Focus on Science: Sherpa and Climber Perceptions of Glacier Recession in the High Himalaya

PI: Chris Dunn, University of Colorado, Boulder

My research contribution for this expedition will focus on perceptions of glacier recession, particularly comparing those of scientists with the lived experience and traditional beliefs of residents of Sagamartha and Makalu Barun National Parks. I am further interested in how scientific training intersects with traditional beliefs and the implications this may have for conservation and park management. For the most part, I expect this to be a small addition to prior long-term studies. I am also investigating how expeditions and journey narratives can be used as tools in communicating climate it's change, as well as science and environmental issues more broadly.

Khare (4/1/2019)

4/1/2019 Khare (4,900m)

We made it to Khare, the highest tea house village before we set off for the climb of Mera proper. From Khote, we followed the Hinku River heading up the valley for two days of hiking. Unlike the pass, the valley was not full of snow and so we were able to take John's long-term ecology measurements. We took ground control points to see how the vegetation has changed since John last took measurements here 10 years ago. This essentially entails stopping at regular intervals to identify what plants are growing in the area. Botanist, Eric, and botany students, Mehindra and Benup, were invaluable for this work. The full team also pitched in to help the work move quickly so we weren't on the trail unduly long. Chris and Morgan measured the slope and aspect; James took reference photographs. All along the way, the human geography team continued interviewing local people about impacts on their lives - whether tourism, climate change, civil war, etc.

As we neared the town of Khare, the river became frozen over, but you could still hear the water flowing underneath. We're at the source of the river now at the base of the Mera glacier. It's cold here; most of us are in full down layers inside the tea house. We have one rest day and then will set out on our climb of Mera Peak (6'470m) to collect snow samples.

Kothe (3/29/2019)

3/29/2019 Kothe (3,580m)

On 3/27, we took off from Kathmandu in a 14 passenger propeller plane heading for Lukla (2,840m). We were diverted due to ice on the runway but eventually made it after the sun had more time to do its work. After some lunch and a walk around town to get oriented, we set off for 3 days of strenuous hiking to get from the Khumbu Valley over the Zatrwa La pass (4,610m) and down into the Hinku Valley.

The pass was unusually full of snow, the most snow in some 12 years according to locals. In terms of travel, we had to move slowly and carefully across slushy, icy terrain, turning 6-hour days into 9-hour days. In terms of science, the flora was completely snow-covered, save for some daring little pink primula flowers - the ecology work would have to wait. Fortunately, Chris and Morgan's human geography work carried on with help from Nepali students, Mahindra and Benup. They were able to interview many local people about their experiences here in the mountains over the last decade since John was here last.

After an exhausting few days involving 1,770m of elevation gain and 1,030m of loss, we were excited to arrive in Kothe (3,580m). As we walked through the entrance to Makalu Barun National Park, we were greeted by a young toddler, and we knew we were back in a little civilization - warm tea and food wouldn't be far.

Focus on Science: Climate Change and Tourism Impacts on Local Sherpa Community Development

PI: Morgan Scott, Western Washington University

Initial Community Based Conservation (CBC) projects and management styles

that were implemented in multiple National Parks and Conservation Areas in Nepal were

considered successes, and looked upon as international examples of such strategies. Since

that time, however, many CBC projects in developing nations have failed to meet or even

approaching their goals. This study shall investigate further how climate change and CBC

projects have affected the communities, which they originally were meant to serve, in

two National Parks - that were originally hailed as successes. Due to the international

popularity of these areas and the monumental increase of the tourism and mountaineering

economies there, much documented and researched development has occurred since the

implementation of these management strategies. This study will investigate the attitudes

of local people toward conservation and their engagement in conservation action. This

study shall further support the conversation surrounding the efficiency, effectiveness, and

future implementation of CBC both in Nepal, and in developing nations worldwide.

The Team in Kathmandu

We have spent 4 days in Kathmandu preparing to head into the mountains. John and Eric have been meeting with university and government officials. Morgan and Chris have been meeting with Nepali students who will be assisting with their research. We’ve all been making last minute purchases, checking and rechecking gear, and enjoying the last fresh food for a couple months!


We managed to squeeze in some sightseeing of Buddhist and Hindu temples. Kathmandu is a lively, rich environment, but we’re all eager to get into the mountains to find some fresh air and get to work. We are scheduled to fly to Lukla tomorrow and begin the 78-mile trek up the Hinku Valley into Makalu Barun National Park toward Mera Peak (6,476m). It has rained in Kathmandu and snowed in Lukla for two days, so there may be a backlog of people waiting to fly ahead of us. Maybe we’ll have more time for fresh food after all.

Stay tuned for more posts on our team, research, and expedition progress!

Team Member Spotlight: James!

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Growing up, I loved science but lost interest after discovering full-time laboratory science was not for me. After finishing school, I started climbing around the same time as I was delving into some of the classics of exploration literature, such as Annapurna by Maurice Herzog, Arabian Sands by Wilfred Thesiger, and The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard. At that time, I finally realized that there are opportunities to practice science outdoors - to explore! I decided then to devote most all my free time to learning how to climb safely in the mountains in hopes of assisting science research expeditions. Since then, I've had the pleasure of joining seven ACSP expeditions to the Cordillera Blanca mountains of Peru and working with many scientists, students, and local stakeholders to help advance research and conservation efforts there.

My background and excitement is in old school field science exploration - a team of people coming together for the greater purpose of advancing human knowledge. I'm very excited to have the opportunity to join the ACSP expedition to Nepal and climb again with Morgan and John, with whom I've climbed several times in the high mountains of Peru. I'd love to summit in Nepal, but I'll be perfectly happy if we simply do some good science, travel safely in the mountains, and assist any member of our team in climbing the peaks to gather data there. In future, I hope to share our experiences with students so they are aware of opportunities to practice science outside.

Team Member Spotlight: Chris!

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Why do I want to climb Lhotse? Because it’s there?

That can’t be it. So are beaches and margaritas. They’re there.

Lhotse will be the penultimate quest for me thus far, but really just the end of a long string of adventures to icy, treeless destinations. I don’t fully know why I’m drawn to faraway, desolate places like deserts and mountains. Perhaps I’m seeking out the ultimate: “Chaos and Old Night…Matter, vast, terrific.” Or testing by experience if there are any truly wild places left on earth. Perhaps I’ve taken Ed Abbey’s advice too literally: “May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view.” Well this would fit the bill wouldn’t it!?

The fact is that these kinds of journeys make me feel alive and give me a sense of accomplishment afterwards. It’s a bit of a contradiction, but I feel a little more important for having completed such feats, while also nearly insignificant in comparison to nature’s magnitude.

An important part of my rationale for participating in this climb and research expedition is a realization I had over the summer when I reached the Arctic Ocean from the Brooks Range for the second time, after conducting some follow-up research in a remote Inupiat village. I have been slogging through graduate school and in the process have encountered many academics. Some are great writers, some great theorists, some great teachers, but not many can traverse Alaska or climb in the Himalayas. I realized that I have a substantial outdoor skillset and ability that I’d like to put to good use, expanding myself while expanding human understanding.

I want to bear witness to the massive changes affecting our planet. I believe in the power of firsthand experience and I’d like to be able to say: I have seen the changes with my own eyes, I remember how it used to be. The Himalaya and other high mountain ranges have been called the third pole as they contain tremendous amounts of glacial ice. Billions of people in Asia rely on Himalayan glaciers as a crucial component of their water supply. As these glaciers melt, countless livelihoods are jeopardized through dwindling water supplies and rising seas. Himalayan ice is thus of geopolitical and world-historical significance.

I’ll admit I’m intimidated by the task ahead: international research, working across language barriers, much less breaking the 8000-meter barrier will be new territory! I plan to give it my all (no pun intended) but will be glad when I’m Dunn (pun intended).

If you haven’t already, please consider supporting our research and outreach by donating!

Team Member Spotlight: Morgan!

Hello! I’m Morgan and I’m a first year grad student at Western Washington University, studying human geography under Dr. All. I first fell in love with the Himalayas when I studied abroad in India in 2014, and spent 3 months trekking through the middle hills of Uttarakhand, on the border between India and Nepal. Drinking my chai every morning and gazing longingly at Nanda Devi, I dreamed of climbing such a mystical Himalayan peak. I never thought that Everest would be that peak. But coming back to Western in pursuit of my Masters brought me back to John, and on the journey to Nepal to conduct my thesis research. Originally I was skeptical of Everest and its price-tag, but the more I thought about my career, family, and life goals, and the more I talked to John about it, the more I came to realize that this is the best and perhaps only opportunity that I will have to attempt such a feat! I have a personal interest in both the romanticism and mythologies of Hinduism and the philosophies of Buddhism and am beyond thrilled to be able to trek in such a sacred space for both. I am excited to research and climb in such a holy place, and honored and thankful for the opportunities that have brought me there.

If you haven’t already, please consider supporting our research and outreach by donating!

Meet the Team

John All

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John All, JD, PhD, is a global explorer and geoscientist, specializing in climate change research in remote locations and is the author of Icefall: Adventures at the Wild Edges of our Dangerous, Changing Planet. His work is broadly focused on fragile, indicator environments, in particular the world’s highest mountains, where changing climate has profound consequences. He is an advocate for adaptive strategies to cope with changes now occurring and his research is focused on hard science that informs public discourse. Dr. All works primarily in Peru and Nepal, but has led expeditions on five continents to extreme locations -- from deep caves to tropical rain forests; remote deserts to the great mountain ranges of Asia and South America.  All successfully summited Mt. Everest, Denali, Artesonraju, Mt. Blanc de Tacul, Alpamayo, El Capitan, and hundreds of other mountains around the world.

Eric DeChaine

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Eric DeChaine is an Associate Professor of Biology at WWU and the Curator of the Pacific Northwest Herbarium (WWB). He explores how climate impacts the distribution and diversity of arctic-alpine plants - the early indicators of environmental change. Imagine an archipelago of oceanic islands. Now, place those islands atop mountains surrounded by a sea of forest. That is the alpine - isolated fragments of tundra in the sky. As the climate warms, the forest rises and the sky islands shrink, forcing plants to move, adapt, or die. To gauge how species might respond to changes, one needs to know where they occur. Yet, little is known about plants in remote arctic and alpine regions. So, DeChaine goes where no botanist has gone before. In the search for flowers, DeChaine has summited countless peaks, canoed numerous rivers, and trekked untold miles across Greenland and Scandinavia, Siberia, Japan, and the Americas, including a solo-ascent of Denali. Through field- and lab-work, his geographic and molecular analyses unearth the histories of arctic-alpine plants, the factors that have given rise to rare mountain taxa, and how those species may respond to future warming.

Christopher Dunn

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Chris Dunn is a PhD student in the Environmental Studies program at the University of Colorado—Boulder, having previously completed an M.A. at the University of Montana. He has lived and worked nine seasons in Alaska, including three seasons in the Arctic as a researcher. Chris has worked as a backcountry ranger for several parks including Olympic and Denali, and as a wilderness fellow for the Society for Wilderness Stewardship in Montana. He has also lived and worked as a college instructor aboard Navy ships in Japan, the Mediterranean, the Persian Gulf, and the South Pacific.

Chris has been on several expedition-level trips, such as a 500-mile hike across the Canadian Rockies in 2008, summitting glaciated peaks in Ecuador, Bolivia, Alaska, Washington, and Montana, packrafting 230 miles from the Brooks Range to the mouth of the Colville River in 2018, traversing the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from south of the Continental Divide to the Arctic Ocean in 2015, and many others, perhaps exemplified in an independent project to float (and portage) the entirety of the Susitna River in Alaska in the context of a then-proposed dam. See more at https://chrisdunnonplanetearth.weebly.com/

James Holmes

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James works professionally in corporate finance and is pleased to volunteer as the Treasurer of the American Climber Science Program. James likes to help advance scientific research and environmental conservation through climbing. He lives in New York, trains on rock and ice around the Northeast U.S., and travels around the world to climb. James has joined 7 expeditions to Peru's Cordillera Blanca with the ACSP and has summited 6 peaks over 5,000m in elevation. He is a certified Wilderness First Responder and Lifetime Member of the National Eagle Scout Association.

Colin Schmidt

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Colin Schmidt is a graduate student at Western Washington University. For his thesis research, Colin created an Alpine Rangeland Degradation model to evaluate soil erosion in the Peruvian Andes. He is joining the expedition to compare his work in the Andes with the high Himalaya. 


Morgan Scott

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Morgan’s interest in mountain societies developed during his undergraduate studies at Western Washington University, where he was fortunate to participate in two study abroad programs in mountain zones: a Wildlands program in the Himalayas of Uttrakhand, India, in 2014, and a Peruvian Ecology program led by John All in 2016. After graduating with a bachelors in Environmental Studies, Morgan spent a month learning to climb in the Cordillera Blanca and Vilcanota range in Peru, with John. During his time in between his BA and beginning his MA Morgan spent the summers further developing his mountaineering skills in the Cascades of Washington. Morgan’s interest in mountain culture and societies led him back to Western and John in the fall of 2018 when he began putting together his thesis, and joined the expedition. During the expedition Morgan will be investigating the involvement and engagement in conservation activity of inhabitants of the Gokyo, Khumbu, and Hinku valleys.

Graham Vickowski

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Graham likes to climb, and write about himself in the third person. When not climbing mountains (and even when he is), Graham is a Paramedic.

If you haven’t already, please consider supporting our research and outreach by donating!

Why Everest 2019?

In 2014, we went to Nepal with funding from NSF and other sources to study black carbon and dust on the glaciers of Mt. Everest.  An icefall hit our team and others and killed sixteen Nepalis on the mountain - and made world-wide news. Our teammate Asman Tamang was killed and left behind a young wife and a 9 month old daughter. We were devastated by grief, but also filled with resolve to make sure his sacrifice was not in vain.

Asman Tamang on the left

Asman Tamang on the left

Unfortunately, after this terrible tragedy, Maoist supporters from the recent civil war used the event and the threat of violence to push for bribes. Eventually, after much consternation and some people being beaten in the night, the Maoists closed the mountain in the face of the national government’s protestations. In order to maintain some dignity, the government extended climbing and research permits for five years. Our permits expire in 2019 and so we will return to Mt. Everest with a new research team this year.

The goal of our work in the Himalayas will be to document changes in high mountain ecosystems as they respond to the integrated effects of multiple stressors, including human land use decisions and climate variability and change. We will work to identify and analyze patterns of land use and land cover change through time within the Everest region and to determine how climate change and the remnants of the Nepali civil war are affecting conservation efforts in these protected areas and the livelihood systems at their fringes.

We also want to understand how air pollution and dust deposition increase the rate at which glaciers melt - and thus threaten the downstream users of this water over the long-term.  Light absorbing particles (LAPs) such as dust and black carbon on glaciers are of significant importance for understanding hydrological system functions for this region - which provides water for billions of people downstream.  

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Everest Base Camp

Everest Base Camp

Welcome to the 2019 Everest Environments Expedition Blog!

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Hello and welcome to the 2019 Everest Environments Expedition: Changing Climate, Changing Lives blog!

Follow this space for updates on where we are, what we’re doing, and why it matters! Preparations are well underway for our trip, which will take place from late March until early June. We’ll be spending the first few days in Kathmandu, finishing last minute preparations and meeting with local scholars and stakeholders. We’ll spend the next two weeks trekking, first from Lukla into the Makalu Barun National Park to assess the effects of recent domestic conflict on local environment and on those living in the region. This is also a prime opportunity to acclimatize, and we will be climbing Mera Peak at the head of the Hinku Valley before heading back to Lukla. From there we will begin the trek into Everest/Lhotse Base camp, spending a week on the Gokyo Lakes/Cho La route before arriving on ~April 18 and beginning the next month’s worth of work ferrying loads, acclimatizing, and collecting snow, air, and water samples.

Check back for posts introducing the US and Nepali members of our team, describing our research, and detailing the day-to-day events of our trip!

If you haven’t already, please consider supporting our research and outreach by donating!