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Category Archives: August 2008

August 20, 2008 | Glacier National Park

Flying over the arctic from Paris to Salt Lake City I was fortunate to have a window seat. The views are amazing, a first person experience of something that with Google Earth is commonplace. When viewing our planet from 38,000 feet one realizes how small it really is. As we passed over the green and well-cared isle of Ireland my eyes were drawn to the ocean. The few white caps frothed up by the wind were the only indication of activity. Eventually I looked down onto the expanse of white that is Greenland.

In climbing we have a term know as “sand bagging.” This practice entails under grading a route to what its actual difficulty might be. The first ascensionist has the privilege of determining how to set the rating, the assessment of the difficulty of the route, for subsequent climbers. A sand bagged route is one that is always much more difficult than what the rating gives it. In a similar manner, Greenland is perhaps the ultimate sand bag. Greenland is a land of glaciers and rocky fjords with long nights in the winter. What is green about this? Perhaps when it was settled by the Norse it was green. Perhaps it might be green again.

Looking at the glaciers I reflect on how our existence as humans is affecting these storehouses of frozen water. What is changing and what is the long-term prognosis?
My family and I depart Bozeman for a six-hour drive to Glacier National Park. We’ll be meeting up with David Brancaccio and the team from PBS NOW to continue working on our glacier story. We meet Dan Fagre, a geologist with the United States Geological Survey (USGS) to interview him on the effects of a warming climate and the glaciers that define Glacier National Park.

Glaciers are the most obvious manifestation of a warming climate. Unlike animals, that can fly or run from one climate zone to another, or plants that have variances in their life cycle, glaciers are an inanimate collection of ice. A three-year-old child understands how the sun melts an ice cream cone. Too warm and it turns to soup. The pleasure of an ice cream cone is lost.

In the same manner we see ice melting in all of the world’s mountain ranges. Too much warmth and they evaporate. And for Glacier National Park? Is it an ice cream cone on a hot sidewalk in August?

The updated timeline of the melting of the 25 remaining glaciers in Glacier national Park is 12 to 20 years. For a geologic feature, a force that carved these mountains, to be gone this quickly is a sobering manifestation of the change our planet is undergoing.

– Conrad


rainy-lr1August 1, 2008 | The Alps

In mid-July I had the good fortune to visit the OutDoor trade show in Friedrichshafen, Germany. Situated on the northern shore of Lake Constance among a rolling deciduous and coniferous mixed forest with an occasional apple orchard, Friedrichshafen is an ideal location to hold a trade show dedicated to the outdoors. From climbing to trekking to paddling, one can find any sort of toy for the great outdoors. The only aspect of diversity that is larger than this is the people that attend. From around the world. People meet to exchange ideas rekindle friendships and, in the process, sell a few products.

limestone-lrThe Association for Conservation is the European counterpart to the Conservation Alliance. As a board member for our North American counterpart, my goal was to share a slide show highlighting the connection between wild places and the health of our planet. The relaxation and rejuvenation the wild brings to us is obvious. We wouldn’t return to the wild if it didn’t bring happiness. The other aspect is that wild places are the “canary in the coal mine” when it comes to the health of our planet. As the dominant species on this planet we need to ensure this small orb’s health and balance for our own health. My grandmother would remind me when she was worried that I had overworked myself, “You have only one body – you better take care of it!”

watchWe have only one planet and we better take care of it. This simple thought is part of my daily decision matrix as I look at my life. I think of the carbon my jet needed to get to Europe in terms of a debit to the future. I don’t want my boys Max, Sam and Isaac to suffer the consequences of planet in transition. So I do something about it. My footprint for the journey to Europe amounts to approximately 2 tons of CO2, which by one estimate costs between $25 and $40 to offset. Be aware. Think mindfully and always keep in mind we share this planet.

Perhaps in my own silly way having a little fun in Switzerland justifies the carbon. Why not experience a little of the local color? My friend Tim Seipel is studying for his PhD in plant biology in Zurich, Switzerland. After the trade show Tim and I matched up our schedules for a little climbing. As the summer of 2008 is shaping up to be wetter and colder, we opted to climb on a small limestone rock tower near his house. The tower is some 400 meters in length and offered fine climbing. Cows clanged about on verdant green pastures as we tugged on perfectly sculpted handholds. Once we made the summit we had a rope length of scrambling before we trundled down a green slope to a fine pilsner beer.

My next notes to share with you will return to NOW PBS special “On Thin Ice” that I am working on. We visited Glacier National Park.

– Conrad