I am hoping to climb the Alps’ 50 prominent 4000-meter peaks as quickly as possible this summer, and have started a fundraiser to help cover the cost of this expensive project. I will write a book about the attempt, available in electronic and print format to backers. If you have already contributed, thank you! If not, please consider doing so and/or telling your friends.
Ignoring its frightful cost, my summer climbing in the Alps remains one of my best and favorite summers to date. In addition to climbing about half of the 4000-meter peaks, I explored Tirol and the Dolomites, where I learned about the vicious, personal, and utterly pointless “White War” between Austro-Hungary and Italy during World War I. Throughout my trip, but especially in the Mont Blanc region and Bernese Oberland, I was shocked and appalled by the rapid retreat of the glaciers. I later read that during my summer of clear weather and warm temperatures, the Alps’ glaciers had lost one fortieth of their mass. Think about that: at that rate, within my lifetime of another forty years at most, the glaciers will probably be between 64 percent diminished and completely gone. A recent Alpinist article points out that it is not just the glaciers that are changing beyond recognition. As the planet continues to warm, the permafrost holding rock routes together melts. This is not a new problem; the regular route on La Meije is not the first, nor will it be the last, to disappear. So-called “Alpine climbing,” ascending a mix of glacier, rock, ice, and snow, may die within my lifetime in the range where it was born.
As warming continues, I would like to return one last time to say “goodbye” to these wonderful mountains. Since passive, undirected tourism is not my style, and since I will be returning from South America with cycling fitness I have not had since college, I will use the trip to attempt to climb the Alps’ 4000-meter peaks as quickly as possible under human power (see footnote for clarification). Other than the Dent du Géant and Aiguille Blanche, I have climbed the most difficult ones, so I am reasonably confident I have the necessary technical skill. In addition to this, my previously-acquired speed on Alpine terrain and my new cycling fitness make me uniquely well-suited to the attempt. This summer will probably be my last best chance.
In addition to the selfish motives of saying adieu aux Alpes and setting a record, I would like to document the current state of the glaciers for future visitors. Where possible, I will also try to mirror historical photos and illustrations of what is probably the best-documented mountain range in the world. While many of the eighteenth century paintings of the Chamonix valley are fanciful, some seem close to reality. Whymper’s woodcuts from the mid-nineteenth century are also wonderfully accurate and detailed.
Unfortunately, attempting this in an appropriate way is mind-bogglingly expensive. Not only does everything cost much more in Europe than in South America, but the idiomatic style of mountaineering involves staying in huts and hostels; camping, while seemingly tolerated, is frowned-upon or technically illegal in many areas. (Most people also take trams from the valley, but that of course would not be “human-powered.”) Excluding airfare and food purchased in towns, I estimate that the attempt will cost at least $3000 including incidentals, hostel stays, hut space, and hut meals where carrying all my own food would be impractical. Hostel prices average about $25 per night, while huts range from about $40 to $150 per night for a dorm bed ($65 and up with dinner), so lodging alone during a 50-day attempt will cost around $2500, given that linking the peaks efficiently involves numerous nights in huts.
This is where you, dear reader, enter the picture. I have created a fundraising campaign to cover my hut and hostel costs. If enough people are willing to donate enough money by May 1, then I will make the attempt in June and July; if not, you will get your money back. Any money beyond $4000 will go first to carbon offsets for my flight, then costs beyond my estimate excluding new gear that I will use after the attempt, and finally to a climate charity of my supporters’ choice. I will itemize my expenses, and be as frugal as I can. I want this trip to pay for nothing beyond itself.
Everyone who donates any amount — even just $1 — will receive equal recognition and a copy of an e-book I will write about the trip. The e-book will be designed for online reading, not merely the PDF for a printed book. As a longtime dirtbag, I am loath to discriminate based on disposable income, but those who donate between $40 and the maximum amount of $50 will also receive a signed paper version, redesigned for print. Furthermore, if any number of people within a reasonable distance of each other in North America’s mountain west donate at least a combined $500, I will upon request give a presentation there within a year of returning. The exact date will depend on the benefactors’ schedules and my yet-to-be-determined itinerary for 2020 and 2021.
So throw a few bucks my way and tell your friends. I hope we can make this happen.
The UIAA list contains 82 4000-meter “peaks.” However, many of these are minor sub-summits included for subjective reasons. Using a threshhold of 100 meters prominence, there are 50 Alpine 4000-meter peaks, and I will be using this list. See Wikipedia for more.