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Climber Scientist Peru Expedition Report #3 · June 30, 2012

A team of AAC Volunteers is in Peru right now on the Climber Scientist Peru Expedition, following up on their 2011 scientific work. Below you’ll find a report from the field. Stay tuned to the AAC News for more reports from Peru!

By AAC Member, CSP-Peru Co-Director, AAC Conservation Committee Chair Ellen Lapham:

Climber Science Program-Peru Report #3


The American Climber Science Program works to link scientists and climbers

to help provide the knowledge necessary to preserve the Alpine environment.

Currently we are leading expeditions to the Cordillera Blanca of Peru

in the Summers of 2012 and 2013.

[Photos and More Stories can be found on the Expedition’s Facebook Page.]

 I sit in a stunning café run by Chris and his wife Isobel. Café Andino features fresh ground coffee, curry, and waffles. Plus there are local dishes with quinoa and lots of avocado.  Fresh produce is abundant in the nearby huge central market – think of Les Halles merged with the street vendors of Kathmandu and add a large touch of Toys R Us (not the same quality however).  Almost no flies and an impressive choice of street food!

Thank you again to all who have supported and encouraged us. The American Alpine Club has been a great asset – we have a back office and the prestige that the AAC built up over decades of climbs in Peru. I also want to thank Black Diamond and Feathered Friends. We are climbing high, fast and light and their gear has been terrific.

We’ve just completed a rapid turnaround in the Llaca Valley (recent team arrivals Ed, Ruth and Darby for their acclimatization at 14,000 ft.).  Our process for altitude adaptation has been to get newcomers to hike to 15,000 ft. or 5000 meters.  For mental fitness we have practiced riddles after dinner.  Ed, who just arrived from Scotland, was the fastest problem solver. (ex: A guy walks into a bar and orders a glass of water and the bartender pulls out a gun. The guy thanks him and walks out. )

We had a successful climb of Vallunaraju (5686 m.) with Pat and Colin getting their first summits. Pat commented that this was his first high glacier climb, “Nine years in the making as my crampons are nine years old and I’ve only used them to aerate my lawn!  The knife edge on the last section was …interesting.  I had a steep narrow path separating a large cornice and a big hole. I took it one step at a time.” Pat then trained Kate in how to use his spectrometer equipment.

We also had a field day sampling for snow.  Carl’s delighted with the quantity of snow sampling this year: he estimated he will double last year’s samples.  Carl took CO2 samples on Vallunaraju’s summit and concurrent with sampling at 5500 meters, at base camp, and in Huaraz. These will help him figure out how the mixing of CO2 from Huaraz works in this area.

As the CSP-Peru 2012 expedition goes forward, we are finding more synergy between the PI’s (Principal Investigating scientists) and opportunities for new research.  A case in point is Ruth, a toxicologist, collecting lichens in the upper Llaca valley as these can indicate metal accumulations.  The scientists doing the snow sampling, spectral data and water quality sampling are continually exchanging ideas on how each protocol can inform the other.

Below [Photo Missing]  is John descending into a fairly new crevasse at approx. 5500 meters to take snow samples for Carl’s black carbon and dust testing. With much effort and gnashing as some layers were very hard ice, he got 14 samples.  Now we have an ongoing debate – are these layers 1000 years or only 50 years of accumulation? Are the heavy dark layers from volcanic events or el Nino or many storms each season?  To get back in time, we’d need to do carbon dating. At this time, we expect our post analysis will at least determine if some of the layers we sampled have volcanic dust.

After descending Vallunaraju, 14 hours of climbing and hard work, we all pitched in at Llaca base camp to melt and filter Carl’s 20 snow samples as the sun was setting gloriously to the west. Here is Darby with the large syringe and Ruth with her smaller sample vials for water quality testing.

Throughout this expedition biologist Rebecca has been establishing monitoring plots and gathering vegetation samples that she’s put into a press that we all admire.  The objective of the study is to assess how cattle grazing, burning, and climate variability is affecting the fragile, high altitude plant communities and the many endemic species found only in the Cordillera Blanca. By headlamp she’s checking her log book and referencing the few books published on the plants of the Cordillera Blanca.

One key goal of CSP-Peru has been to develop a strong and ongoing relationship with the regional university, UNASAM, here in Huaraz.  I’m pleased to report that Carl, John, Rebecca and I had a positive meeting last night with the provost Dr. Julio Palomino, rector of the university, and Prof. Ricardo Villanueva of the Environmental Sciences department.  Their stated goals for environmental data gathering and modeling parallel our current program.

Today the team drove off at 9:30am for 7 days on Yanapaccha and Chopicalqui valleys. There will be climbing, on-glacier CO2 sampling and more snow sampling for black carbon. Pat will be getting snow albedo on the glacier and sun spectra measurements in direct and diffuse conditions and finalizing his protocols. He left with a new ‘pipe and tape’ tool that he and Benny devised to get consistency in the way they take measurements.  They have not yet figured out how to get the computer and batteries to be smaller and lighter – that’s a goal for 2013. With the addition of Ruth and Darby to the team we now have expertise in water quality testing and toxicology.  Everyone is continually designing ways to simplify our field protocols and tools: much of what we are doing here is cutting edge and not optimized – yet – for remote high altitude research.

The next CSP-Peru reports you receive will be written by Prof. John All. I know you will enjoy reading them!

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