Expedition to a New Glacial Lake

The following is edited from several recent posts from the Imja Lake Expedition team at The Mountain Institute. Follow the full series at http://www.mountain.org/blog/.

Glaciers Are Melting, and We’re Taking Action!

The mountain world is changing faster than any of us could have imagined: these changes threaten all of us who live downstream. Glaciers are melting, rainfall patterns are changing, and the world’s most important fresh water supplies are endangered.

The Mountain Institute is currently leading a month-long series of workshops and an expedition to Imja Lake, a newly-formed, potentially dangerous, glacial lake near Mount Everest.They ’re going to the field and talking to local people in order to research and educate.

The team is made up of over 30 engineers, photographers, journalists, and world-class scientists from Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Nepal, China, Bhutan, Peru, Bolivia, Japan, the US and Europe to the field to exchange knowledge with local people about monitoring and controlling glacial lakes. We’ll evaluate the danger of Imja, and determine how to control it so it can supply fresh water safely and reliably to downstream communities for drinking, irrigation, and the generation of electricity.


The Local Point of View

Ang Rita Sherpa (Photo by Brendan Hickey/The Mountain Institute)

Ang Rita is a long-time conservationist and activist for the Sherpa people and culture; he has been The Mountain Institute’s Senior Program Manager in Nepal for years. As a native to the region, he has a unique view into what makes this expedition stand out:

“In the past, scientists met with Sherpa villagers interested in the future of the Imja valley. But the scientists only discussed the threats, not the solutions.  My people were unhappy.  So, The Mountain Institute promised an expedition with solutions. And now, every morning, people call me to ask when the expedition will reach their village – they are very excited for us to talk to them about solutions to the threats from glacial lakes, and how the water from the lakes can be used to help local communities with irrigation, electricity and other practical purposes.”


International Inspiration and Collaboration

Jorge Recharte (Photo by Daniel Byers/TMI)

One might think that the Peruvian scientists, familiar with the high Andes, would feel right at home in the Himalaya. There is however one major distinction that is noted repeatedly: “Peru is very different from the Himalayas because here the scale is just huge.”

In Peru, roads make most of the dangerous lakes accessible within one or two days; but Imja lake is at least a week’s trek from Lukla, the nearest large village.

Jorge Recharte, the director of the Andean Programs at TMI commented on the benefits of having such a diversity of backgrounds and perspectives on the expedition:

“There was a conversation last night between Ang Rita, a Nepali, and Cesar, a Peruvian, discussing what’s possible… and what’s not possible – it is just fantastic, the sparks of ideas that happen when you bring [together] different backgrounds, different nationalities. […] There is a common goal to understand glacial lakes, to share our respective experiences… the process of working through that, and then collaborating. If we continue as we have so far these two days, the result will be very powerful.”


The Technical Challenges

Technology at the Top of the World. (Photo courtesy The Mountain Institute.)

Since the team is in such a remote location, all communications are going out via a satellite phone. Physically it looks like an indestructible cellphone with an 80’s-style antenna. It’s not very fast, but up here it’s the only option.

To facilitate writing posts, they’ve hauled a pair of netbooks up with plenty of spare batteries. With any luck the power will hold out through the remotest stretch of the expedition.


LATEST UPDATE: Arrival at Imja Lake!

9/12/11 — This morning we woke to a dusting of fresh powder, inspiring thoughts of the song “Snow, snow, snow” from the movie-musical White Christmas.  With Bing Cosby’s melodies in head the team gathered for breakfast, only to find our departure to Imja Lake was delayed…

Luckily, the slushy rain let up around 10am and our expedition was able to depart after lunch.  A few hours later, we found ourselves in a neon yellow tent village at Imja Lake Base Camp.  We have arrived!  For the next three days, we will explore the lake, exchange with locals, and brainstorm future research and action items.

And with walls of mountains surrounding us and the lake in our backyard, inspiration will surely flow.

Imja Base Camp (photo by Daniel Byers/TMI) 

Follow the full blog series of the Imja Lake Expedition at http://www.mountain.org/blog/.

Human Journey