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The Carbon Friendly Climber

Having just finished Cape climber Robert Zipplies’ book ‘Bending the Curve’ on the subject of climate change (Check out the Book Review article- Bending the Curve), I started thinking about our footprints as climbers and mountaineers. Here are some of my thoughts, maybe you have more?

It can be taken almost as a given that most of us climber types, from gym rats to big mountain expeditioners value and treasure the outdoors. Our love for nature is often a major draw card when engaging in the discipline of the climbing sport we choose (otherwise we would be on the squash court or at the ten pin bowling arcade).

This follows that we would all want to see the environment we journey to on the weekends and holidays preserved and maintained. Already however, all major mountain areas are experiencing massive changes, from glacial melt, to mudslides and increases in rockfalls. Paths to cliffs, alien invaders (that is the plant species not the specemen) and the destruction of vegetation on popular crags, as well as trash are becoming well known concerns throughout all circles of the sport.

Overcrowding in places like the Alps and Yosemite is growing annually, as are the highest regions of the world, the most famous example being the hundreds of people attempting Everest in late May.

My first thought is the impact on the environment we put on the planet when we visit places we value as being pristine and remote. This past Himalayan season, I was for the first time struck by the massive amounts of energy mountaineers are spending getting up big mountains.

Before you plan your next major expedition to some far off mountain, consider the impact of all the flights, shipping to move the tons of gear, helicopter flights into the base camp, and the trash you are going leave on the hill after you have had your photo taken on the top.

Sounds harsh I know, and don’t get me wrong I am as much to blame, but the answers looking forward, lie in climbing something closer to home, or limiting your big mountain trips to less than what you have enjoyed in the past (and not only considering how much you can afford or how cheap the airtickets and permit fees are).

Another consideration is style. The more alpine you attempt a mountain, the less gear you need to move around, carry or employ others to carry. It also means the less you need to bring down. Although this may make your ascent more challenging and perhaps even more dangerous, the experience on reaching your goal will most likely feel more genuine than if you employed an army of people to chaperon you and your gear to the summit.

Closer to home, try to climb crags nearby to your home, car pool to get there and try to limit your travelling by choosing times to get away over long weekends, rather than many one or two day trips.

When you plan your food, try to buy more fresh foods like vegetables and fruits rather than tins and dehydrated foods with excessive packaging. Not only will the food be more tasty and nutritious, it will be lighter and create less trash to carry out.

While the above suggestions may cramp your style and need to climb, this next suggestion is a no brainer for all of us. Leave No Trace principles are simple and easy to learn, and are no excuse to anyone venturing out into the natural world. The days of throwing and burying trash because no one else will ever know are limited: simply too many people are visiting the wilderness for your waste and impact to go unnoticed. Leave No Trace principles include:

Sticking to the paths and established campsites, movement in small groups, carry it in-carry it out, this means taking ALL brought in waste (including toilet paper, but not poop-dig a deep hole) back home with you; keeping water sources clean and free of detergents and soaps; leaving what you find- the take only photographs, leave only footprints principle; respecting wildlife (controlling pets and not feeding animals included) and being considerate (noise pollution, 4x4ing etc).

I don’t mean to sound like a drag, but hang in there, its not all bad news. Fortunately, our sport has many carbon neutral practises already in place. So providing we adhere to the suggestions above, the more we get outdoors and climb, the better for the planet.

Consider how when you camp you are off the grid, which means you are not using electricity from coal stations for lights, heat or cooking. Cooking on gas is more effective than stoves, so why not try using you Cadac or MSR in your home kitchen? Gas is also great because you can simmer and adjust heat immediately.

When we are in the cities, it’s amazing how quickly we rack up the kilometres on a daily basis. Calculate how many kilometres you would spend driving around town to dinners, clubs, braais at friends etc on the weekend, and then compare how far you could travel for the same distance or less on a climbing weekend.

Or if you want to go big, plan a long distance overland trip. For example, in 2005/2006 a friend and I travelled through Africa for about 15 months from Cape Town to Ethiopia. We averaged less than 50 kilometres per person per day (just work out how far you travel to work and back everyday), camped out on the land as much as possible, bought local (at the village markets –and its organic!-), and sorted all of our energy needs, including lighting, a fridge and laptops off the 100 kilometres of driving per day (via a deep cycle car battery and alternator system).

To top it off we climbed in the Hex, Drakensberg, Lesotho, Karoo, Tsodilo Hills, Kafoe Gorge, Malawi Granite domes and Lake (deep water soloing), Kilimanjaro, Ol Doinyo Lengai and other Tanzanian volcanoes, the Ruwenzoris in DRC, Mount Elgon and the Ethiopian Highlands (to name a some).

If you calculate the energy to visit all these climbing regions individually, you can imagine how much more carbon friendly this sort of trip works out to be. Better still leave the car at home altogether and take public transport. You decide. Undoubtedly it will be remembered as a once in a lifetime experience: so why not plan a sabbatical and become a nomad for awhile, you won’t regret it.

Can you think of ways we as climber can become more sustainable? Email me at lunge@iafrica.com

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