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Dispatches : Climbing

The Appalachian Mountains Have Lost a Hero

LarryGibsonLarry Gibson, keeper of Kayford Mountain. Photo: Vivian Stockman

The Appalachian Mountains lost a hero on Sunday, September 10. Larry Gibson, the face of the fight against mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia, died of a heart attack while working on Kayford Mountain in West Virginia. His family ancestry on Kayford goes back to the 1700s and, since 1986, Gibson had fought tirelessly to stop the mountaintop removal mining that has desecrated the peaks surrounding his home.

Scores of mountaintops—more than 500 of them, according to environmental law firm Earthjustice—have been removed, literally, through this aggressive strip mining that starts by denuding peaks and then blasting away rock to get to the rich veins of coal beneath. After retiring early from General Motors due to an injury, Gibson had moved back home to Kayford and discovered that the land all around his ancestral home was essentially destroyed.

He started Keeper of the Mountains, an anti-mountaintop removal mining group, and fought this type of mining doggedly. His outspokenness earned him tremendous media exposure—he regularly gave tours of the mining areas to groups of reporters, and can be seen in a number of documentary films—but it also earned him numerous death threats. Gibson fully expected to lose his life during the battle to protect Appalachian peaks.

With the sudden passing of its 66-year-old leader, what will become of the fight against mountaintop removal mining in West Virginia and across Appalachia?

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Adventure Video of the Week: Reel Rock 7 Trailer

There are only three days until the world premiere of Reel Rock 7, the country's biggest touring film festival dedicated to climbing. Earlier today, Sender Films and Big Up Productions released the trailer for their seventh year of movies. The films feature some of the biggest names in climbing. Sasha DiGiulian makes the first ascent of Chris Sharma's Era Vela, a 5.14d route that is the toughest climb ever completed by a woman. Climbers Chris Sharma and Adam Ondra come together at the same 5.14c route to square off. Alex Honnold completes the Triple in Yosemite, climbing El Capitan, Half Dome, and Mt. Watkins in a freakish 18 hours and 50 minutes. Conrad Anker, Renan Ozturk, and Jimmy Chin return to India's Shark's Fin to scale one of the world's toughest climbs, a summit that turned them away once before.

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Rock Climbing Rescues, Injuries, and Deaths in Boulder County, by the Numbers

Shutterstock_89077345Climber hanging. Photo: Rudall30/Shutterstock

Scientist Daniel Lack used experience as a motivator for his study on climbing rescues, deaths, and accidents in Boulder County, Colorado. Lack started climbing at 24 at the Kangaroo Point Cliffs in Brisbane, Australia. He moved to South Africa and wedged, jammed, and scaled his way up rock at Waterval Boven, Magaliesburg, and Rocklands. In 2004, he arrived in Boulder and began tackling multi-pitch routes and climbing Eldorado Canyon, Utah’s desert towers, Rocky Mountain National Park, and in the Wind River Range. At that time, he also started training with the Rocky Mountain Rescue Group, the primary response unit for Boulder County. He’s now a mission leader and takes sharing what he’s learned seriously, which is good, because he’s learned an awful lot. “The idea for the paper came from the fact that by being part of RMR I get to incorporate the mistakes of other climbers into my climbing and outdoor behavior immediately,” he says. “RMR is one of the busiest teams for rock climbing rescues in the U.S.—and probably the world. So I get a lot of education on how to keep myself safe.”

Lack and his colleagues analyzed 14 years of search and rescue incidents in Boulder County to find out how many were related to climbing, and what caused the calls. Lack suspects the percentages of incidents and injuries are similar to other climbing communities. The mountains and canyons surrounding Boulder are packed with routes, including popular spots near the city, from Eldorado Canyon State Park to Boulder Canyon to the Flatirons. The city's population is active and gets after it outdoors, and the Rocky Mountain Rescue Group receives about 140 calls a year. They respond to everything from fallen climbers to avalanches to downed aircrafts. Here’s a breakdown of the climbing-related incidents they responded to between 1998 and 2011, by the numbers:

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12 Ways to Channel Your Inner Citizen Scientist

GrizzlyprintsnowGrizzly print, and a notebook. Photo: Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation

Rachel Carson earned a master's degree in zoology from John Hopkins University and spent most of her career working as a marine biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. But after her fourth book, Silent Spring, garnered pesticide manufacturers some unwanted publicity, the pesticide industry attempted to discredit Carson by claiming she wasn’t a trained biologist, writes Paul Brooks in his biography Rachel Carson: The Writer at Work.

The irony here is that in Silent Spring, which turns 50 this month and is arguably responsible for starting the environmental movement, Carson championed the growing concerns of untrained biologists. She listened to backyard botanists who simply observed nature and were alarmed by the indiscriminant death that DDT appeared to be doling out to songbirds, bees and other non-target species around their homes. Armed with their anecdotes and her own rigorous scientific research, Carson raised many red flags and brought the word “ecology” into the general lexicon.

Today, these untrained biologists actually have a moniker: citizen scientists. They also have many more ways to contribute to our understanding of the health of our environment.

Citizen science demographics used to trend toward the close-to-retirement set who like to study water quality, or toward younger, tech-savvy male astronomers, says Darlene Cavalier, founder of SciStarter, a hub for citizen science information and opportunities. But citizen science is becoming increasingly accessible and interesting to the general, outdoor-recreating public, thanks both to the connections between citizen science and climate change research and to the power of smartphones. 

“Smartphones are increasingly equipped with sensors that makes it so easy to become involved in citizen science,” says Cavalier. “It removes the fear of giving bad data and it makes it harder to say participating isn’t convenient. People can’t really say ‘I don’t have the tools or knowledge I need.’ The barriers are falling.”

Whether it’s collecting marine debris or chasing butterflies or tracking grizzly bears, there’s something for budding citizen scientists of every stripe and appetite for adventure.

Grab your waterproof-breathable pocket protector and check out these citizen science resources:

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11-Year-Old Climber Ashima Shiraishi Sends South Africa

PabstAshima on Steady Plums Direct. Photo: 27crags

Last we heard from fifth-grade climbing wunderkind Ashima Shiraishi, she was fresh off a spring bouldering trip to Hueco Tanks, Texas, and getting some serious press. The New York Times gave her front-page sports coverage (and a cool video) for becoming the youngest female ever to climb a V13 bouldering problem, and she later riffed about climbing in the Olympics in these pages. Now reports are trickling in from South Africa, where she’s spent the past few weeks bouldering outside of Cape Town as the youngest member (by far) of the upcoming bouldering flick Chasing Winter. By all accounts, Ashima, 11, is living up to the massive hype.

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