From Marco Polo to Lewis and Clark wide open grasslands have long inspired adventurous spirits, and voyages of discovery. However, very few of these vast landscapes still exist unaltered. Only the steppes of Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Patagonia and the Northern Great Plains of America have never been plowed and shelter remnants of their original biodiversity. Beginning in January 2014 Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation (ASC) and American Prairie Reserve (APR) are partnering on an adventure-science wildlife study on the prairies of northeastern Montana.
Joey Shonka is a biochemist, amateur herpetologist and writer interested in all things scientific and is currently on a two-year expedition walking from the Panama Canal to the Tierra Del Fuego. While scaling peaks and creating an unbroken chain of footsteps across South America, Joey is joining ASC on our repeat glacier photography and high alpine lichen projects.
Hello from Puerto Natales, Chile! This new beginning of my journey has been extremely different from my previous start in many ways, as I have been trekking across the Magallanes and Southern Patagonian regions of Chile in the midst of winter!
I am looking forward to contributing to the nonprofit I am volunteering with. Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation has projects around the world and the director was recently named National Geographic´s Emerging Explorer. The concept of the organization is engaging, for they connect adventurers with scientists seeking to collect data in remote or extreme areas of the world. I will be working on a glacier photography project as well as collecting high alpine lichen for a genetic study, and I might become involved in other projects as my trip progresses. I would like to urge all of my adventurous friends to keep them in mind the next time you plan an exciting trip.
I flew to Buenos Aires, Argentina, on July 9th, 2013, where I spent two weeks finishing the edits for my most recent eBook and taking in the portenos culture and vibrant Buenos Aires music scene. After a final goodbye to the city with some good friends, a bottle of red wine in the Plaza de Mayo and a night out in San Telmo, I hopped on a 50-hour bus ride to Rio Gallegos before crossing the border into Chile via a second bus, arriving at last in Punta Arenas with snow falling steadily.
Michelle Prysby is an ecologist the Director of Science Education and Public Outreach at the Univeristy of Virginia. After years of dreaming and planning, Michelle and her partner, John Woodell, climbed Africa's highest peak, Mount Kilimanjaro, collecting wildlife observations - both dead and alive - along the way.
Step…pause….step…pause…step…pause. It’s 2:00 am and that’s the rhythm you are experiencing as you focus on slowly putting one foot in front of the other, climbing ever higher. You’re wearing five or six layers of clothing, including both a wool hat and a balaclava that cover so much of your face that you are unrecognizable to any other than your closest loved ones. You’re wearing mittens so thick that they render your hands useless except for hanging on to your hiking poles. Up ahead, you see a long line of bobbing lights and you realize they are the headlamps of all the other people also working their way slowly to the Roof of Africa, looking like a procession of giant fireflies. It’s still dark when you reach Gilman’s Point on the rim of the crater, and you only have 500 meters to go to make it to Uhuru Peak, the very top of the mountain. Those 500 meters take you over an hour, though, at your trudging pace. You feel that your life is dependent on the skills and decisions of the two guides who have led you the whole way and have already accomplished this feat dozens of times or more, and will do it many dozens of times more. With luck, you make it and see the most beautiful sunrise over the glaciers, above the clouds, with the moon still hanging in the sky. You are breathless from the beauty and the happiness at achieving the summit after more than seven days of hiking – not to mention the low level of oxygen. And you’re sad about having to leave the summit so soon, even though both your guides and your queasy stomach tell you it’s time to go down.
That was our summit experience on our recent trip to Tanzania to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s tallest mountain at 19,340 feet. In celebration of my partner’s 40th birthday, he and I decided to join the 25,000-plus people who make this climb each year. He had dreamed of making this trek since age ten, after seeing a PBS documentary on it, and he spent nearly two years planning the trip – doing extensive research to choose the best guiding company, route, and timing for us. On May 31st, led by our excellent guides Leo and Felix from Team Kilimanjaro, we started our trek up the mountain. We were joined by a Canadian friend of ours currently living in Kenya, as well as twelve extremely capable porters (which sounds like a lot of support staff, but is fairly standard for a group of three climbers).
Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation has mobilized their athletes in the pursuit of new discoveries, new data, and even new species in the high mountain wildernesses of the Northwest. Dr. Loren Bahls curates the Montana Diatom Collection and is utilizing ASC volunteers ranging from serious trekkers to casual day hikers in his pursuit of information on these important single-celled organisms. Diatoms, which are located in nearly every aquatic environment imaginable, are photosynthetic microbes possessing cell walls made of silica dioxide (glass). Information about diatoms is extremely useful to scientists attempting to glean information on environmental conditions on global as well as local levels.
Andrew Schleif, an engineer from Oregon is in the middle of the trip of a life time. He quit his day job and is hiking the Pacific Crest Trail from California to Washington. Along the way he is looking for signs of Pika for ASC researcher, April Craighead. The Pika is an important indicator species for climate change, and the data recorded by Andrew will contribute to an important body of knowledge.
We kicked off our time here in Peru with a high-altitude punch of three gargantuan passes over a five-day circuit around the powerful Ausangate peak. On the third day as we embarked up the circuit's daunting Palomani Pass (peaking at over 17,000 feet), we exclaimed the proverb aloud as if to say, "we will make it over this darn pass!" Almost simultaneously, we were overcome with a serendipitous feeling of being so fortunate to experience the pass on that day. As we looked ahead to the multiple false peaks of the pass, we sensed the hanging glacier falling over the black cliffs to our left, the soft lines of the dune-like mountains to our right... and when we stopped to catch our breath, control our heartbeat, or regain our balance, we'd peer backward at a lone red mountain with another mountain's sharp black spires peaking out from behind it. In this sense, the proverb evolved to, "always remember feeling this alive".
We first heard of the 3 de Mayo festival when we were in Uyuni. Warnings of mass brawls, fights to the death and human sacrifices had swayed our decision to steer clear of the main cities (i.e. Macha) but we hadn't realized how widespread the celebration is in rural Bolivia. Ocurí was just getting ready for the crowds! Our hostal-of-sorts Señora didn't understand how we could leave the day before the festival began, we headed back on the road. According to our undetailed map (a photo of a wall map from Potosí), Surumi was in line north for our next destination. Surrounded by endless mountains and an abundance of trails, and with unreliable maps on the GPS, we now depended entirely on the friendly locals for guidance. Our new "roadblock"- the first language of rural Bolivia is Quechua. Upon leaving Potosí, we only knew how to say "house" (huasi) and "water" (yaku). After a few failed attempts at conversations, we started to preface them with "Quechua no, pérdon. Castellaño?" but the locals still tended to gave us a toothless grin and chat away in their native tongue all the same.
We've already enjoyed a wonderful three weeks in Bolivia - time is flying! I'm going to cover the first half of our Bolivian adventure thus far in this blog post and Shelley is going to cover the second half in an upcoming blog post.
What we love about Bolivia.
ASC's most recent citizen science excursion took us far into the Elk Horn Mountain Range in the Helena National Forrest. We partnered with 12 veterans from the Fort Harrison VA to search for signs of the elusive lynx and contribute to an important body of research to understand the biodiversity present in the Helena National Forrest. We spend two days deep in the woods searching for the big cat's distinctive tracks, for tufts of fur caught on tree bark, and for the holy grail of tracking...a sighting of a lynx.
High Mountains and Low Valleys Posted by Trinity on Friday, December 23, 2011Imagine hiking uphill over several false peaks of boulderfields in 90+ degree weather with no breeze and in direct sunlight. It's tough work. Now imagine being constantly swarmed with large, biting horseflies. This was our first day on the trail into Reserva Nacional Cerro Castillo. The three of us were absolutely miserable - we were brushing handfuls of horseflies off our arms, nausious from the heat, and cussing the world. We couldn't even take a worthwhile break because we'd have to drape ourselves in our hot, clammy rain gear for horsefly protection. However, with extreme lows also come extreme highs because we woke up to this the following morning: