceland Meteorological Office. In every case they were caused by skiers or snowmobile riders. No serious injuries occurred, but in four of the cases people were caught or buried in the avalanche, RÚV reports.

Necessary equipment for mountaineers

Erla Guðný Helgadóttir, an avalanche specialist with the Meteorological Office, said that people will understandably want to enjoy the outdoors when the weather is favourable. However, she warned that it’s important to look at avalanche forecasts before heading to the mountains. In such excursions, an avalanche beacon, probe and shovel should be brought along.

She added that mountaineers should attend avalanche seminars as anyone accompanying a person buried in snow should be the first responder on site.

Avalanches should be reported

Erla urged people to report any avalanche they spot, as such reports are important for research purposes. This applies for avalanches due to natural causes and artificial causes. Even if people cause the avalanche themselves, they should not hesitate to report. Such reports can be emailed to [email protected] or registered on the Iceland Meteorological Office website.

Fimmvörðuháls: A Comprehensive Hiking Guide

A group of people by Skógafoss.

If you’re planning on a hike in the Highland while you’re in Iceland, Fimmvörðuháls is a great option. It’s one of the most popular day hikes in Iceland and for a good reason. Taking you past more than 20 waterfalls, through barren landscape, between two glaciers, and down into the lush natural paradise of Þórsmörk, it’s one of the most diverse routes you can take in the Icelandic wilderness within a day. This guide to hiking Fimmvörðuháls will tell you everything you need to know about how to get there, what to expect on the way, whether it’s suitable for children, and much more.

When can you make the Fimmvörðuháls hike?

Technically, Fimmvörðuháls is open all year round, but mid-June to the end of August is the ideal time, especially if you’re going without a guide. It’s the time you’ll be most likely to get decent weather and good trail conditions, which will make your journey both more enjoyable and safe. During the off-season, conditions can be difficult due to storms and heavy snow on the ground, and planning transportation to and from the trail will be hard. You should only hike Fimmvörðuháls during the off-season if you’re an experienced hiker or with a guide. The video below will give you an idea of what the conditions are like during the hiking season.

Guided or unguided

During the hiking season, the Fimmvörðuháls hike can be done on your own. This might be the better option for photographers wanting to capture the unique Icelandic landscape or those who just want to take some extra time to enjoy the Highland, as it allows you complete freedom of speed. If you choose to go unguided, make sure to familiarize yourself with the trail beforehand and bring a GPS device and/or a map and a compass.

For less experienced hikers, those who don’t feel confident making the trip on their own, or social butterflies who want to hike with a larger group, there are plenty of guided tours available from May to September.

What to wear on your hike

Don’t underestimate the weather. Even if the forecast is great for Skógar and Þórsmörk, your starting and ending points, the conditions can be completely different and rapidly changing once you’re higher up.

To maximize your safety and comfort, it’s recommended to wear three layers on your journey:

  • A base layer of wool or synthetic thermal underwear.
  • A middle layer for insulation, wool or synthetics.
  • A wind and water-resistant, but breathable, outer layer.

Leave your cotton clothes at home. They won’t keep you warm when they get moist from sweat or wet from snow and rain. If you tend to get easily cold, or if the forecast is particularly grim, an extra sweater in the backpack is a good idea.

Additionally, you should have thermal gloves and headwear, socks made from wool or synthetics, and waterproof hiking boots, such as those on the image below. These are crucial, as there will be snow on the way. If you don’t have the proper equipment or space in your luggage to bring it, you can make use of a hiking and camping equipment rental.

Sturdy hiking boots.
Photo: Matti Blume, Wikimedia. Sturdy hiking boots.

What to bring – and what to leave on the bus

Although Iceland is known for its many rivers, there are none for a good deal of the Fimmvörðuháls trail. This means that you’ll have to bring water for the whole day in your backpack. It’s also a good idea to have hot water, hot chocolate, coffee or tea.

Assuming you’ve already had breakfast, you should bring lunch, dinner and plenty of snacks. An example of food for the day would be as follows:

  • Snacks – a pack of biscuits, a bag of nuts, raisins and chocolate, a granola bar, an apple, and a package of Icelandic fish jerky.
  • Lunch – a sandwich or two with hummus and vegetables or ham and cheese, a package of instant soup, and a snack.
  • Dinner – pasta with cream sauce or a package of freeze-dried food, a hot drink, and a snack.

Other than food, you should bring:

  • A first-aid kit
  • Sunscreen
  • Lip balm
  • Sunglasses
  • An extra pair of socks
  • Blister plasters or tape
  • A GPS and/or map and compass.

Those planning to stay the night in Þórsmörk do not have to carry additional things with them on the hike. You can leave your tents, sleeping bags and anything else you won’t need during the day on the bus, and the driver will drop them off at your accommodations. To do this, you’ll just have to make sure that the bus you choose is actually going there, have your things clearly labelled, and let the driver know.

Which direction to hike in

Since the hike is a point-to-point, there are, of course, two ways to do it. The most popular way is to start from Skógar and make your way into Þórsmörk. That means you’ll be facing the 20-plus waterfalls of the hike on the way up, have a slow but long inclination and the beautiful sight of Þórsmörk coming down. However, it’s entirely possible to do it the other way around. Many mountain runners prefer that, for example, as starting from Þórsmörk gives you a steeper but shorter inclination.

A group of people by Skógafoss waterfall in Skógar.
A group of people by Skógafoss waterfall in Skógar.

What to expect on the hike

While the hike is not the most difficult you can take, it is challenging and not suitable for those with poor physical health. Be sure to get some training in if you’re not used to hiking.

The trail itself is 24 km [15 miles] from Skógar to Básar (or the other way around) and has about 1000 metres [0.6 miles] ascent. On average, it takes eight to ten hours to complete. However, this is highly dependent on your physical form, how often and long you stop to admire the surrounding nature, and whether you struggle with heights. Some people take less than seven hours, while others take 14. Where you’re going to sleep once you get down to Þórsmörk is also a factor, but we’ll get to that further down in the guide.

There are several places where you’ll need to swallow your fear of heights if you have it. There are a couple of steep hills to climb up and down and some places where the path gets very narrow. For a few meters, you’ll have to hold on to a rope to get across a ledge.

There will be snow – maybe even a lot – and the importance of wearing proper hiking boots cannot be stressed enough. Don’t head off wearing sandals or trainers. You’ll end up with wet shoes, cold feet, and a far less enjoyable journey.

Fimmvörðuháls during summer, covered in snow.
Photo: Erik Pomrenke. Fimmvörðuháls during summer, covered in snow.

If you’re starting from Skógar, you’ll head into the barren landscape after you pass the last stretch of the waterfalls and river. This part can feel rather tedious compared to the first, but we promise it will all be well and truly worth it. The views coming down into Þórsmörk in the last leg of the journey are beyond this world.

Should you spend the night in Þórsmörk?

Many people drive out, do the hike, and head back on the same day, but if you have time, Þórsmörk is an amazing place to spend it in. You should also keep in mind that you’re most likely dependent on the highland bus to get out of Þórsmörk. This means that if you don’t spend the night, the bus schedule will restrict your time for things going wrong on the way or exploring the area once you’re down. The last bus usually leaves at 8 PM, and assuming you took the bus to Skógar, you will have started the hike around 11 AM, giving you just about nine hours to complete it. Having sleeping arrangements allows you to take your time on the hike without having to worry about missing the bus.

You can book a sleeping space in a cabin in Básar, Langidalur or Húsadalur, or you could bring a tent. For those wanting a bit of luxury or romance after a long and tiring day, there’s also glamping available, but beware that this is located in Húsadalur. Of the three places you can sleep in, Húsadalur is the furthest away from the end of the hiking trail and getting there will add about 2-3 hours to your journey. Básar is the nearest and, thus, the most popular amongst hikers. Langidalur lies in between the two, adding two kilometres [1.2 miles] to your trip. These all have their unique characteristics, and should you want to experience all of them, you can always plan to stay a few days. Keep in mind that there are limited sleeping spaces, so book yours in advance!

The view from Valahnúkur mountain in Þórsmörk, a popular hike amongst those staying there.
Photo: Erik Pomrenke. The view from Valahnúkur mountain in Þórsmörk, a popular hike amongst those staying there.

If 24 km [15 miles] in a day is not your jam, you can make the hike into a two-day trip and stay a night in either Fimmvörðuskáli or Baldvinsskáli. They are conveniently situated about midway through. You can also choose to hike the trail for a few kilometres and turn back the same way, making it a round-trip of any length you desire. From either end of it, you’ll have epic scenery along the way: the long trail of waterfalls alongside the path from Skógar or the breathtaking view of Þórsmörk below as you hike up the trail and back down again. You could even bring a blanket and some food and set up a picnic along the way. Lastly, there’s the option of seeing Fimmvörðuháls from above on a helecopter tour, in case you’re not able to or don’t want to hike.

Is Fimmvörðuháls suitable for children?

It depends on their hiking experience, physical capability, and enthusiasm. Most companies offering guided tours require a minimum age of 12 or 13 years. This is also a good guideline for families going on their own, but of course, you know your child/children best and will be able to assess their ability based on previous experiences. If you’ve never hiked with them before, doing a test hike is a good idea, and keep in mind that Fimmvörðuháls will probably be a bit more challenging. If you’re worried about it being too hard for them, the suggestions above, making it a two-day hike or only doing part of it, are excellent options.

On the last stretch of the waterfall part of Fimmvörðuháls.
Photo: Erik Pomrenke. On the last stretch of the waterfall part of Fimmvörðuháls.

Getting to and from Fimmvörðuháls

Since the Fimmvörðuháls trail is a point-to-point hike, not a circle, and because of how the highland buses are scheduled, this will probably be the trickiest part of your planning. The fact that you need a 4×4 and experience with river crossing to get in and out of Þórsmörk also restricts your options somewhat. There are several ways you can do this.

  • The most hassle-free option is to book a guided tour that includes transportation. You will need to make no other arrangements than getting to the meeting point. This might be particularly enticing for families with children, but it is also one of the more expensive ways.
  • If you don’t want a guided tour, the next best option would be to have a designated driver who drops you off at the starting point and picks you up at the end. This is a great solution if only part of the group you’re travelling with is doing the hike, and it’s by far the cheapest one. You’ll only need to buy a ticket to or from Þórsmörk to Brú Base Camp, Seljalandsfoss, or Hvolsvöllur, depending on the bus company.
  • A similar situation can be worked out if you have two cars. This will allow you to leave one car at Skógar and one at whichever bus stop you choose to get on/off the bus to or from Þórsmörk. This means that you can drive all the way to Skógar in the morning, hike to Þórsmörk, take the bus to a chosen bus stop and drive back to Skógar to pick up the second car (or the other way around).
  • A fourth option is to get a ticket with one of the highland buses from Reykjavík: A one-way ticket to your starting point, Skógar or Básar (if you’re starting in Þórsmörk, don’t choose Langidalur or Húsadalur!), and a one-way ticket back to Reykjavík from your ending point. Make sure that if your ending point is Þórsmörk, you pick the correct hut for pick-up: Básar, Langidalur or Húsadalur. Each bus company only goes to one or two of the three. If your ticket just says ‘Þórsmörk’, check with the company you bought it from. Those staying the night in Þórsmörk don’t have to worry too much about the timetable, but if you’re planning a one-day trip, make sure that a) you book your ticket back from Básar and b) you know the time you have to be down by.
  • Similarly, if you’re already on the South Coast and got there by car, you can hop on the bus somewhere along the way between Reykjavík and your starting point. This could be in Selfoss, Hella, or Hvolsvöllur, but the stops will be slightly different between bus companies. Just make sure that the bus you take on your way back stops at the same place you left your car. Note that there is no bus that runs from Þórsmörk to Skógar, so leaving your car there at the start of your hike is not a great option. If you do this, you’ll have to take a taxi once you’re out of Þórsmörk to get back to it, which will be very expensive.

Below is the trail on Google Maps with some of its waterfalls and landmarks marked in. The estimated travel time is quite optimistic, so don’t use it as a benchmark!

Family Requests Body of Mountaineer John Snorri Be Buried with Companions

John Snorri Sigurjónsson icelandic mountaineer

In a recent public announcement on Facebook, Lína Móey, wife of the Icelandic mountaineer John Snorri Sigurjónsson, expressed her wishes for the burial of her husband.

John Snorri was a respected mountaineer and the first Icelander to summit several major peaks, including Lhotse and K2. He and his climbing companions Ali Sadpara and Juan Pablo Mohr went missing in February of last year and were officially presumed dead. Their bodies were found in July on the slopes above Camp 4.

In her statement, Lína Móey clarified that the death of John Snorri had “turned their world upside down.” She and her family needed some time to come to a decision that would be both be good for them, but also consider the safety of those offering to help them.

As there are currently several teams attempting a K2 summit, it is unclear which team will come across John Snorri’s remains first. Lína Móey stated that her first choice is that John Snorri’s body be moved to his climbing companions and given a suitable burial. If this is not possible, then she desires him to be moved off the trail and placed out of sight. In her statement, she also requested that no photographs or videos be taken of his body without permission.

Lína Móey will be travelling to Pakistan at the end of July and staying there for some two weeks to finalize her affairs.

In her statement, she thanked all who had helped her family so far and expressed both her gratitude and concern for the safety of all.

Read our profile on John Snorri here.

Closer to the Stars

john snorri icelandic mountaineer

The Savage Mountain When John Snorri Sigurjónsson was 14 years old, he flipped open a magazine and fell in love with a mountain. “From that point onward,” he would later remark, “there was only one mountain in my eyes.” He may have been referring to an article from 1987, which ran under the heading “Suicide […]

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John Snorri and Companions Likely Reached K2 Summit

John Snorri við Stein á Esjunni

Icelandic mountaineer John Snorri Sigurjónsson and his two companions likely reached the summit of K2 before perishing in a storm on the way down. The trio set out to summit the mountain, the world’s second-highest after Everest, last winter but lost contact with base camp on February 5, 2021. Search and rescue efforts in the following days were unsuccessful and their bodies were only found on the mountain earlier this week.

A tweet from “Team Ali Sadpara,” the Twitter account previously belonging to John Snorri’s climbing companion of the same name, revealed that Ali’s son Sajid and other climbers were transporting the three bodies further down the mountain to where they would hopefully be retrieved by helicopter at a later date. “At the moment, immediate retrieval efforts can harm the bodies as well as pose great risks to people involved,” the Tweet stated.

The team states that “as per instruments and presence of fig8 it is now confirmed that climbers had summited K2 in winters [sic] and were frozen to death due to storm on their way back.”

A memorial plaque for John Snorri has been placed at the mountain’s Gilkey Memorial. In a statement sent to media, his widow Lína Móey wrote: “John’s family wants to thank you for the warmth, support, and care that we have been shown over the past months and we would like to reiterate our sincere thanks to everyone who has taken part in the search for John Snorri, Ali, and J Pablo.”

Two Bodies Found on K2: One May Be John Snorri

John Snorri Sigurjónsson icelandic mountaineer

Update July 26, 2:49 PM: A third body has been found on K2 and it is thus exceedingly likely the two unidentified bodies belong to John Snorri Sigurjónsson and Juan Pablo Mohr.

The remains of two climbers have been found on K2, ExplorersWeb reports. One of the bodies has been identified as Ali Sadpara, and the other is believed to be his expedition companion, Icelandic mountaineer John Snorri Sigurjónsson. The two were last heard from on February 5 some 400 metres from the top of the mountain, which is Earth’s second-highest after Mt. Everest. Search and rescue teams were unsuccessful in finding the men.

A Sherpa team found the remains of two climbers on the mountain earlier today. One was identified as Pakistani climber Ali Sadpara while the other was face down and covered in ice, making it difficult to identify. The body was dressed in a yellow and black suit: both John Snorri and Chilean Juan Pablo Mohr were wearing those colours when they were last seen heading up the mountain. However, an ExplorersWeb source stated that the Sherpa team believed the body was John Snorri’s.

At 8,611m [28,251ft], K2 is the second-highest mountain on Earth and is considered a much more challenging climb than Mt. Everest. In 2017, John Snorri became the first Icelander to top the mountain, which is located on the China-Pakistan border. He then set his sights on being the first person ever to ascend the peak during winter but was beaten to that goal by a team of Nepalese mountaineers in January 2021.

Last February, John Snorri was making his second attempt to ascend K2 in winter when he and his expedition lost contact with base camp. There has been speculation that John Snorri and Ali did in fact reach the summit of K2 after they lost contact on February 5 and landed in trouble on their way back down the mountain.

John Snorri, Ali Sadpara, And Juan Pablo Mohr Presumed Dead

John Snorri við Stein á Esjunni

Pakistan authorities have officially declared that Iceland’s John Snorri Sigurjónsson, Pakistan’s Ali Sadpara and Chile’s Juan Pablo Mohr are presumed dead, RÚV reports. John Snorri’s family believe they reached K2’s peak but encountered issues on the way down. They were last heard from February 5 at the most challenging part of the route to the K2 summit. Search for their bodies will continue.

At a press conference earlier today, Gilgit-Baltistan’s Minister of Tourism Raja Nasir Ali Khan declared that the three missing climbers were presumed dead. This was the conclusion of meteorologists, other climbers, and the Pakistani army’s specialist. John Snorri and his companions last made contact on February 5. There was no way to survive for this long under such challenging weather conditions. Khan stated that search for their bodies would continue.

Originally, John Snorri intended to climb the mountain with father and son Ali and Sajid Sadpara. Juan Pablo Mohr joined them high in the mountain but Sajid had to turn back due to an oxygen malfunction in the so-called bottleneck region at an altitude of around 8,200 m (26,900 ft) above sea level. K2’s peak is at an altitude of 8,611m (28,251 ft). In a statement posted to Facebook, on behalf of their family, John Snorri’s wife, Lína Móey Bjarnadóttir thanked everyone who helped look for John Snorri and his companions. They state that based on the timing of their last known whereabouts, they firmly believe that the three reached the peak, but that something went wrong on their way down. Both Sajid and Raja Nasir Ali Khan have made similar statements about the climbers reaching the peak. John Snorri’s family expresses their gratitude to Pakistan, Chile, and Iceland’s authorities, as well as their gratitude that Sajid survived.

John Snorri’s family’s statement reads: “Our Icelandic hearts are beating with Pakistani and Chilean hearts. Thank you to all who have devoted your time to the search and taken the time to care by sending supportive words and thoughts to us in these difficult times.  Ali, John and Juan Pablo will live forever in our hearts.”

John Snorri Arrived At K2 Base Camps, Tents “Exploded”

Mountaineer John Snorri Sigurjónsson has reached the K2 base camp and is continuing his attempt to be the first to complete a K2 winter expedition, despite stormy weather and below -20°c (-4°F) weather.

John Snorri arrived at the K2 base camp on December 5 after a 6-day trek over Baltoro glacier. At 63km (39miles), Baltoro glacier is the world’s longest glacier. On arrival, the weather was windy and temperatures below -20°C. The camp is at an altitude of 4,900m (16.076ft)above sea level and while Snorri expected his team to be acclimatised after two days, stormy weather last night made things difficult for the team. John Snorri posted on Facebook: “The weather was crazy last night and some of our tents and kitchen tent exploded.” Never discouraged, John Snorri and his team, spent the day repairing the tents in a better location to be prepared for the next storm. They will be spending the next months in the camp before attempting to climb the K2 peak.

K2 is the only one out of the world’s 14 mountains above 8,000 m that people haven’t climbed in winter. John Snorri became the first Icelander to top K2 in 2017 but this is his second attempt at a winter expedition after he had to turn back last year.

 

 

John Snorri Makes Second Attempt At a Winter Ascent of K2

“Finally, this day has come,” mountaineer John Snorri Sigurjónsson posted on Facebook yesterday. He was on his way to Islamabad, about to embark on his second attempt to climb K2 in Pakistan during winter. If he succeeds, he will be the first person to climb the mountain in winter.

In his post, John Snorri stated that he got his permit August 17 and that his gear is already at K2 base camp. He organised the journey with a group of people, including a father-and-son team of high-altitude porters, Muhammad Ali Sadpara and his son Sajid Ali. The team also includes a liaison officer, a chef, weather forecaster and a tour operator who handles logistics.


John Snorri made his first attempt last winter but was forced to cancel when two members of his team expressed that they did not feel fully prepared for the expedition. K2 is the second-highest mountain on earth at 8,611m (28,251 ft) and is considered a much more challenging climb than mt. Everest. John Snorri first reached the peak of K2 in the summer of 2017, but no one has reached the peak in winter. The first successful expedition was in 1954, but only 367 people have ascended the mountain since then, and attempts at winter expedition have all been unsuccessful. Over 80 people have died attempting to reach the peak of K2.