BOZEMAN – Even on Mount Everest, people see evidence of climate change.
Montana State University geology professor Dave Lageson talked about his experience on the world’s highest mountain last week when he visited second-graders at Bozeman’s Irving School.
The Irving kids and hundreds of students across the state and nation have spent weeks following the progress of an Everest expedition jointly sponsored by MSU, North Face, the Mayo Clinic and National Geographic.
Famed Bozeman mountain climber Conrad Anker, 49, who led the group, reached the summit Saturday for the third time in his life, his first time without using oxygen.
“The big thing we saw was how warm it was,” Lageson told children in teacher Kristin Dantagnan’s class. “A lot of Sherpas and Western climbers who have been up there many, many years said it was the warmest” they could recall. “By the time I left, a little river was flowing on top of the glacier.”
The glacier’s melting, Lageson said. “That’s one reason it was so dangerous this year.”
Four international climbers died May 19, during a “traffic jam” on the mountain, when an estimated 150 climbers, who reportedly paid as much as $50,000 for the chance to summit, tried to reach the peak.
Jenni Lowe-Anker, wife of the expedition leader, who trekked to the Everest Base Camp in April, told the second-graders that a lot of news reports had essentially condemned the people trying to climb. She said limits do need to be set on how many people can attempt the summit at one time.
“But in general, climbing Everest is a good thing,” Lowe-Anker said, especially for the Sherpa guides. She said it provides jobs to some of the poorest people in the world, so they can afford a little better lifestyle and can send their own children to school.
Lowe-Anker spoke to her husband Monday after he returned to base camp and said he sounded excited. Anker had been too exhausted on Friday, when five of his team members summited. He waited until they were down safely before trying himself, she said.
“It’s a big deal to summit without oxygen,” Lowe-Anker said. “It was a perfect day, no wind. For a guy who’s almost 50, it was a big accomplishment.”
Lageson, 61, went to Mount Everest to investigate particularly the limestone rocks at its peak, which have had little study. He brought back about 100 rocks, which formed on the bottom of the ocean floor 470 million years ago and were thrust up on the world’s highest mountain when the Indian land mass collided with the tectonic plate of Eurasia.
“That was way before dinosaurs,” Lageson told the students. “There were no mammals, no flowers, no trees, no grasses.”
There were tiny seashell creatures, one little girl said. Yes, Lageson replied, but you need a big microscope to see them in the rocks.
The professor told the children he decided to leave Everest after reaching about 21,400 feet, “high enough for me.” Crossing crevasses on ladders wasn’t scary, he said, because you focused so hard on where to put your feet.
“Maybe afterward in your tent, you might get scared,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with being scared. It helps you be serious about what you’re doing.”
Students followed the expedition closely on the MSU Everest website, said Dantangan, who co-wrote a curriculum guide for teachers on the geology, biology and culture of the Everest region. “They wanted to log on every morning,” she said.
On the website, Lageson wrote about the weird noises heard while falling asleep because the glacier is moving. It slid about 15 or 20 feet downhill during his month there.
“It’s creaking and groaning and snapping,” Lageson said.
“The scenery is incredible – to see Everest for the first time was definitely awe-inspiring for a geologist,” Lageson said. “It’s totally devoid of vegetation. All you see is black and white and shades of gray.
“As beautiful as the Himalayas are, coming home to Bozeman in spring – there’s nothing quite as beautiful as the Gallatin Valley.”