Wake up call at moun­tain’s sum­mit

Central Otago Mirror - - FEATURES -

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:

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