by Jón Gauti
In April of last year, two experienced mountain guides from Canada came to Iceland to conduct the final exams for Ski Guide 3. It is worth mentioning that all participants met their five requirements and can all call themselves Ski Guides, according to the laws of the Association of Icelandic Mountain Guides (AIMG). With this, the five individuals became the first ski guides to receive formal education in Iceland, even though the requirements are comparable to those east and west of the Atlantic.
Those who passed the ski guide certification in spring were Inga Dagmar Karlsdóttir, Jón Gauti Jónsson, Leifur Örn Svavarsson, Ólafur Þór Júlíusson, and Smári Stefánsson.
It is also worth noting that with this achievement, Leifur Örn Svavarsson and Jón Gauti Jónsson are the first Icelanders to complete the entire training program in the country and can now call themselves AIMG Mountain Guides.
It is also worth mentioning that three Icelanders have already passed internationally recognized mountain guide exams, and more are on their way through cooperation with the mountain guide association in Sweden, which is a part of the international mountain guide community UIAGM.
It is not far-fetched to claim that the beginning of mountain guiding in Iceland can be attributed to increased interest from foreign travelers seeking information about the interior of Iceland during the late 18th century. Back then, it was not uncommon for knowledgable and agile farmers to follow the instructions of kings, scientists, or other curious explorers to the mountains and glaciers of the country.
Therefore, it can be said that mountain guiding in Iceland got off to a good start but has remained largely unchanged since. The golden age of alpine climbing in Europe is said to have been in the mid-19th century when knowledgable mountain guides began to actively follow interested parties in ascending the high peaks of the Alps and later around the world.
Today, mountain guiding is a protected professional title almost everywhere, (yet it has humble beginnings. Even today, many guides who enter the professional field have begun their journey with self directed learning often starting with their peer groups or fellow guides. As guiding educational structures are strengthened and standards reinforced, we look forward to a future where guiding associations pave the way to build strong foundations in the industry.
As many and although that is the case, many guides had to begin their careers relying on their communities and fellow guides alike to progress their skillset often absent of any formal education. With increased education for guides and clear requirements, it is hoped that this will change in the near future as many guiding associations pave the way to build strong foundations in the industry.
The Association of Icelandic Mountain Guides was founded in December 2012.
The main objective of the association has always been to increase professionalism in mountain guiding.
The achieve its goals, the association has offered comprehensive courses and exams with requirements similar to those for mountain guides in other countries.
But what is mountain guiding, and what does it entail in Iceland?
In general, mountain guiding involves leading people safely in the rugged landscapes of wilderness, mountains, and glaciers.
The emphasis on mountain guiding can vary from country to country based on local conditions. In Iceland, glacier guiding is central to the profession, but general mountain guiding has also increased in popularity year by year, with ski guiding gaining recognition as a legitimate field of expertise within the Association of Icelandic Mountain Guides (AIMG).
Initially, there was a significant demant for glacier guiding, but soon, mountain guiding gained ground, and the first years of the association were spent organizing such courses and exams. In 2016, the first exam for ski guiding was held, as mentioned above.
“After two hours of driving on a dirt road, we access the ice sheet from Point 660. What strikes us is the vastness of the landscape. We are surrounded by ice from three sides as far as the eye can see. We realize that during thses two days of scouting, we’ll only scratch the surface. It’s clear, however, that there is plenty of terrain for teaching glacier guiding courses.”
Greenland, opposite to what the name suggests, is home to the second largest ice sheet in the world. It spans 1.710.000 square kilometers or roughly 80% of Greenland’s land mass. One would think it’s a great location for glacier guiding, right? This is what the vocational guiding school Campus Kujalleq (CAK) must have thought as well when they decided to work towards adding glacier guiding to their curriculum. Currently there are few glacier guiding operations in Greenland and there is only little involvement of local guides. This is something that might change in the future.
In September 2023, Campus Kujalleq invited four instructors from AIMG and upper-secondary guiding school Framhaldsskólinn í Austur-Skaftafellssýslu (FAS) to a scouting mission in Kangerlussuaq with the aim to establish a cooperation and to start developing glacier guiding courses according to AIMG standards in Greenland. On this scouting trip, the FAS and AIMG instructors worked together with the CAK teachers to establish the Jökla 0 and Jökla 1 courses.
On the scouting trip, the first two days were spent close to Kangerlussuaq to find potential locations nearby to teach basic mountaineering skills for the Jökla 0. Several cliffs and man-made structures were located that are perfect to develop student’s skills for ascending and descending ropes, climbing movement etc., all with the advantage of being able making use of the school’s infrastructure. After exploring the local environment, plans were made to go further afield and check out Point 660, the access point to the ice sheet. We loaded up the van and drove the longest road in Greenland. After 36km or 1h driving we set up camp close to Point 660 from where we checked out the surrounding glaciers. On day one, we had a fresh dusting of snow, and the sun crust was already starting to disappear. The access from Point 660 was very straightforward and it led to a flat area from where one could easily walk to one of the nearby crevasse fields. Together with the local teachers we checked out one of the crevasse fields. Together with the local teachers we checked out one of the crevasse fields and we found some interesting terrain for basic and more advanced guiding, great crevasses for top-rope ice climbing and moulins. Tired, but happy about the day we spent the night in tents next to the glacier. In the morning we set off towards Russell glacier to see if it would be easier to access some interesting terrain.
There were some beautiful canyons and large crevasse fields that would make for some variation in the terrain for the courses. The access, however, could be more challenging if there is a lot of meltwater runoff.
The final two days were spent writing a curriculum for the CAK and preparing a presentation for the students to inform them about the AIMG courses. The presentation was well received, and the students were asking lots of questions. After a surprise dinner prepared by the teachers, we left the next day to Nuuk to fly back to Reykjavik from there.
We are looking back at a successful scouting mission in Greenland and we would like to thank everyone involved in this cooperation and at the same time we are looking forward to the first AIMG courses in Greenland. If all goes well, we expect to start teaching the first Jökla 1 courses next summer and within 3-5 years new glacier guiding companies could be operating according to AIMG standards in Greenland.
Special thanks go out to Barbara Olga Hild. One of the goals of her PhD studies in Arctic Guides Safety Education is to establish a connection between guiding schools in the Arctic. The cooperation between CAK and FAS is therefore a direct result of the project. You can find more information about her studies on the following website: arcticguideeducation.com
By Íris Ragnarsdóttir Pedersen
Throughout the history of mountaineering, all over the world, the participation of women is tilted. Today, fortunately, it is not difficult to find female role models in any kind of mountaineering or guiding, and we should all be able to find our role models, no matter their gender.
In Iceland this is the same, and within our association AIMG too. This year a remarkable event happened, for the first time in the association history there were more women than men at the final Fjalla2 exam. The fact that this was actually a remarkable event says it all.
But why do fewer women enroll in higher level courses at AIMG? What can our society and industry do to help more women complete a higher education?
To some extent, the reason may lie within the tourist industry. It is certainly known that there is a masculine atmosphere with mountaineering, and even though we have come a long way in terms of gender equality in Iceland, the tourism industry is possibly the one with the highest percentage of foreign employees. Cultures from all over the world meet there, so perhaps it is not strange that we need to be more in favor of equality/equal genger ratios in the industry.
Other times, it’s up to us women. I can say it firsthand, that when you are the only girl in a course or exam, you feel like there is more attention on you, because you are the girl in the course. And for that reason, you don’t want to do anything else to draw more attention to yourself. Like for example by performing poorly. But are women therefore waiting too long to register for the exams? And then once we do, do we show up to the exams more than ready? Does this have something to do with our confidence?
Research has shown that healty workplaces have a diverse workforce, both in management and other positions. It is therefore important that we keep this in mind in our industry. We see it on courses at AIMG that there is often a better atmosphere when the groups are made up of people of all genders. It is important that we support and encourage women to continue their education, and most importantly, continue to do what they enjoy doing in the mountains.
Then hopefully we will continue our journey to equalize the gender ratio with the association. Currently there are two women on AIMG’s board, no women on the association’s technical committees, and only one active female instructor. Every year approximately one girl signs up for Jökla3 and over all 65 men have finished Jökla3, vs. 13 women. We have a long way to go.
Let’s do better, go girls!
UPDATE ON BEST PRACTICE DURING AIMG CREVASSE RESCUE
During an AIMG crevasse rescue exam one of the first and most critical steps has been to secure the fallen client from going further into a crevasse. This is best accomplished by using a progress capture pulley (i.e. micro traxion or similar) or a prusik minding pulley (PMP). However, in recent years it has become popular to use a slip hitch for this step, the main advantage being that it does not require any extra gear. The AIMG Technical Committee and instructor team has decided to end the use of the slip knot for the following reasons.
-it is a largely ineffective way of properly arresting a client if they are squeezed in a crevasse. Tying off a slip knot while holding the weight of the client on the rope is almost impossible to do without a great deal of strength.
– Unless great care is taken, the slip knot will come out when the guide is ascending back up the rope. The client will then no longer be secured and a critical point of the safety system has failed.
-On a third and less important note, the cost of the proper pulleys for this rescue have actually gone down. When the micro traxion was introduced it cost around 90 euros online, at the time of this post it costs around 50 euros. There are also less expensive alternatives such as PMPs, but progress capture pulleys have become an increasingly important part of a guide’s toolkit.
We realize this announcement comes in the middle of the spring instruction season and that students cannot change overnight. If students don’t have the right tools on the spring 2023 courses, we will continue to accept the slip hitch as an alternative on courses, but will remind students that this is going to change. Students on fall courses should expect to use the new standard. Please feel free to post any questions below.
IMPORTANT SAFETY NOTE REGARDING PRUSICK MINDING PULLEYS: It’s very important that the diameter of your prusik and rope is suitable for the pulley you bring to the course. If your pulley is designed for 11mm diameter rescue ropes with 8mm prusicks it won’t work well with the skinnier 9mm ropes that are commonly carried by glacier guides. If you’re not sure what to buy feel free to contact the technical committee.
Aðalfundur Félags Fjallaleiðsögumanna var haldin í gegnum fjarfundarbúnað fimmtudaginn 10.nóvember.
26 félagsmenn voru viðstaddir.
Kosin var ný stjórn. Formaður er Helga María Heiðarsdóttir. Ásamt henni eru í stjórn Garðar Hrafn Sigurjónsson, Mike Walker, Mike Reid, Marco Porta, Íris Ragnarsdóttir Pedersen og Laurent Jegu.
The annual meeting of AIMG was held through Teams on Thursday, November 10.
26 members were present.
Voting took place for a new board. The chairman is Helga María Heiðarsdóttir. With her on the board are Garðar Hrafn Sigurjónsson, Mike Walker, Mike Reid, Marco Porta, Íris Ragnarsdóttir Pedersen and Laurent Jegu.
Svo lengi lærir sem lifir og í okkar fagi eykur menntun öryggi og fagmennsku.
Fyrsta íshellanámskeið AIMG fór fram dagana 22-23 febrúar s.l.
Tólf nemendur voru mættir til leiks til að auka færni sína í íshellaleiðsögn. Leiðbeinendur voru Einar Rúnar Sigurðsson og Garðar Hrafn Sigurjónsson
You learn as long as you live and in our profession, education increases security and professionalism.
The first AIMG ice cave course took place on February 22-23.
Twelve students signed up to increase their skills in ice cave guidance. Supervisors were Einar Rúnar Sigurðsson and Garðar Hrafn Sigurjónsson
Fulltrúar frá Félagi Fjallaleiðsögmanna á Íslandi (AIMG) ásamt reynslumiklum íshellaleiðsögumönnum og fulltrúa frá Vatnajökulsþjóðgarði hittust að Hala í Suðursveit í byrjun árs og mótuðu nýtt námskeið sem mun bætast við námsskrá AIMG – Íshellaleiðsögn (2 dagar).
Þetta er gert til að auka öryggi og fagmennsku í íshellaleiðsögn en leiðsögn um þá hefur aukist mikið á síðastliðnum árum.
Skráning á þetta námskeið hefst fljótlega ásamt skráningu á önnur námskeið sem við munum bjóða upp í ár.
Representatives from AIMG together with experienced ice cave guides and a representative from Vatnajökull National Park met at Hali in Suðursveit at the beginning of this year and formed a new course that will be added to the AIMG curriculum – Ice Cave Guide (2 days).
This is done to increase safety and professionalism in ice cave guidance, but ice caves tourism has increased significantly in recent years.
Registration for this course will start soon along with registration for other courses that we will offer this year.
Góðan dag kæru félagar. (English below)
Þann 27. nóvember fundaði ný stjórn AIMG í fyrsta sinn. Farið var yfir hlutverk og ábyrgðarstöður stjórnarmeðlima, og höfum við kosið nýjan varaformann (til hamingju Elín með nýtt hlutverk!). Ný stjórn samanstendur því nú af:
Formaður: Garðar Hrafn Sigurjónsson
Varaformaður: Elín Lóa Baldursdóttir
Gjaldkeri: Ástvaldur Helgi Gylfason
Ritari: Gabriel Côté-Valiquette
Umsjónarmaður námskeiða: Þorlákur Jón Ingólfsson
Varamenn: Robert Halldórsson, Smári Stefánsson & Ármann Ragnar Ægisson
Við horfum spennt fram á veg að vinna saman að einu tíðamesta ári Félags Fjallaleiðsögumanna. Þið getið átt von á að sjá dagskrá næsta vors um jólin!
On the 27th of November, the new board of the AIMG had its first meeting. We reviewed the roles and responsibilities of board members, and have elected a new vice-president (congratulations to Elín for her new position!). The new board now consists of the following:
President: Garðar Hrafn Sigurjónsson
Vice-President: Elín Lóa Baldursdóttir
Cashier: Ástvaldur Helgi Gylfason
Secretary: Gabriel Côté-Valiquette
Course Coordinator: Þorlakur Jon Ingolfsson
Reserve Board Members: Robert Halldórsson, Smári Stefánsson & Ármann Ragnar Ægisson
We look forward to working together on what is lining up to be one of the busiest seasons of the AIMG. You can expect a schedule for next spring by Christmas!
Stansi af nýju merki
Pinni félagsins er farinn að taka á sig mynd