Dangers of Ice at Iceland’s tourist spots

Seljalandsfoss Pink
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Slip-up at Seljalandsfoss

Yesterday on a tour we arrived at Seljalandsfoss. I gave the members of my group a pair of microspikes each and we headed to the icy waterfall.

As we approached I was instructing my group about the safety issues and I noticed some tourists were behind the falls. Suddenly I heard a man screaming loudly and I looked over to see a woman sliding defencelessly down the frozen bank towards the waterfall.

As she hit a flat surface at the bottom of the bank, she was helpless against the thick ice and continued to slide towards the water. She entered the water and was extremely fortunate to have hit a very shallow part of the pond. The water barely reached her knees as she gratefully came to a halt.

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I considered my advantage of wearing microspikes and ran up the steps and behind the waterfall to assist her. The man who was with her also had microspikes and together we were able to assist her safely up the bank. She was shaken but unhurt. She was extremely lucky as tourists are lost to icy conditions all the time. If this was at the top of Skogafoss or Gullfoss, this would be a very different story.

She was wearing instep grips, these are very minor crampons for lightweight use. They slip onto your shoe easily, but evidently they slip around your shoe just as easily. These cheap ice claws may help you for day to day coping with icy footpaths, but to tackle an Icelandic waterfall with them is foolhardy.

Loud Screaming

I see it all the time at this waterfall, people risking their safety to get a good picture and they could have though much harder about safety equipment. I always have suitable spikes for my customers and we are able to get great pictures without being in too much risk. It is always essential to be cautious when you have the right safety equipment, without the right equipment, don’t even bother.

The memory which stays with me more than anything from this experience was the loud screaming from her partner, this was the sound of someone who thought he had lost his loved one. A sound I will never forget.

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Be safe!!

Ellingsen is the only place I know of which sell microspikes in Reykjavik… LINK

You can buy them for half the price on Amazon, but be aware you might not be able to carry crampons in your hand-luggage on planes.

Update

Quite soon after writing ths, I took a couple behind the waterfall when it was very icy.  I gave my guests micro-spikes, but the girl lost her footing and slid down the path.  It wasn’t as dramatic as the woman mentioned above.  There were no injuries, but it was a bad day.  My point is that even with effective microspikes, these winter landscapes can be very dangerous. Now the path behind gets closed in freezing temperatures.

Other Dangers

Behind the waterfall

As well as ice being very slippery with its obvious dangers, ice can be dangerous in other ways.  This photo was taken from behind the waterfall at Seljalandsfoss in the Winter.  Shortly after taking this photo, a huge icicle hit the ground just a few inches from me.  I was not aware that there were icicles hanging above me like the sword of Damacles.  Some of these icicles are a couple of meters long and must weigh about 20kg.  If one were to fall on you from a great height, then I don’t fancy your chances of surviving it.  Although, I am not aware of anyone being killed by an icicle in Iceland, about 15 people per year are killed in icicle related accidents.

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By Tony Prower

Tony Prower spent over 15 years photographing the landscapes of Iceland. Tony Prower is a pioneer of the Magic Cloth Technique and ran thousands of photo tours in Iceland over 10 years.

1 comment

  1. I love the microspikes. I use them climbing in the white mountains of New England. They are a great alternative to full crampons.

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