Tag Archives: climate change

The Resolution of Experience: The 2017 Arctic Trail Run

Under a low gray sky and into a steady soaking rain at 9:30 on the morning of August 1st, I set off from the Den Norske Turistforening / DNT hut at Ny Sulitjelma, planning a run of 50k by day’s end. After climbing the 400 meters to a high pass between Norway and Sweden, I soon realized that I’d be facing not only the weather, but a snowy spring and cold summer had left behind a deep snowpack, buried trail markers, and rivers overwhelmed with meltwater.

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“bridge”

In short order, I rolled up my running pants, forded two rivers of knee-deep meltwater, crossed undermined snowfields, and waded through countless shoe soaking streams.

All in the first 5 kilometers.

Conditions, I learned later, were more typical of June than August.

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typical trail conditions on day 1

Nonetheless, 50 kilometers and many many wet hours later, I was setting up my tent in a slackening rain on a flat section of sodden heath on a Swedish hillside.

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making camp, 11:00 pm, day 3

I knew I had four consecutive 50-65 km days through similar alpine terrain (and its associated lowland bogs), weaving back and forth across the Swedish/Norwegian border before my first resupply, but I knew at the end of that first day that this was going to be a run unlike any I’d attempted before — it was my first extended self-supported stage run, which was itself an added layer, but so many other challenges presented themselves one after another:

  • The trail-less expanses of springy heath, depthless moss and bog;
  • The miles of overgrown willow canes crossing the narrow path;
  • Suffering through 18 hours of GI distress on day two;
  • Waist-deep fords of class II rapids;
  • And, finally, and most severely, a mounting pain and swelling in my left shin that started late on day 4 and grew progressively more acute with every step.

It was this humbling, hobbling, often searing pain that eventually convinced me that 8 days and 360 km were enough when I reached my family in Abisko, Sweden.

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Solitude standing: on the border of Sweden and Norway, day 3

I had set out with the intention of running the whole of the Nordkalottleden over 12-14 days, and when I considered stopping early as I ran the last 70 km along the Kungsleden, I weighed a few things:

  1. Pain was really keeping me from finishing my 50 km days in good style and was distracting me from my focus on the landscape surrounding me.
  2. I had already completed what was arguably the most challenging and beautiful section of the trail along the Norwegian/Swedish border during days 3-6.
  3. I had found what I had come to the Arctic to find. Further mileage would no doubt have added to the adventure, but as it was, the layers of experience and depth of learning were profound and will take time to understand and appreciate.
  4. The past year — and the coming months of writing and sharing stories, pictures, and video — are both as important as the run itself. I’ve already started the work of building conversation across communities, countries, and ideologies. I cannot wait to do dive in fully — this is where the essential work of Climate Run happens.
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Crossing the Sieberjåhkå, day 2

Each day I continue to be more grateful to everyone I met and talked with along this journey and to everyone who has continued to be so supportive. There is so much to share and so many stories to tell. I’ll share some of them here, others in pictures on Facebook or Instagram, and still more in what is quickly becoming a larger writing project that will tie together CR 2016: Iceland, CR 2017: Arctic Trail, and many other experiences in something resembling a book.

More about that later! 🙂

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Midnight sun on the shores of Sijdasjávrre, day 4

 

Climate Run — Here we go!

Tomorrow morning I leave from the southern terminus of the Nordkalottleden just north of the old mountain mining town of Sulitjelma. Nearly a year of preparation – physical, logistical, mental, financial – all lead to this singular effort: to run the 800 kilometers of the Nordkalottleden in good style, with reasonable speed, and without injury or incident.

You can follow my progress on my online map here.

I could not have made it this far without the support I’ve had through the past year of training and preparation. I’m grateful beyond words to so many, and I am inspired by the dozens of people running and walking along with me for the next two weeks. I can hardly wait to get back and share all the stories!

But first, there’s work to be done.

See you all soon ❤

P

 

Melt: Dispatches from the High Arctic

On our last full day in Svalbard, Orion and I made a wide arc across the ridges east and south of Longyearbyen yesterday, covering the summits of Sukkertoppen, Gruvefjellet, Trollsteinen, and Lars Hiertafjellet, while arcing across the ridge behind the glacier, Larsbreen.

The skies were the clearest of our week-long visit here, and the views were incomparable, with endless ridges of glaciated peaks and valleys newly tinted green. While our eyes and imagination were drawn to distant horizons, the one constant throughout the day was most often just underfoot — the sound, presence, and often, unfortunately, palpable cold of running water. Everywhere — under the snow, atop the hard ice of the glacier, meandering through swales of fine silty moraine — it was the braiding of these many streams that heralded the warmth of this Arctic summer day.

Melt is, of course, an essential annual event for the Arctic — allowing a few short weeks in which millions of migrating birds, resident reindeer, foxes, and hundreds of species of plants revel in the relative warmth of this briefest and most intense of summers.

One can’t help, though, but place this annual flood in the context of our warming global climate — in which for instance, between June and August 2015, in Svalbard alone, glaciers lost four and a half million metric tons of meltwater every hour, and billions of tons of glacial ice are lost each year to global warming.

Like many aspects of the Arctic, this is nearly impossible to imagine, but being here, seeing both the immutable beauty of the hard blue ice of Larsbreen and Longyearbreen and the power of their melting waters, helps to bring this imagined world into clearer focus.

Melt from Pavel Cenkl on Vimeo.

We’ll Always Have Paris

When the Paris Climate Accord was first made public in late 2015, I wrote that some of my greatest hopes for the agreement were not necessarily in the non-binding limits to greenhouse gasses, but in the language describing the role of people — social systems, communities, traditional knowledge, and indigenous cultures.

You can read these two paragraphs below — but in the meantime, as the  President has decided to singlehandedly withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Agreement, it is increasingly important to make change on the local and regional level and commit to doing what we can as individuals, communities, educational institutions, businesses, and local governments.

As of today, 10 governors, 82 mayors, and many business leaders, colleges, and universities have joined together to continue to “adopt, honor, and uphold the commitments to the goals enshrined in the Paris Agreement”

We must take the lead to demonstrate that individual action can have a substantial and tangible impact, despite sweeping political pronouncements. There are many resources available to you:

Call your governor, mayor, or city council.

Talk with local businesses.

Make your voice heard.

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If you’re interested in reading more, the two sections I am most drawn to in the Paris Agreement are, one, Article 7, Paragraph 5:

Parties acknowledge that [climate] adaptation action should follow a country-driven, gender-responsive, participatory and fully transparent approach, taking into consideration vulnerable groups, communities and ecosystems, and should be based on and guided by the best available science and, as appropriate, traditional knowledge, knowledge of indigenous peoples and local knowledge systems, with a view to integrating adaptation into relevant socioeconomic and environmental policies and actions, where appropriate.

The second is Article 12:

Parties shall cooperate in taking measures, as appropriate, to enhance climate change education, training, public awareness, public participation and public access to information, recognizing the importance of these steps with respect to enhancing actions under this Agreement.

Article 7 recommends a decision-making process vastly different from the one we are engaged in here in the U.S.: an inclusive, “participatory and fully transparent” process that acknowledges the complexities of climate issues and their roots in a combined system of social, economic, and ecological practice.

Article 12, in its entirely, is dedicated to a participatory education process and demonstrating the vital role played by individuals and the diverse communities affected by climate change–and not simply those largely responsible for it.

 

 

Reindeer and Climate Change

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During my run north along the Arctic Trail in August, I will pass through substantial sections of Norway, Sweden, and Finland en route to Kautokeino from Sulitjelma.

The trail’s 500 miles, which traverses much ofSápmi, the homeland of the Sami, can be divided according to countries, border crossings, biomes, topography, habitations, and, maybe most interesting, by reindeer herding districts. The route I’m following passes through 25 separate named herding districts, each of which supports the structure of a complex and dynamic cultural/ecological Sami tradition of herding semi-domesticated reindeer.

As I’ve been tracing the Arctic Trail on its route through much of  the different districts in Norway, Sweden, and Finland (the full list is at the end of this post), I have been falling in love with the names — the language delineating placenames, relationships, and a complex system of ecologies, cultural customs, tradition, regulation, and contemporary political boundaries.

The principal goals of the multi-year Climate Run project are to

(1) bear witness to changing ecologies and cultures in the face of a rapidly changing climate

(2) cultivate conversation and build community around climate resilience

(3) change the narrative about climate change from one of resistance to one of resilience.

One way that I plan to engage in these conversations is by understanding the impact of climate change on reindeer herds across Sápmi as well as Sami adaptations to traditional practices made necessary by ecological change. Reindeer herding has been and continues to be an essential component of Sami identity, economy, and cultural tradition. By some accounts, up to 40% of all of Norway’s land is open to reindeer herding, and there are an estimated 700,000 reindeer across three northern Scandinavian countries. With a Sami population of just over 58,000, that’s more than 10 reindeer per individual!

Sami herders have already noticed significant changes in foraging patterns and the predictability of seasonal changes, which has led to an actual decrease in individual reindeer size — for example an average 12% weight loss over the past 16 years among reindeer in Svalbard.

Heikki Hirvasvuopio describes the problem on the mainland this way:

During autumn times, the weather fluctuates so much, there is rain and mild weather.This ruins the lichen access for the reindeer. In some years this has caused massive loss of reindeers. It is very simple – when the bottom layer freezes, reindeer cannot access the lichen. This is extremely different from the previous years. This is one of the reasons why there is less lichen. The reindeer has to claw to force the lichen out and the whole plant comes complete with roots. It takes . . . extremely long for a lichen to regenerate when you remove the roots of the lichen.

As we move into a political era of renewed climate change skepticism, and, as of this writing, the U.S.’s continuing role in the 2016 Paris Climate Agreement is doubtful, it’s ever more important to demonstrate the real tangible impacts of a changing climate on not only global systems but on something as simple — yet devastating — as a reindeer’s ability to reach its food source — and the far-reaching impact this regional issue can have.

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Here’s a listing of the twenty-five herding districts along the Arctic Trail, listed from South to North through Norway, Sweden, and Finland.

Sjonkfjell
Svaipa
Semisjaur-Njarg
Luokta Måvas
Tuorpon
Hellemo
Frostisen
Skjomen
Sirkas
Sörkaitum
Baste
Girjas
Laevaas
Gabna
Altevatn
Dividalen
Tamok/Rosta
Talma
Saarivuoma
Lainiovuoma
Könkämä
Käsivarsi
Cohkolat ja Biertavárri
Fávrrosorda
Guovdageainnu cakcaorohat

Hold fast your hope

For our second class meeting in Sterling’s introductory A Sense of Place course, we read the introduction to Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, in which she writes:

The thing about a crisis this big, this all-encompassing, is that it changes everything. It changes what we can do, what we can hope for, what we can demand from ourselves and our leaders. It means there is a whole lot of stuff that we have been told is inevitable that simply cannot stand. And it means that a whole lot of stuff we have been told is impossible has to start happening right away.

Can we pull it off? All I know is that nothing is inevitable. Nothing except that climate change changes everything. And for a very brief time, the nature of that change is still up to us.

Her book, published only 3 years ago, presents a dire outlook for the global climate, but also an audacious hope that *this* could be the catalyst for global cooperation, collaboration, and community building that would build the foundation for a resilient future for both humankind and the environment.

When we read her words in 2017, however, it is a lot easier to feel that hope slipping away, and the potential for disastrous effects on the global ecosystem seems inevitable.

It is even more important, today, for us to build strong and resilient communities — through conversations, collaboration, and open transparent communication. We need to recognize that everything has indeed changed. This work is not easy, and the results are not quickly forthcoming, but it is essential.

As Klein writes,”a whole lot of stuff we have been told is impossible has to start happening right away.”

Time to get moving.

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Facts and science in a complicated world

Amid the political, social, and emotional tumult across our national stage this year, I have treasured my time training as a time to step outside the web of tweets, truths, media blackouts, funding cuts, posturing, and ‘alternative facts.’

Maybe to help me find some solid footing, during my hours (and hours) running, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about glaciers.

In particular, I have become preoccupied with glacial responses to climate change,  which is the rest of this post is all about. I hope you read on, but if you don’t (if glaciers <gasp> aren’t your thing), at least take away this:

Few things in this world are truly simple, and most are deserving of close attention to nuance.

The world is complicated.

Facts are essential.

Embrace complexity.

Climate change is one of those things. We can track the changing surface temperatures, ocean salinity, water temperature, glacial melt, polar sea ice extent, sea level, shoreline erosion, permafrost melt, and so on — all of which are small parts of a hugely complex system.

And all of which have, for many years now, painted a clear and compelling picture of a warming climate.

Even as we begin to understand the complexity of the climatic system, though, we can often find puzzling contradictions, like surging glaciers, which appear to store energy for decades in a period of quiescence and then release a burst of movement so quick it can often be thousands of times faster than the glacier’s typical speed.

Only about 1% of all the world’s glaciers fall into the category of surging glaciers, and they appear in one of the greatest concentrations in the Svalbard archipelago 500 miles north of Norway. One glacial system in particular, Nathorstbreen, surged forward more than 15 km over the course of 4 years — sometimes moving as fast as 25 meters per day (2500 times faster than normal).

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A satellite view of the Nathorstbreen surge from ‘Surge dynamics in the Nathorstbreen glacier system, Svalbard’ by M. Sund, et al.

Glaciologist Heidi Sevestre, an expert on surging glaciers around the world, admits,

Today in a period of global glacier recession, glaciers surge in many parts of the world. Surging glaciers complicate the investigation of glacier response to climate variability.

Dramatic as it is, a surge is simply another data point in a massively complicated global system. A glacial surge does not mean that these glaciers are growing. Their volume is still dramatically decreasing. Between June and August 2015, in Svalbard alone, glaciers lost four and half million metric tons of meltwater every hour.

That’s nearly impossible to imagine, but it matters.

This is where beliefs and facts based on empirical observation meet — and where we need to work hard to be sure that far-reaching decisions are based on evidence and are not merely reactionary.

Silencing the sharing of data, as complex or unimaginable as that data may be, is anathema to building resilience, community, or sound decision making.

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The Nathorstbreen Glacial System image from TopoSvalbard / NorskPolarinstitutt

 

We started a new semester yesterday, and in an effort to help students explore their new surroundings here in Vermont, we looked at, among other things, Terry Tempest Williams’ 2004 essay, Ground Truthing, in which she writes about the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska:

The power of nature is the power of a life in association. Nothing stands alone. On my haunches, I see a sunburst lichen attached to limestone; algae and fungi are working together to break down each rock into soil. I cannot help but recognize a radical form of democracy at play. each organism is rooted in its own biological niche, drawing power from its relationship to other organisms. An equality of being contributes to an ecological state of health and succession.

A radical form of democracy begins with us, the people, making clear that facts, science, and transparency are essential — whether for building resilient communities or making intelligent decisions about our relationship with the natural world.

What’s Next…?

 

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Den längsta resan är resan inåt.
               -Dag Hammarskjöld

I talked about Climate Run: Iceland this morning with about thirty middle school students at the Albany Community School here in Vermont. Among the questions they asked during and after my slideshow was “what was your favorite part?”

I had just answered another question — “was it fun?” — by saying that overall the whole experience was life changing, incredible, and, occasionally even fun. Lots of the actual experience running was not what I’d call fun (…maybe Type II Fun). So it was harder still to come up with one favorite part.

This was the first time I’d been asked that, so I thought for a second before answering.

“This right here. Talking with all of you.”

Right now, my greatest adventure is sharing the story of Climate Run: Iceland and having many profound, moving, and motivating conversations about climate change, resilience, endurance, and vulnerability. I’m excited to keep up the momentum this message has begun.

All that said, though, I have been training hard all fall and winter–with the help of my coach, Jack Pilla–getting ready for a lot of terrific events over the coming year, but here are four of my standout distance races for 2016:

March 19-20
24 Hours of Bolton ski mountaineering race (approx. 80-100k ascent & descent).
Bolton, VT
Note: This race is a fundraiser for Vermont Adaptive Ski & Sport. Please visit my giving page if you’re interested in helping out. 

April 16
Traprock 50 km trail race
Simsbury, CT

June 4
Cayuga Trails 50 mile race
Ithaca, NY

August 20
Leadville Trail 100 Run 
Leadville, CO

…and Climate Run 2017? I’ve whittled it down to a short list. Stay tuned! 🙂

Resonance

Over the past couple of months, I have been giving Climate Run: Iceland presentations around Vermont and the eastern U.S — from talks at Burlington, Vermont’s The Outdoor Gear Exchange, Mount Mansfield Nordic Ski Club, to a standing-room-only audience at The Catamount Trail Association, and to a packed auditorium at the Hathaway Brown School in Cleveland, Ohio.

Hengill

descending from Hengill midway through day one

It’s always exciting to share my story of running across Iceland (which for me feels both recent and so very long ago), but I find even more rewarding the conversations that follow–about a range of topics grounded in concepts such as climate change, resilience, vulnerability, and endurance.

I’ve been asked, “what should we do” in the face of climate change? What roles should we as athletes play? How do you define resilience?

I have facilitated a conversation about the role of faith in climate conversations.

I have asked groups about how privilege can guide our thinking about vulnerability.

I have talked with students and faculty about how art, action, and science can help develop a resilient ecological and social relationship.

I have found that my story resonates with a range of different audiences — from skiers to conservationists to high school students — all of whom have different expectations and different relationships with and perspectives on the natural world.

John Meyer has recently written about the resonance dilemma, which points to the disconnect between systems as large and complex as the global climate with individual people’s actions. Meyer invites us to “imagine an agenda for environmental sustainability that emerges from everyday concerns and is … deeply resonant with the lives of” ordinary people.

I completely agree. In fact, Climate Run often resonates most strongly when I talk about the personal experience of being in the midst of wildness–and of realizing that as individuals we are inextricably part of a global ecology.

Nature can no longer be that place ‘out there.’ For the issues of a broader world to resonate with us, we need to recognize–and act as though–we are part of it all.

Of course, this is not at all a new concept, but it may be among the most difficult to act upon.

celebrating at the finish in Laugarbakki

celebrating at the finish in Laugarbakki after 150 miles

Climate Run hits the road!

I’m super stoked to kick off the Climate Run: Iceland tour with a show at the Outdoor Gear Exchange in Burlington, Vermont on Thursday, Sept. 24th at 8:00 pm.

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If you are interested in hosting a presentation where you are, please get in touch! More info about Climate Run presentations.