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Monday, November 07, 2005

How Climate Change is Destroying the World's Most Spectacular Landscapes

A little different look at the phenomenon of ‘global warming’ —pseudolus

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Published on Saturday, November 5, 2005 by the lndependent/UK
Melting Mountains
How Climate Change is Destroying the World's Most Spectacular Landscapes
by Joe Simpson


On 23 July 1983 Ian Whittaker and I were inching our way up the Bonatti Pillar, a legendary Alpine climb up 2,000ft of golden granite on the south-west face of Les Drus, high above Chamonix in France.

Walter Bonatti had made the first ascent of this route alone over five days in 1955. It is a legendary mountaineering story, perhaps one of the greatest exploits in the history of Alpinism, to rank alongside the first ascents of the north faces of the Eiger, the Matterhorn and the Grandes Jorasses.

We all need heroes. Walter Bonatti was the hero of heroes; a man way ahead of his time whose mountaineering prowess was awe-inspiring. I repeated the routes he put up with a sense of reverence. I have followed in the footsteps of so many of my heroes and there were times on their routes when I half expected to see them pass me by dressed in the clothes and the equipment of their time, climbing steadily with grim, hard, unsmiling expressions. I knew that they would not notice me.

Only Bonatti has survived. The rest are all gone, leaving the faint glow of their brilliance on the routes they pioneered. Yet the icy world in which Bonatti played his high-risk games is changing with frightening rapidity. The mountains are melting, and it is not only mountaineers who will suffer the effects. The long-term outlook for the Alpine nations - and those in which the other great ranges lie - is bleak.

The Dru is an extraordinary pinnacle of rock. It sports an icy north face (one of the six classic Alpine north faces), a 3,000ft west face of smooth vertical walls and overhangs, and the spectacular south-west Bonatti Pillar. Few mountains have such a variety of magnificent lines on them or look so beautiful. The Dru crusted with a winter lace-work of ice and gilded in the golden pink of Alpine glow is one of the most striking sights in the Alps.

The Bonatti Pillar itself rises in a series of steep, leaning columns seamed with fissures and bristling with overhangs. It rears up 2,000ft towards the massive capping overhangs just below the summit.

By late afternoon we had reached the Red Walls - 300ft of blank granite split by a hairline crack that bristled with old, rusting pitons. We were tempted to bivouac on a series of terraces at the top of the Red Walls but confidence got the better of us and we decided to try to get past the huge roofs and reach the summit in a day.

As darkness began to close around us we found ourselves in increasingly blank and forbidding territory. The dark shadow of the roofs blackened the early night sky above and tendrils of mist began swirling up from the depths of the icy couloir glinting thousands of feet below.

I began to follow the ropes draped down the corner, clutching in the darkness at unseen holds and shouting for Ian to give me a tight rope. After about 40 feet, the vertical corner seemed to pinch out into a smooth wall. Groping to my left, my fingers slipped into a sharp-edged crack and, with help from Ian, I struggled up until I saw the dark shadows of his legs hanging above me. He was sitting on a narrow ledge.

I clipped myself to a handrail rope that Ian had fixed above the ledge. The handrail had been tied to an old ring piton and stretched across to the far end of the ledge, where he had tied it to a small flake of protruding granite.

Once ensconced inside my bivouac bag I settled myself down on the comforting solidity of the ledge. Seconds later there was a heart-stopping downward lurch accompanied by the thunderous sound of tons of granite plunging into the abyss. I heard a cry of alarm and pain above the roar of falling rock. My arms were outside the bivouac bag as I fell and I flailed them blindly trying to grab something. It must have taken only a fraction of a second but it seemed to last forever.

We bounced on the springy stretch of rope. The handrail had held. I swung gently on the rope with my arms pinned to my sides. I had held the fall on my armpits and for a confused moment I desperately tried to remember whether I had clipped myself to the handrail.

In the sudden darkness, with the sounds of falling rock echoing up from the depths, I was momentarily disorientated. Where was Ian? I remembered that sudden yelp during the fall. Had he gone with it?

"By 'eck!" I heard Ian's broad Lancastrian voice beside me. I poked my head out from my bag and glanced at Ian. His head lolled on to his shoulder and his torch reflected a sodium yellow light off the surrounding rock walls. There was blood on his neck.

We hung side by side on the tightly stretched rope and swore. With the help of our torches we were horrified to find that our ropes had gone. We looked at each other and giggled nervously. Two thousand feet up and no ropes! The handrail shifted suddenly, causing us both to squeak with fright, hearts hammering at the thought of falling again.

I turned and shone my torch on the handrail. It looked odd. I twisted round, grabbed the rope. It shifted again and the peg moved. I lowered myself gingerly back on to the rope.

"Oh God," I whispered.

"What?"

"The peg's buggered. It's coming out."

"Christ! Where's the gear? Let's put something in."

"It's gone. The hardware, boots, everything. It went with the ledge."

Ian was silent. I looked at the flake where the handrail had been tied off. Tiny pebbles and dust trickled from its sheared-off base. Both attachment points could go at any moment. If either went, we would fall into the abyss.

"I think we had better stay very, very still."

"Aye," Ian muttered.

We hung there helplessly for 12 hours until at last a helicopter came into view and we were winched to safety.

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read the rest:

How Climate Change is Destroying the World's Most Spectacular Landscapes

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