Leifur Örn Svavarsson


Leifur Orn - Guide and Mountaineer

Leifur Örn Svavarsson founded Icelandic Mountain Guides (IMG) with his cousin Einar Torfi Finnsson and two other friends back in 1994. His extensive knowledge and experience gathered during his very active guiding life for three decades is invaluable to us.

Leifur has experience of guiding pretty much all the tours and expeditions that IMG is and has ever offered, in Iceland, Greenland and elsewhere. From Vatnajökull glacier traverses in full-on winter conditions, cross country ski expeditions, touring ski tours, winter mountain climbs and climbing courses to backpacking tours in very remote areas, hiking over glaciers and wild rivers in the summer. With his guiding experience dating back to 1985, he is probably the most experienced Mountain Guide in Iceland.

Few highlights of his career:

  • In May 2013 Leifur became the first Icelander to climb the worlds highest mountain Mt. Everest via the North Col route.

  • Leifur has been to both the North and South Pole and is currently finishing off the Explorers Grand Slam.

  • Leifur has been an expedition leader of many of IMG‘s successful expeditions to the continental summits like Mt. Elbrus – highest peak of Europe, Aconcagua – highest peak of S-America and Mt. Vinson- highest peak of Antarctica as well as first ascent missions elsewhere in Antarctica. He has guided groups to different mountain areas like several tours to the Atlas Mountains in N-Africa climbing the highest peak, Mt. Toupcal, and the European Alps climbing Mt. Blanc and several other 4000 m peaks.

  • Leifur climbed mountains like Peak Lenin (7.134m) in difficult conditions and Cho Oyu, the world‘s 6th highest peak, 8.202m and Denali/McKinley - highest peak of N-America.

  • He has lead several of IMG‘s expeditions across Greenland ice cap, been expedition leader in expeditions to Greenland’s highest summit, Mt. Gunnbjörn as well as even more remote peaks like Dome and Eijnar Mikkelsen Mountains on the East cost of Greenland. He has led first ascent expeditions in Greenland where unclimbed peaks were scaled for the first time.

  • Leifur did a 29 day ski expedition on the Greenland ice cap, training the Indian Army for the South Pole as well as a 18 day winter training for US military in Thule, Greenland's northern most settlement.

Many of Leifur‘s expeditions are unique like the Nanoq expedition to Mt. Forel in 2000. Then he and Guðjón Marteinsson went on dog sleds up to the Greenland ice cap, skied north the glacier to Mt. Forel where they climbed the summit before walking on skis, 150 km over difficult mountain terrain to the next village on the East cost of Greenland.

Leifur has great knowledge of Greenland. He has visited almost every inhabited area in the country and guided numerous trekking, backpacking, mountaineering, touring- and cross country skiing tours to different locations in Greenland. For a while Leifur did have an regular radio program at the Icelandic National radio about the exploration of Greenland and about polar explores.

Leifur has a university degree in geology, specialized in avalanches. He has finished Level II Avalanche program form Canadian Avalanche Association and worked as a director of the Avalanche Warning department of the Icelandic Meteorological Office from 2002-2010.

Leifur is an experienced lecturer speaking all over Iceland. Leifur worked as the principal instructor for the Icelandic Rescue teams (ICE-SAR) for 7 winters. There he was responsible for training other instructors of mountaineering, mountain rescue and avalanches as well as making text books and course manuals that are still in use. He teaches Level 1 avalanche courses regularly, as well as ice climbing and mountaineering courses for rescue team members and public. For the last 10 years Leifur has been involved in training trekking guides in the Guide School of Iceland.

Leifur was a team leader for the ICE-SAR first responders team at the Icelandic Air Ground Rescue teams for more than 10 years. He was incident commander in several larger rescue operations like the catastrophic avalanches in Flateyri where 20 persons where killed, technical rescues like the one from the 200 m deep Glymur gorge as well as many others.

Leifur has been in charge for mountaineering and glacier walking at the Icelandic Mountain Guides. There he has been manging the training of glaciers and mountain guides. He has guided tours to the highest peak of Iceland, Hvannadalshnúkur (2110m), countless times as well as other peaks in Iceland. 

Leifur is an active climber and has climbed many new ice climbing and mountaineering routes the last decades. He has a successful background in ultra marathons and adventure races, winning several weekend races in Iceland and taking 4th place in Arctic Team Challenge in Greenland, professional category.

If you are lucky, you might be able to contact Leifur while he‘s at the IMG office, but most likely he will not be there since he much rather prefers to be out in the mountains with an ice axe in his hand or with skies on his feet.

Education and Qualifications

  • ICE-SAR basic rescue team training

  • ICE-SAR first responder

  • IMG mountain guide

  • AIMG glacier and mountain guide

  • Level II hard-ice guide (NZMGA HIG standard)

  • Alpine Trekking guide (NZMGA standard)

  • CAA Avalanche operations Level 2 technician

  • Wilderness first responder (WFR)

  • BSc. degree in geology (University of Iceland)

  • Professional drivers licence

  • Mountain biking with his friends

  • Skiing and taking his family rock climbing to Thailand or Kalimnos.