Famous Sherpas to hike the length of the Great Himalaya Trail

Two famous Nepalese Sherpas are preparing to hike the entire length of the Great Himalaya Trail in an effort to raise awareness of the effects of climate change on the region. The duo will set out on January 15th and hope to encourage economic development along the new trekking route as well.

Apa Sherpa and Dawa Steven Sherpa will begin their journey in eastern Nepal in the village of Ghunsa and will travel 1056 miles west until they reach the town of Darchula. The entire hike is expected to take roughly 120 days to complete, passing through 20 different districts along the way.

While the GHT is an impressively long trek, it is the altitude that presents the biggest challenge for most hikers. It is considered the highest long distance trail in the world, rising above 18,880 feet at its tallest point. That altitude isn’t likely to be a problem for these two men however, as they have both climbed Everest multiple times. In fact, Apa holds the record for most successful summits, having scaled the highest mountain on the planet 21 times. Dawa Steven has stood on the summit of the mountain twice as well, giving the men plenty of experience at high altitude.

In addition to the altitude, the GHT is known for its incredibly scenic vistas as well. The Himalayan Mountains make a breathtaking backdrop for the trek, but climate change is having a dramatic impact on that place. As the planet has warmed, the glaciers throughout the region have gone into retreat, severely limiting the amount of fresh water that is available to the people who live there. Even now, many of those people have to walk several hours each day just to collect water for their daily use. The two Sherpas hope to spread the news on this impending crisis in their home country.

Climate change isn’t their only priority however, as they hope to encourage economic development along the Great Himalaya Trail as well. The route opened earlier this year, and while hikers have begun walking the route, the infrastructure to support them is not fully in place yet. Apa and Dawa Steven hope that their hike will help bring attention to the trail that will also inspire new restaurants and inns to open along its length, making it easier for adventure travelers to undertake the long distance trek.

Explorer to make back-to-back journey to North and South Pole

British adventurer Mark Wood is currently in Punta Arenas, Chile where he is preparing to start an epic journey. If all goes as planned, later this week, Mark will fly to the Antarctic, where he’ll begin a four-month odyssey that will take him to both the North and South Poles back-toback. While he certainly won’t be the first person to visit those two remote places, he does hope to become the first to make consecutive journeys to the opposite ends of the Earth.

Weather permitting, the first stage of the expedition will begin on Wednesday, when Wood will start his solo and unassisted trek to the South Pole. That leg of the journey is expected to take roughly 50 days to complete and will cover approximately 680 miles of ice and snow. Upon arriving at his destination, Wood will be picked up by plane and shuttled back to Chile, where he’ll immediately set off for Canada to start the second stage of the expedition. That will entail crossing another 700 miles of ice, over an estimated 65 day period, culminating with his arrival at the North Pole. If he is successful, he’ll then be plucked from the ice once again, and flown directly to an environmental conference that will focus on the effects of climate change.

In order to reach the two Poles, Wood will travel on skis, dragging a sled behind him. That sled will be weighted down with his gear, food, and other supplies, enabling him to survive for weeks on end, by himself, without any outside assistance. While on the trail, he’ll burn in excess of 8000 calories per day, enduring bitterly cold temperatures, whiteout conditions, and treacherous terrain.
Wood is making this journey to raise awareness of the impact of climate change on our planet and he is asking for support from others to help him achieve his goal. But rather than looking for monetary donations, Mark is instead asking for others to pledge to do some simple environmental actions that will cumulatively amount to a savings 100,000 kilograms of CO2. You can find out more about this program, and pledge your support, on the expedition’s DoNation page.

It will be a tremendous display of strength and endurance if Wood is able to pull this off. Spending 115 nearly-consecutive days in polar environments, alone no less, will take its toll on anyone. Additionally, the changes to our planet have made it increasingly more difficult to travel by foot to the North Pole, so he’ll have to have a bit of luck on his side for that to happen as well. Still, you have to applaud his ambitions and wish him the best along the way.

[Photo courtesy of Mark Wood]

IAATO explains climate change for Antarctic travelers

The International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators (IAATO) continues to be a great source of information and education for travelers heading south to the frozen continent. Last week we told you about their efforts to keep the sailors aboard private yachts, well informed of the issues involved with navigating the Antarctic waters, helping to make the region even safer for travel. But beyond promoting safe travel in the Southern Ocean, the IAATO’s other chief concern is protecting the environment. To that end they have released a document entitled “Climate Change in Antarctica – Understanding the Facts” which is designed to educate Antarctic travelers about the threats to the environments which they’ll be traveling through.

The document, which was created in collaboration with the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR), is a fair and unbiased look at the impact of climate change on Antarctica, which plays a vital role in the circulation of both the atmospheric and ocean currents. Additionally, Antarctica contains 90% of the world’s ice and 70% of its fresh water, which makes it all the more valuable for the long term health of life on Earth.

Antarctica has long served as a barometer for the health of the planet, and as climate change continues to spread, its impact on the continent is undeniable. For instance, temperatures on the Antarctic Peninsula have increased by more 3ºC over the past 50 years, which is nearly ten times the average rate for the rest of the world. Meanwhile, the large ozone hole that made news years ago, has led to a 15% increase in westerly winds, which have helped to insulate the continent, keeping Antarctica’s interior largely unchanged in terms of temperature and snow fall.

What does all of this have to do with travel to Antarctica? Clearly the report demonstrates how fragile the environment is there, and how important it is to protect it – something the IAATO has a vested interest in. The organization works with its members to help limit the impact of travel to the region, and in the process reduce their carbon footprint. The idea is for travelers to visit but have zero impact on the place, ensuring that it remains a healthy and vital destination for future adventure travelers to enjoy as well.

The Antarctic travel season is just now getting underway, and with the global economy remaining sluggish, a number of travel companies are once again offering excellent deals for tours to the region. If you’ve ever had a desire to visit the the place, this may be the best time to go.

[Photo credit: IAATO]

Bowermaster’s Adventures: Navigating the hordes of jellyfish

Jellyfish — those gelatinous, stinging, floating-condoms-of-the-sea, the pint-sized boogeyman of the ocean are fast becoming the equivalent of a coal mine’s canaries. Appearing this summer en masse along coastlines around the globe, jellyfish are evidence of just how badly we’re treating the ocean and with painful results.

During the last days of summer jellyfish swarmed the Atlantic coast of Spain stinging hundreds on a single day, sending many swimmers to the hospital. While most of the stinging effects would go away in a week or two, many can still itch months later and sometimes require surgery to remove the affected area.

Dubbed a couple years back by the New York Times as the “cockroaches of the sea,” hordes of jellyfish have been showing up in similar abundances along beaches in New York, France, Japan and Hawaii, stinging innocent passersby and clogging fishing nets.

While jellyfish do little more than float with the currents and sting only when bumped into, last year more than 30,000 Australians were treated for stings, double the year before. Such swarming used to happen on occasion, but last just a couple days. Now some are lasting for weeks. In Spain this summer a fishing boat from the Murcia region reported an offshore swarm of iridescent purple jellyfish spread over a mile.

“Those jellyfish near shore are a message the sea is sending us saying ‘Look how badly you are treating me,’ ” jellyfish expert Dr. Josep-Maria Gili with the Institute of Marine Sciences of the Spanish National Research Council told the New York Times.

Experts believe this is a problem that’s only going to grow in years to come, thanks to a variety of environmental ills bearing down on the ocean simultaneously:

1. GLOBAL WARMING increases sea surface temperatures, which encourage jellyfish growth, as does a corresponding lack of rainfall. Typically freshwater from rain aggregates near shore and helps keeps the jellyfish at a distance; lack of rain due to a changing climate – as they’ve experienced along the European coasts this summer — means jellyfish float closer and closer to shore.

2. COASTAL POLLUTION reduces oxygen levels and visibility in the water, which scares most fish away from the shoreline but is conditions in which jellyfish thrive. While most fish have to see their catch, jellyfish filter food from the water, so eat passively.

3. OVERFISHING eliminates natural predators of jellyfish like tuna and swordfish, which also allows for more plankton growth, which helps the jellyfish proliferate.

One bright note to the boom? Some predict in the not-so-distant future jellyfish may be the only marine life left and thus may become a dietary staple. Savvy scientists, like the University of British Columbia’s Daniel Pauly, believe thanks largely to overfishing that we better start working on some jellyfish recipes … and fast.
Eating jellyfish is already prevalent in some Asian and Third World countries where sea cucumbers and sea urchins – “which live off dirt,” notes Pauly – are already on menus. When Pauly first suggested the notion of jellyfish sandwiches, it was intended as a joke. Not today.

Photos show effects of climate change on Everest

A new series of photos from the Himalaya reveal the undeniable effects of global climate change on the glaciers there. This is especially evident on Mt. Everest, where comparative shots from 1921 show just how much the Rongbuk Glacier has retreated over the past 89 years.

Filmmaker and mountaineer David Breashears made the journey to Everest’s North Side, where explorer George Mallory once took a very famous photo of the mountain. Standing in the very spot where Mallory once shot his image, Breashears took a new one, and the differences between the two are startling. In the earlier photo, a thick layer of snow and ice stretches far down the valley, but in the one taken by Breashears, the glacier has withered dramatically. In fact, the Rongbuk has lost more than 320 vertical feet since Mallory shot his photo.

Over the past few years, Breashears has visited a number of other famous mountains throughout Nepal, Tibet, and Pakistan as well. While there, he took similar photos, and each case he discovered a significant loss of glacial ice, which is particularly troubling considering that the Himalayan glaciers are the Earth’s largest sub-polar ice reserves. The loss of that ice has already had a direct and profound impact on the mountains and the people that live there, many of whom now have to walk for hours each day just to find fresh water.

Breashears has taken his collection of photos and created an exhibit known as Rivers of Ice, which just went on display last week at the Asia Society, located in Manhattan. The photos will be open to the public to see until August 15, giving visitors a chance to witness the changes for themselves.

[Photo credit: AFP]