This past summer, Danny Uhlmann and Peter Sandahl took on the task of raising awareness for climate change. Their goal was to climb 82 summits above 4000 M in the European Alps over a 100-day period. All to raise awareness about the impact of climate change on our alpine environments and the surrounding ecosystems. Although they were unable to reach all 82 summits, they reached far beyond their initial goals.
Although they have now completed their mission, the following interview took place towards the end of the climb for Climate initiative. Therefore, some of the content is stated in the present although they have recently completed the journey.
What is Climb for Climate all about?
It is a 100-day initiative created to raise awareness about the impact of climate change on our alpine environments and to inspire and drive change towards positive climate action. The initiative is centered around the attempt by us to climb, within these 100 days, all the 82 summits above 4000m in Alps.
How/why did you come up with Climb for Climate?
We love the mountains and we share the strong passion to preserve these environments and make sure that humans and nature can live side by side in a sustainable way. During our many years in the Alps, Antarctica and other alpine areas we have witnessed, from first row, the dramatic and devastating impact a warmer planet has on these environments. The Climb for Climate initiative is our way to give something back to these landscapes that we so deeply care for and help to preserve them so future generations can enjoy them in the same way that we do.
What is the goal/outcome of the initiative?
The Alps is not only a beautiful and majestic place. It is also one of the most obvious places where the impact of climate change can be seen – even to the untrained eye. What is at risk is more than losing a few ski days per year. It’s a whole ecosystem that is being disrupted. Glaciers are rapidly melting, snow cover is diminishing and the permafrost melts, which literally makes the mountains fall apart. This is now happening at an increasingly alarming rate with severe consequences for many people, not only in the immediate surroundings. Through the Climb for Climate initiative we aim to raise the awareness of these effects and what the consequences are if we don’t act. We also aim to inspire to change, on all levels, by demonstrating ways, both small and big, that people, companies and organizations can take to support a positive outcome for Earth. The aim to successfully climb the 82 summits above 4000m in 100 days is secondary and the success or failure of the Climb for Climate initiative is not depending on our success in the mountains, although it plays an important part of it.
Why focus on 82 peaks in 100 days?
First, the climbing is a way to bring our followers deep into the heart of the Alps, both to show how beautiful these landscapes are, but also to concretely show the devastating impact a warmer planet has on them and how it impacts people whose livelihood in depending on these ecosystems. So why did we choose the Alps? We believe that it’s easier to relate to something that lies closer to you, both emotionally and geographically. As Europe is where our main target audience resides, the Alps is a logic choice and a place that many people have a relation to. Climbing the 82 summits in one “push” or one season is one of the ultimate alpinist challenges and something that attracts many alpinists around the world – also us. It’s a logistical chessboard that puts the mental and physical abilities to the limit and requires a high level of mountaineering expertise and ultimately a good portion of luck with weather and health.
Left: Peter Sandahl is a Swedish mountaineer living in Stockholm, Sweden. He has spent considerable time in the European Alps and deeply cares about the preservation of our alpine ecosystem and to help secure that humans and nature can co-exist in a sustainable manner. Right: Danny Uhlmann is an American IFMGA/UIAGM Mountain guide living in Chamonix, France. He has built a career of guiding groups and individuals around the world, especially in Antarctica where he has helped advance cutting edge scientific knowledge from the polar environments.
Have you ever taken on such a big/similar challenge before?
Peter: - I have taken on many different challenges in my life, but nothing comes even close to the journey we are on now. This is such an extreme undertaking. Not by technical climbing difficulty, but the length of it and the mental and physical pressure that follows. I mean in vertical meters it is around climbing Mount Everest 15-20 times in 100 days. That’s not a normal thing to do and my body reminds me of that every day. I get a lot of questions about the physical efforts and how my body feels. Of course, the physical strain is enormous and now, when we are in the final weeks of the journey, there aren’t many places on my body that do not hurt. But the mental stress is maybe even tougher. There is never time to get real rest. At the same time as you are coming down from one mountain the planning for the next one starts. A rest day gives physical recovery but not mental. Handling the administrative part of the project, even if we get great support on the most critical things, together with being out climbing has proven much more challenging than I imagined.
Danny: I have certainly climbed many harder routes than any of the ones we have done and have yet to do on our project. Between expeditions to Himalayas, Alaska, South America, US, and the Alps I have done much more difficult routes. But I could say that I've never tried to enchain so much sustained effort over this length of time before. People have to keep in mind that the vast majority of routes we are doing or attempting were done towards the end of the 19th century, so by modern standards they are nothing to write home about. That said, they give us a glimpse back into history, and show how badass the original ascensionists were. As well, the majority of the routes require mastery of fundamental mountaineering skills, exposure to sustained objective hazard, and of course, vast amounts of endurance. The most challenging part of the project is not any single route in and of itself, but the complexity of figuring out the best order to do them in, to maximize the number we can do in 100 days. On top of that is managing fatigue levels and knowing when it's appropriate to push on to another objective or when it's time to take a rest. Not to be dramatic or anything, but many people have lost their lives on these mountains, and not a small number have done so while attempting to finish the 82 inside of an artificial timespan. Therefore, our principle goal has always been the climate change part of it, and reduction of greenhouse gasses, and the attempt to encourage other people to change their behavior for the better. Before this trip I had maybe done 30 or so of the 82 (maybe less I forgot to count) over the course of many years of climbing and guiding around the Alps. People who had done it before, when asked if they thought it was possible that we do this in 100 days had responses between "probably not" and "that is ludicris." Personally, I am an optimist and I always thought it was within the realm of possibility, and the margin would be determined by our risk tolerance and most importantly by weather and conditions. We have never cut corners on safety because at the end of the day, no one really cares (or should care) about the climbing goal. It's merely a way to attract attention to a cool environment; an environment which happens to be the most obvious place to show the uninitiated about the devastating effects of climate change.
Have you worked with any other sustainability initiatives in the past?
Peter: - I have a background in the financial industry which plays a critical role if we want to make real changes for the climate. I have worked and been involved in how the industry can lead the way, how the products and services can support long term sustainability and how we can make it easier for banking customers to invest sustainable and use their savings to reduce emissions. Danny: No, I have never worked with anything involving sustainability.
Who or what has had the greatest impact on your passion for the planet and raising awareness about the current situation?
Peter: - The rapid change in the Alps is definitely one of the things that has made me realize how serious the situation is. Scientists often talks about what will happen 100 years from now. In the Alps, I can see the impact from one year to another – and it’s dramatic. The speed of change is scaring and being able to preserve these environments for future generations is one of the really strong motivations for me. Danny: I have passions, but I wouldn't say climate change is one of them. That would be a funny thing to have a passion about. For me climate change is just this incredibly sad thing that we, as humans, have done our best to accelerate, and will be the ones to pay the price for it, along with countless species of plants and animals on earth. I studied and worked with lots of geology in the Antarctic so I know very well that the Earth itself will have no problem to overcome whatever we do to it, over time. It's more a question of how long humanity will last, how many wars will be fought on account of the droughts, and floods, and resource scarcity that we are causing to the planet. It’s like watching a loved one age too rapidly; it is sad and you want to do anything you can to help them. I'm a very practical person in this regard. I don't care so much for passion more so that the big players, governments, businesses, and eventually individuals make different choices to alter to ultimate outcome. As romantic as it is to say, it's not up to any individual to make a big difference unfortunately. The biggest changes will likely come when economic and political pressures force actions. For example, if the government declared tomorrow that gas engines would be banned after 2030, automakers would find a way to solve that problem. And electricity providers, all of whom are in competition on the open market, would have to come up with increasingly eco-friendly solutions. And of course as individuals we have some power to act, and should feel good about ourselves for limiting our impact. In fact, it's the affluent populations of the world which have the most impact and use the most resources per capita.
What have been some of the most difficult/unexpected things to occur throughout the journey?
The weather has definitely been one of most challenging parts. We had a very complex and tough weather the first 30-35 days which forced us to change tactics and push ourselves very hard. The constant physical and mental strain and the logistical planning were not unexpected but still very tough to handle.
On the flip side, what has been the most rewarding aspect?
That we have been able to reach out to many people and organizations with our cause and all the fantastic support we have received along the way. And of course, to have the privilege to enjoy and spend time in these fantastic landscapes and meet many new people that all have a story to tell.
What have been some of the success stories?
Definitely that Nordea, one of the biggest banks in Europe, has decided, as part of the Climb for Climate initiative, to move 7 billion kronor (~700 million Euros) from traditional to sustainable investments. This will reduce the CO2-emissions with an unbelievable 71,000 tonnes and 300,000 customers will by this receive a green, climate friendly pension scheme. This shows that our initiative also can contribute to real changes which we are very happy for. Being portrayed on the big screen on Times Square in New York maybe isn’t a milestone, but a cool thing that shows that our cause creates a lot of engagement. Regardless if we reach all 82 summits or not, the climbing effort has definitely been a success. As of now, with only a couple of weeks left, we have climbed more than 80% of the summits. Climbing that many 4000m peaks in a consecutive climb is something that very few people have managed to do.
How can people contribute and get involved?
The most direct way is to make a contribution to our fundraiser (can be found at www.climbforclimate.com). All donations go exclusively to Protect Our Winters (POW), a global climate activist organization who works with advocacy, education and awareness. Our project has a definitive life span so supporting POW is a way for us to extend our efforts for the climate. Then of course to follow us in social media (Instagram and Facebook) and help us spread the message about our cause. We aim to create a movement and we are engaging with many people and organizations along the way.
Are there future ideas/projects that have come to mind during this journey?
There are a few ideas, but we have not discussed anything in detail yet. We will take a couple of weeks of rest before we conclude what we have achieved and how we should take it further. We have seen a great interest and engagement around this topic. The future of the Alps engages. We have been enriched with so many fantastic experiences, met so many interesting people and gained so much more knowledge about the threats and opportunities for the Alps. So in one way or another there will be a next chapter.
Anything else you want to communicate or get across?
We would like to thank for all the support, cheering and engagement we have received along the way. It has really been great! If people want to be part of a potential next chapter, have ideas on how we should take this further or only have questions, they are more than welcome to send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org