I got my book proposal accepted by Mountaineers Books!. During this whole bizarre adventure you can always find what we’re up to on this blog. And when we get back, you’ll be able to read all about it in my book! (of course, I do have to write it first…)

Global Warming – Melting Ice

Blockade Glacier

There were rallies around the country today as part of Step It Up – National Day of Climate Action urging Congress to cut our CO2 emissions 80% by 2050.
I probably should have gone, but didn’t. So instead, this post is about global warming – in honor of the day.

Good general info about climate change is all over the internet, so I won’t repeat it all here. To mention just a few – check out the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), or RealClimate, or Grist.

In my mind, there are basically three key things:
1. the climate is changing in response to human CO2 emissions.
2. This will cause a whole lot of problematic effects, for humans and other species.
3. The extent of the changes and resulting problems will be determined by our current and future CO2 emissions. And I sure hope we act to move things in the better direction – public awareness seems to have skyrocketed recently.

North warming quickly

Climate Change and Our Expedition
Three quarters of our journey will be through Alaska. We’ve spent a lot of time in Alaska in recent years, and you’d be hard pressed to find an Alaskan who doesn’t believe in global warming. Climate change is a global problem, but changes aren’t equal across the globe. The far north is warming much faster than the rest of the world.

Caribou in forest fire smoke haze

Permafrost is melting, buckling roads and house foundations. Sea ice is melting, leading to storms and erosion on previously stable coastlines. Massive forest fires have been burning across the interior during the hot dry summers. We’ve been out wandering the Alaska wilderness for a good chunk of every summer since 2000. And compared to what Hig remembers from childhood – the weather we’ve had has been unreasonably sunny and warm. Kind of nice for hikers sometimes, but ultimately problematic.

New lake at Skilak Glacier

Glacial Retreat
The most obvious sign of warming we’ll see on the expedition is the rapidly melting glaciers. Along much of our route, high mountain icefields create a barrier between the coast and the rest of the continent. Cold weather and a wet climate make this a very good place for ice – spilling out of the mountains as tidewater glaciers, valley glaciers, and massive coastal plain glaciers like the Malaspina. Tourists on cruise ships have probably snapped millions of pictures of the glaciers of Glacier Bay, where they’re retreating faster than anywhere in the world. See animated pictures here

To travel through a land of melting glaciers is to walk on unmapped terrain. The USGS did much of its surveying in the 1950s. At the edges of glaciers, we walk and paddle hundreds of feet below the topo lines on the map – finding hills streams and lakes where the map shows only ice. There are many places where we’ve paddled new and nameless lakes at the toes of glaciers.

Our paddle across the ice

Bear “Glacier”

Not quite gone glacier near McCarty Fjord

After a number of years of this, we start to stare at the map with new assumptions. “I bet we can just go right over that pass. The glacier will surely be gone by now…” Sometimes this leads to nice shortcuts. Other times? Agonizingly slow traverses, cutting steps across steep crevassed remnants of ice.