Warning signs in the alpine 

Alpine Club of Canada to host mountain-focused climate change workshop in Banff

By Lynn Martel

When it comes to climate change in the high alpine, mountain climbers are in the position to experience the phenomenon of melting glaciers first hand.

With that unique perspective comes a unique responsibility, says Mike Mortimer, Alpine Club of Canada director of external relations.

In conjunction with the ACC’s 2006 Centennial celebrations, the club is hosting Canada’s first ever workshop on climate change focussed specifically on mountain regions.

Running Oct. 10 and 11 in Banff, the two-day workshop, titled Climate Change and its Affect on the Alpine, will examine the physical and recreational impacts of climate change in alpine environments worldwide, and seek out ways in which the international mountaineering community might respond to these changes.

The workshop is planned as one component of the general assembly of the International Mountaineering and Climbing Federation (UIAA), happening in Banff Oct. 14. With 89 members, from Andorra to Chile, Israel to Malaysia, the Netherlands and the 700,000 strong German mountaineering association, 80 to 100 international delegates are expected to attend, including the presidents of at least 70 mountaineering organizations.

Taking place at the Banff Centre, workshop sessions include such topics as Climate Change Impacts on the World’s Mountains from a Global Perspective, the Implications of Global Change for Canadian Mountains, and the Role of the UIAA and its Member Organizations in Addressing Climate Change Impacts on Mountain Regions Globally.

Speakers include Dr. Shawn Marshall, University of Calgary Associate Professor in glaciology and climatology — whose presentation will include a field trip to Bow Lake and the Columbia Icefield — and Dr. David Sauchyn, chief scientist at the Prairie Adaptation Research Collaborative at the University of Regina, and member of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

As well, Dr. Henry Vaux, whose family launched the study of glaciers in the Selkirk Mountain of B.C.’s Glacier National Park over a century ago, will present an evening slide show.

As the UIAA’s first general assembly to include discussions on climate change, in addition to facilitating discussion and establishing protocols for minimizing human impact in mountain regions worldwide, Mortimer said he hoped the workshop would also serve to raise awareness among the general and mountaineering public.

“We of all people should be more aware, we see the glaciers diminishing right before our eyes,” Mortimer said. “The ACC has always relied on glaciers. If we lost all the ice on the Wapta, for instance, that would totally change everything we do. Changes in glaciation might make (climbing) approaches really different.”

At Lake Louise, changes to the “Deathtrap,” the historically popular route up Victoria Glacier providing access to Abbot Pass and climbs on Mounts Lefroy and Victoria, have already rendered the route pretty much impassable.

Montana’s Glacier National Park, Sauchyn said, was estimated to hold 150 glaciers in 1850. That number dropped to 50 in the 1960s, and dwindled to 26 in 1998 — all mere remnants of their original Icefields.

“The same phenomenon is happening Alberta, just at a slightly lesser rate because we started with bigger glaciers,” Sauchyn said. “It’s the clearest evidence of climate change. Mountains are like the canary in the coal mine — the high altitudes and the high latitudes.”

While the Rocky Mountains comprise a relatively small area of Alberta, it is nonetheless a very significant area; virtually all drinking water for all the major cities in Alberta and Saskatchewan comes from the Rockies. As well, there are ecological and biodiversity factors to consider.

“The alpine is a unique ecosystem with unique issues, both from a scientific and management perspective,” Sauchyn said, adding climate change has reduced the role of the Rockies’ glaciers to one of simply sustaining summer flow.

“We don’t get much water from glaciers anymore, we get it from snow,” Sauchyn said.

But, he added, winter snowfall patterns are also changing.

One thing that’s certain, Sauchyn said, is that the debate is essentially over.

In early 2007, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will issue its fourth assessment, followed by Canada’s second national assessment next spring.

The first national assessment in a decade, and the first international one since 2001, Sauchyn said the impact of both would be huge.

“You don’t find any scientific articles being written today saying there is any doubt, not just about whether climate change is happening, but also whether man has helped cause it,” Sauchyn said. “There is complete consensus on both points. These assessments will have profound impact because they will present that consensus.”

As guest speaker at the ACC workshop, Sauchyn will deliver a Canadian Climate Change Impact Overview.

The aim of the workshop, however, is not to look to the cause of climate change, but to put forward the latest information and emerging climate change adaptation strategies as a basis for establishing a protocol for action allowing the ACC to recognize and address climate change impacts on Canada’s mountain regions. It is hoped that the protocol will serve as a template for alpine organizations around the world interested in doing the same.

“The Alpine Club of Canada is not interested in pointing a finger, we’ll leave that to other minds,” Mortimer said. “What we want to do is find ways we can better understand what the problem is, and how to address it. What are the best practices we can encourage? As the largest operator of backcountry huts in North America, how do we reduce our impact in our mountain activities.”

By sharing experiences and information on a global scale, it is hoped workshop participants can all discover ways to improve their current practices.

“I think everybody has a responsibility, but as mountaineers we have the additional challenge because we’re the ones who see it,” Mortimer said. “We recreate in these areas, and we have a responsibility to leave the mountains in the same or better condition than we find them.

“We want the next generation to be able to enjoy what we’ve been able to enjoy.”

Public attendance at the workshop is welcome. For more information go to

Readers also liked…

Latest in Whistler

More by Lynn Martel

© 1994-2019 Pique Publishing Inc., Glacier Community Media

- Website powered by Foundation