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.