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.
Gregg Treinish is ASC's founder and executive director and has been named National Geographic Adventurer of the Year (2008) and National Geographic Emerging Explorer (2013). Gregg recently led a group of students from Marin Academy on the "High Sierra Climate Change Traverse" in the Desolation Wilderness.
We are sitting 3000 feet above the valley floor on a ridge and have been searching for rare plants for more than two hours. If there is any hope of reaching the summit of Dick’s peak today, we need to move.
We yell for Albert, our “leader of the day”, to join us on the cliff’s edge.
“What do you think about wrapping up here?” I ask,
“But, we haven’t finished counting plants yet.” he responds, “we’re only at 3,000”
This is in a nutshell why I love working with students on adventure-science expeditions. They always seem to bring an unrivaled enthusiasm for the task at hand and an unwavering curiosity about the world around.
“One great experience that we shared with Nikki and Jeff [our ASC guides] was when Jeff demonstrated how bears eat Thatching Ants out of the nest and we all joined the feast!” – Alberta Born-Weiss, Marin Academy Student
Jordan Holsinger is the newest member of the ASC team. He joined us as the Outreach Manager at the beginning of July after completing his Masters Degree in Environmental Science. Jordan personally bridges the gap between adventure and science as an endurance mountain biker and scientist whose previous research focused on the role of snow depth on plant-soil interactions in subalpine grasslands.
I've spent time around large things - studying elephants and rhinoceros in South Africa, playing in the peaks of the Rocky Mountain West - but nothing makes you feel small like sitting in a sea kayak being charged by a pack of sea lions (video after the break). Splashing and yelling, the 15-headed monster moved right for our boat and I began to wonder what might happen if they didn’t stop. Then the enormous creatures gracefully disappeared under the water, nowhere to be seen. Only one word is needed to explain and describe it simultaneously: ALASKA (which Gregg always insisted on saying in a deep, raspy whisper).
Carl Battreall is a well-known photographer and ASC adventurer based out of Alaska, where he has explored over 200 glaciers in 12 mountain ranges. Carl is the recipient of a Rasmuson Artist Fellowship to photograph glaciers throughout Alaska and published his photographs in Chugach State Park: Alaska's Backyard Wilderness in 2011. He is now working to photograph the entire Alaska Range and is assisting in legendary adventurer, National Geographic Explorer and scientist Roman Dial's research on iceworms and water isotopes along the way.
Carl has been spending much of 2013 trekking around the Alaska Range photographing it for his most recent project. Here is an update from Carl (taken from his blog):
I have returned from my latest journey in the Alaska Range. I flew into “Moraine Lake”, the terminal lake of the Backside Glacier. The Backside Glacier descends behind the legendary peaks of the Ruth Gorge, in-between the Tokositna and Ruth Glaciers.
I flew in with Alaska Range Project sponsor, K2 Aviation, on a glorious and unusually warm day. A heat wave had locked Alaska in a dry, record-setting summer and the day was blazing hot and uncomfortably sunny. This was my first time in the area and I had trouble deciding where I wanted to explore. I had to either go high for the views or head up glacier.
I choose to go high and camped near a small alpine lake. Photographing in Alaska in the summer, near the solstice, is hard. The days are long and the sun stays high for most of the day. Sunset was 11:59 and sunrise was around 4:00. The sky never really gets dark and rarely does that magic, alpine light happen. That was the case on this trip. In nine days I never witnessed any sunset/sunrise colors.
Working in variable, less-than-pleasing light is key to mountain and wilderness photography. Rarely do you have time to wait for the perfect light, the weather changes too quickly or you have to keep moving and work with the light you’ve got. There is always a pleasing angle of a mountain in every type of light, but being on the correct side of the mountain when the light is right is what is so difficult.
Dylan Jones is an American Alpine Club Member and avid climber who decided to add some science to his climbing trip over the summer by teaming up with Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation. Jones searched for the American pika through out his trip and found the daily search added a little more meaning to his trip. Read his account here.
In an age where awareness of climate change exists but little is understood, I had always accepted the science behind the debate. What I lacked was an answer to one basic question: What can I do about it? Gearing up and heading into the wilderness wasn’t healing the ecosystems I frequent, and escaping those around me for solitude certainly wasn’t raising
awareness. I needed a way to contribute something, anything, to the worthy and noble cause of understanding climate change to fight ecosystem degradation. Fortunately, advocacy exists in the form of passionate grassroots organizations who are mobilizing people like me to transform recreational travel into purposeful volunteer work.
The deafening rivers and babbling brooks that make life possible have no voice of their own. The mountains whose defenses we try to exploit to gain their summits cannot fight for themselves. The planet’s animal and insect populations who vastly outnumber us stand no chance unless we make an effort to understand them. This is where Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation plays into the equation. Standing at the forefront of citizen science, ASC connects hikers, climbers and paddlers with scientists hungry for data in the places these athletes love to play. Often lacking the technical outdoor skills, funding or time to reach the remote areas they are attempting to study, these scientists greatly need us to assist them, just as we need them to help protect the areas we treasure.
After brushing up and learning a few new skills, like hair identification and scat ID, we were off to the field to put them into practice. Scouring fence posts, tree rubs, barbed wire and berry patched, we fine-tuned the difference between black cow hair and black bear hair, elk hair and grizzly hair. What a skill!! Hiking in the woods will never be the same.
With our GPS’s fired up, each team set out for their daily hiking mission. Our team was to hike up to Baldy Mountain and follow a drainage route down searching for Grizz signs. Reaching nearly 10,000 ft in elevation, we followed elk trails, more like an elk highway, up to the peak. Branching into two groups, we followed the ridgeline West. Whitebark pine was in abundance and producing cones, a fantastic find as it is a grizzly food source. Elks bugling and swarms of magpies socializing on the mountaintops, we made our way across the ridge enjoying the stunning landscape before us.
After mild adjustments and a bit of quality control, I managed a sleeping bag bunged to the handlebars, a red duffel bag strapped to the rack, and my blue day pack secured to my waste. I was off to track grizzly bears in the Centennial Mountain Range.
Ten of us met up in town, a crew who had just introduced themselves. We had an EMT, a second year MSU geologist, a bartender, wildlife gurus, and adventurers of every sort. After loading up the trucks, we drove off into the sunset excited for the adventure ahead.
Trumpeting swans greeted the morning sunrise and I stretched out of my cozy hammock, marveling at what adventures lye ahead. The scenery couldn’t have been more spectacular. We were camped at Red Rock Lake, towered over by the peaks of the Centennial Range: Baldy, Taylor, and Sheep Mountain.
A quick breakfast and some coffee, to get the buzz on, and we jumped right into navigation, tracking, GPS skills, and Grizzly encounters. What do you NOT do if you see a bear… any bear? RUN, that is DO NOT RUN. See a black bear, ya get big, as big Big Foot, and make a lot of noise @#)$&$ $!%&!^*!!!!!!
That should do the trick… unless it’s the big boy, the Grizzly. He’s not so easily convinced by such nonsense. Rather, treat him like the school principal after you got caught doing something wrong. Avoid eye contact, talk in a calm and soothing voice, and slowly back away as if unnoticed.