Wake up call at mountain’s summit
As Kitty Calhoun approached the summit of one of the highest mountains in the world, she never expected to find a climate change shocker.
The year was 1987 and she was tackling the East Face of the 8000m Dhaulagiri, in Nepal – an ascent only once previously achieved.
‘‘It was an ice tongue that came down the East Face, just like this ribbon of ice. We approached the peak from the west but we weren’t able to see it until we climbed up to the col. We looked at the East Face and it was just running water over rock slabs.
‘‘We thought we would give it some time to freeze up but it never did.’’
Calhoun and her team successfully summited on the Northeast Ridge. No one has climbed the East Face since.
‘‘It’s scary. We take things for granted. We think things will be there very day. The sun will rise and the sun will set. We take glaciers for granted. When you talk about glaciers receding that term seems so distant – the changes we are talking about are part of of history. But then I actually see these changes happening in my life time.
‘‘It was like it was there and I thought it would always be there then all of a sudden I started to notice that the seracs are falling down, the ice is melting, the ice routes aren’t coming in and they’ve measured a glacial recession. ‘‘It’s happening fast.’’ Calhoun will speak about last ascents when she presents at the New Zealand Mountain Film Festival in Queenstown and Wanaka next month.
‘‘This is the thing that means the most to me. It’s here and now. I’ve seen it. It’s real and you can’t ignore it,’’ she told the Mirror.
‘‘It affects climbers for sure but it’s the bigger picture too.’’
In the Arctic it means polar bears losing their habitat, in the Himalayas it is affecting human lives.
‘‘The ice is melting so the rivers [fed by monsoon and glacial melt] in the short term are higher but in the long term these huge river systems will bring less water volume because of the small glaciers feeding them.
‘‘They provide irrigation for these big cities. It’s going to have a huge impact on all those people.’’
In the rest of the world we are seeing climate change in terms of Climber Kitty Calhoun will be speaking on Last Ascents during the NZ Mountain Film Festival. drought, world-first floods and unusual 100-year storms becoming more frequent.
Based in Utah, Calhoun is a climbing guide, ambassador for Patagonia and worker for Chicks with Picks, a climbing business which also fundraisers for women’s shelters.
She started climbing as a teenager and is now considered one of the world’s most accomplished female ice climbers counting among her top successes the first female summit of Makalu and climbing peaks in America, Peru, Bolivia, Alaska and Argentina. While climate change seemed an insurmountable problem at times, she believed there were different ways everyone could make a difference.
‘‘My experience is just to tweak my approach to things – engaging in more of a minimalist lifestyle. It has worked for me in alpine climates and it’s part of who I am.
‘‘Instead of consuming and using up and spending everything – if you employ more of a minimalist lifestyle hopefully there will be more left over for the future.’’
The trick was considering what was important and what could be left for someone else.
‘‘It would be good if you could think of everything in those terms. It ends up making life more rich.’’
A high note: