Glacier Radiology Support

I spent the first few days of September this year on the Vatnajökull ice cap, helping researchers from the Glacier Radiology Group at Stanford University with testing their prototype equipment (most of which will ultimately be used for research in the Antarctic and in Greenland). Overall conditions were amazing except for one storm day that we essentially spent inside our basecamp on Grímsfjall, where the Icelandic Glaciological Society maintains a small research station. I used the time to develop a small tool for importing their radiometry data into 3D software for visualisation – maybe a bit unexpected, but not really for a mountain guide who happens to also have a Ph.D. in computer science!

Driving on the lower parts of Skálafellsjökull was cumbersome, primarily because late summer snow tends to be extremely uneven and progress is slow. Higher up however a recent storm system had smoothed everything out and allowed us to cruise comfortably at good speeds. The flat surface was of course also much better for both the UAV and towed configuration we were testing. We encountered a few crevasses here and there, but they were all easily managed.

⚠️ Mobile device support for the 360° panoramas below is a bit dodgy – I am working on finding a better solution but for now those are best enjoyed on a full-sized computer. Sorry!

Grímsfjall is one of those surreal places that are hard to believe actually exist. And because of the particular local conditions, it also is very often hiding itself in a cover of fairly dense fog. I have been there many times, but rarely enjoyed visibility as good as this time. The views were just amazing. I also created a panorama further out above the caldera lake, and one from Svíahnukur vestry, the western peak of the caldera rim. You can flip through them below.

Policy Updates

I have updated our Safety Plan, and we now also have a formal Environmental Policy on our website. Nothing surprising in either document, I guess.

Incident Report – 2022-06-16

In mid June of this year I was called for a rescue operation on the highest mountain of Iceland, Hvannadalshnúkur. This operation was widely reported and I had also written a short post about it earlier.

I had planned to delay publishing my own incident report until after the guides involved had published theirs, but have now come to the conclusion that it is not forthcoming. If their account of the events does become available in the future, I will edit this post to include a link to that as well.

You can download my own incident report here.

Names and other personally identifiable information have been redacted from this version.

Thoughts on guiding

A few mores thoughts about the recent search & rescue operation we had on Hvannadalshnúkur (RÚV, Vísir), now that I’ve actually slept a bit.

We all make mistakes. As professional guides whose job it is to bring people into and back out of very remote areas, our mistakes have the potential of much more severe consequences, for ourselves and for our clients. And this is why training and experience are critical – to avoid making them, to identify them before the consequences become severe, and to be able to improvise a recovery from them.

Any guide who is convinced they have never made and never will make a single mistake probably just doesn’t yet have the experience to see where they should have acted differently, or has a dangerous ego that turns a blind eye to them.

Similarly, I don’t think there is a place for resentment against the guides involved. I cannot believe for a single moment that they were acting in a wilfully reckless manner, and everybody I talked with and who knows them is of the same opinion. Something went awry that day. But, again, we are all humans.

If this was just an incredible series of bad luck or some single mistake that wasn’t caught in time but is glaringly obvious in hindsight remains to be seen. Of course everybody is very curious and has many questions (myself included), but none of us knows all the facts and some of the publicised information may not even be fully accurate. It might take some days of reflection and many conversations, both amongst the people involved and between them and others, to get a clear picture of what happened and why.

Once we know more, we can go forward in a productive way – learn as much as we all can from what happened, and figure out what could be done to avoid those situations in the future. 

Until then, I’ll see you in the mountains.

Search & Rescue Operations in Iceland

I am too sleep deprived to write much about yesterday’s events (Facebook, RÚV, Vísir) in a meaningful way, but it always amazes me how when the shit hits the fan, search & rescue teams from literally all across Iceland hit the road. In this case, teams from Hafnarfjörður in the West to Neskaupstaðir in the East linked up with us on Öræfajökull, just underneath the highest mountain of Iceland to come to the rescue of a group of 14 stranded mountaineers.

Out of nowhere, an operation materialises that relative to the country’s population dwarfs anything you’ll find in most other countries.

Out of nowhere?

Not really. I am willing to bet that behind the 170+ responders who went out to this call are probably over 1000 more people who were directly or indirectly involved in making this happen – from the spouse who was okay with abandoning anniversary plans, to the colleague at work who was ready to jump in on their day off, the shop owner who kept his store open a little longer so that the rescue teams could pick up a few extra supplies, and so on. For no other reward than the knowledge that we all came together to bring help where help was needed.

I love living in a society where this is possible.

And it is upon all of us to make this possible in the society we live in.

New Map!

I am having some technical difficulties with my drone which in addition to the COVID situation has been delaying my mapping project in the past months. On the last flight, the camera white balance unexpectedly changed during a battery swap leading to blue tint for half of the map which I only detected after completion of the flight. I did not have sufficient spare batteries to repeat the flight, so I accepted that it is what it is.

But in more positive news, I created a new WordPress plugin that allows me to directly embed my maps (without the comparison feature, which is the main reason to head on over to the main project site).

COVID-19 Guidelines

We have put together a dedicated page with information on how we are addressing the spread of the new Coronavirus (COVID-19). If you have any questions, please do not hesitate and reach out to us!

Incident Report – 2019-12-28

On my day tour on 2019-12-28 I came to the assistance at an accident on the glacier. You can download my incident report here.

Names and other personally identifiable information have been redacted from this version.

Cleanup / Community Days

I’ve really enjoyed doing my cleanup days since I started them last summer, even though I’ve not been very vocal about them. Now that winter is finally here they are becoming a bit of a struggle. Just yesterday I spent 10 minutes hacking away to uncover a single chocolate wrapper that was partially entombed in frozen mud, and once snow arrives it will be near impossible to even see stuff anyway. Every single piece of trash removed is still worth it of course, but it got me thinking. Perhaps those winter days could be spent in a better way, by keeping the spirit but expanding the scope?

The working title of this idea is to make them Community Days. This also goes towards an idea I’ve been throwing around with a friend for some months now, and while I am not quite ready yet to go into more detail I think it could be a great plan.

New map!

Following up on my recent update on the mapping project, I did actually find good flying conditions just a few days later and decided to give it a try with just two batteries. To make it work, I reduced the map coverage a bit and flew at a slightly higher altitude than normal (110m instead of 80m). This required fewer passes and thus less flight time, and was barely doable with two batteries. Not perfect, but still a success!

As always, the interactive maps are online at https://map.hafjall.is/ .