Sustainability News

The Alpine Club Green Group works to assist the club in initiating and contributing to mountaineering sustainability objectives. You can follow news of their work here and via the Green Group Home Page.


The Long Legacy of ‘53

Incoming Chair of the Mount Everest Foundation’s Committee of Trustees, Rebecca Stephens, reflects on the history of the MEF and considers how its past helps point the way to an active future for this vital grant-giving body.

Rebecca Stephens welcomes the opening of MEF grants to Nepali applicants at the Embassy of Nepal, London

Several remarkable charitable bodies sprung from the 1953 Everest expedition, not least the Mount Everest Foundation (MEF). Founded on the generosity of the expedition members who donated proceeds from lectures, a film, and in Col. John Hunt’s case, his best-selling book, The Ascent of Everest, (a must-have for every stocking that Christmas), to collectively raise an astounding £100,000, equivalent to almost £3.5m in today’s money. All this went into a pot to encourage the ‘exploration of the mountain ranges of the Earth’, an objective that is still honoured seven decades on.

Another charity that sprang from that extraordinary expedition of 1953, was the Himalayan Trust, founded by Ed Hillary to give back to the Sherpas who had played such an instrumental role in making the expedition a success. The two charities, though with different objectives, share values – a love of the mountains, the mountain people and cultures, a sense of gratitude and a desire to give back. So it comes as no surprise that they’ve joined forces to celebrate decennial anniversaries of Everest’s first ascent.

As a trustee of the Himalayan Trust UK, I’ve had the opportunity to get to know many MEF trustees over the years. Thanks to Duncan Sperry I now step into his shoes as Chair, a decision not difficult to make – anything to counter our risk-averse, screen-obsessed culture where a neighbour anxiously informs me that my daughter is up an apple tree.

A Piolet d'Or-winning line. Paul Ramden on the MEF-backed first ascent of Jugal Spire - Tim Miller

I wonder if the founders would recognise much of the world we live in today, particularly if they cared to venture to Everest.  But I think they’d be pleased that the Mount Everest Foundation upholds its initial ethos: to encourage and celebrate the spirit of the pioneer, to take initiative and forge something new. To lead, not just to follow. In climbing, that’s evolved into purer alpine tactics, and, as the impact of tourism increasingly puts pressure on local communities, so it calls for increased sensitivity to the mountain environment and the people who inhabit it, always remembering that we’re visitors in someone else’s land. As such it seems entirely fitting that as well as donating money to young climbers keen to develop skills and awareness in extreme environments, the MEF also makes periodic donations to charities that support local people and the environments in which they’re likely to climb.

Hillary and Norgay climbing on Everest - The Royal Geographical Society

I’m quite sure, too, that the founders would endorse the MEF’s latest initiative, passed under Duncan’s leadership, to extend the eligibility of MEF grants to Nepalis as well as Brits and New Zealanders. After all, it was the citizens of three nations, not two, that put Hillary and Tenzing on the summit, and as the ambassador Gyan Chandra Acharya pointed out at a celebratory gathering at the Embassy of Nepal, “better late than never.” I’m happy to report that, following this announcement, we have already received our first application from Nepal.

MEF-backed scientists at work on the Dona glacial lake in the Nepalese Himalaya

Another timely shift is a renewed emphasis on science; currently, around one third of the MEF’s grants are allocated to scientific research in mountain regions. There was a time when the environmental impact of climbing and trekking was measured for the most part as local: rubbish, pollution of rivers, and the felling of trees for firewood with resultant erosion of thin mountain soils. Today, what happens in the mountains is of global interest. The high mountains of the world are humanity’s water towers. With temperatures at altitude rising faster than at sea level, glaciers are retreating, the bedrock left bare, which in turn amplifies the warming rate and has consequences far beyond the immediate vicinity of the mountains.

The MEF now finds itself at the epicentre of the biggest existential threat to humankind. We are in a position to play a part in supporting scientific research. We support the pioneers – those pushing the limits in mountaineering, and intrepid young scientists in remote and lofty mountain regions who are the spokesmen and women of the effect of climate change. Never has the Mount Everest Foundation found itself in such an important position. As incoming Chair, I hope to see that it continues to rise to that challenge.

- Rebecca Stephens




Arctic-Alpine Plants: Engineers and Warning Bells

In the UK, arctic-alpine plants are a key component of upland habitats, laying the groundwork for insects, other plants and larger predators to survive in mountain environments. But new research suggests that these species are under threat; withdrawing uphill and perhaps on the verge of vanishing from our slopes entirely. Sarah Watts, a PhD researcher in plant ecology and conservation at the University of Stirling, explains why these plants are so important and why they’re currently in retreat.

From Left to Right: Purple saxifrage, snow pearlwort and drooping saxifrage - Sarah Watts

When most people consider the arctic, or high-altitude mountain landscapes, they think of endless snow, ice and bare rock. But pastel-coloured flowers, sometimes just a few millimetres wide, bloom in these dramatic places too. These miniature flowers not only weather some of the toughest habitats on Earth, but can also help to engineer the landscape for other species.

Don’t be fooled by their delicate petals. Some species of rock jasmine and sandwort grow at well over 6,000 metres on Mount Everest, while purple saxifrage flourishes on the northernmost point of land in the world – Kaffeklubben Island, north of Greenland.

Plants in freezing cold environments are typically small and often form as ground-hugging rosettes, or dense tufts with short stems, known as “cushions”. Antarctic pearlwort sits no more than 5cm high and displays a tight bunch of minute yellow blooms. The summits of the Scottish Highlands, where temperatures can drop to -27℃ in winter, are home to tiny flowers also found in the Arctic, such as moss campion, dwarf willow, trailing azalea and starry saxifrage.

Trailing azalea close up - Sarah Watts

Moss campion, a mountain wildflower - Sarah Watts

Although plants such as these may appear fragile, their minute size helps them cope with freezing weather and fierce winds. Low stature and tightly packed leaves act as an aerodynamic trap and storage system for water and solar radiation. Microspaces within the dense, dome-like foliage are efficient structures for retaining moisture and heat. An arctic-alpine cushion’s internal temperature can be 15°C warmer than its surroundings.

Cushion plants and mosses can be integral to their local environment. They are known as “keystone species” and “ecosystem engineers” because they stabilise their harsh microclimate, and are often the first to colonise bare ground. As the cushions grow, they improve the moisture and nutrient content of thin soils by accumulating organic material both directly within the plant itself, and through their root systems. By buffering temperature extremes, cushions reduce the frost risk in their immediate surroundings. These processes create a habitat more suitable for less stress-tolerant plant species including arctic-alpines in the daisy and pea families.

Cushion formers are therefore vital “nurse” plants in mountain and polar regions. They also shelter small arthropods including beetles and tiny wingless insects called springtails. These animals may in turn pollinate the plants they take refuge in, and provide food for others higher up the food chain.

A rove beetle on snow pearlwort - Sarah Watts

However, these tiny arctic-alpine plants are now sounding a warning bell for the loss of biodiversity due to climate change. The plants have an important relationship with snow, which offers them protection from disturbance and erosion. But rising temperatures are causing earlier snow melt, allowing the spread of other species previously restricted to lower altitudes and latitudes. Consequently, taller generalist plants, such as common grasses and sedges are crowding out the smaller arctic-alpines.

High mountain areas are warming at twice the global average and are geographically isolated from other places with similar climates, leaving the specialist flowers nowhere to relocate to.

Arctic-alpine plant numbers are plummeting in Britain and climate change is impacting numbers across the world, threatening the future of species that depend on them. Snow pearlwort, a cushion plant usually no bigger than a penny, is the first flowering plant in Britain to have its International Union for the Conservation of Nature status moved from vulnerable to endangered due to climate change. Our research analysing long-term monitoring data from the Ben Lawers National Nature Reserve in the Scottish Highlands has revealed that the British population of snow pearlwort declined by 66% between 1996 and 2019. These data, collected for over 40 years by National Trust for Scotland staff and volunteers, also show that two other arctic-alpine plants have lost over half of their population since the 1990s. As temperatures have risen, snow pearlwort, mountain sandwort and drooping saxifrage have all withdrawn uphill. What’s more, these species face mountaintop extinction here in the UK because there is no higher ground left for them to retreat to.

Snow pearlwort growing on Scottish munro Ben Lawers - Sarah Watts

If we lose these plants from their British mountaintop outposts – at the edge of where they occur globally – this will signal that their strongholds in the Arctic and the Alps are also in danger.

Polar and mountain regions are havens for biodiversity, nurturing species found nowhere else in the world. We risk losing the cultural and inspirational value that rare species give us, with implications for the preservation of our natural heritage.

Plants are the building blocks of habitats and food webs on which other lifeforms across the planet depend, but they are frequently overlooked in conservation news stories. There’s a name for this phenomenon – “plant blindness”. Scientists, nature writers and the media usually turn to trees or species with large colourful flowers to open people’s eyes to the importance of plant life. But we must celebrate and protect our tiniest of plants too. If we don’t, the spectrum of diversity across the Earth’s extremes will be lost for generations to come.

-  Sarah Watts (PhD researcher at the University of Stirling)

A version of this article originally appeared on The Conversation. Changes have been made with the permission of the author.

You can read Sarah’s research via Science Direct and follow her on Twitter.




The Conversation

2023 UIAA Mountain Protection Award Nominees Announced

2023 UIAA Mountain Protection Award Nominees Announced

The International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation (UIAA) have released profiles of the twelve nominees for the 2023 Mountain Protection Award. The MPA, which has been awarded annually since 2013, provides funds to projects to allow them to "build key infrastructures, conduct vital research and fulfil pending project goals" relating to the protection of the mountain environment, wildlife and mountain culture.

Among this year's nominees are: a project from the American Alpine Club which analyses the impacts of warming winters on ice climbing activities and the professional lives of guides; a Brazillian initiative to recycle a higher proportion of disposable gas cannisters and Mountaineering Ireland's work to repair paths and restore habitat on the popular peak of Croagh Patrick. 

In-depth profiles of all twelve nominees are available to view on the UIAA website.

The winners of the 'Best New initiative' and runner-up prizes will be announced in early October, with the overall winner being confirmed on 21 October at the 2023 UIAA General Assembly in Trabzon, Turkey.




Eurostar Clarifies Position on Mountaineering Equipment

Eurostar Clarifies Position on Mountaineering Equipment

After enquiries from a number of UK-based climbing and mountaineering clubs, Eurostar have happily clarified that their luggage policy with regard to mountaineering equipment has not changed and that equipment of this type, including ice axes, can be carried on their services.

A climber stands on a snowy alpine ridge, leaning on the head of his ice axe as he smiles at the camera.

Climbing equipment had been listed under the "Dangerous Sports Equipment" category of the Eurostar website, indicating that passengers could not travel with mountaineering equipment in their luggage, but this has now been updated. Instead, Eurostar request that "any passenger carrying this kind of equipment makes themselves known to a member of the Eurostar team in the station on arrival so that they can ensure the smooth passage through the security/baggage check".

If you are concerned that you may be refused access when travelling with mountaineering equipment, we recommend travelling with a copy of this letter from Eurostar which clarifies the position.

This news will doubtless come as a relief to the many mountaineers who aim to reduce the impact of their trips to the Alps by travelling via train and who may have previously been put off using Eurostar's service for fear of being turned away.





Doing Good with Old Mountain Gear

Doing Good with Old Mountain Gear

My gear room is full. Most of it with items that reflect my age. Vintage, cool, historic. And I know I’m not alone! We all hate throwing things away and, in the age of the circular economy, many of us are searching for ways to prevent these once cherished items from going to waste. Luckily, for much outdoor kit, there are lots of options! In particular warm clothing and waterproofs can almost always be used by someone else.

You can sell your items on the usual sites like eBay and Facebook Marketplace. Even Décathlon offers a reselling service. But you won’t get much, so why not do some good by donating your items to the homeless instead?

The best items for donation are unquestionably warm clothing, but don't forget waterproof trousers. They are very useful for the homeless. As for sleeping bags, just make sure that they are not too worn out and remember that down is not a great option in the British wet!


First Point of Call: Outdoor Retailers

Some retailers have systems in place to collect second-hand items and in various ways distribute the proceeds to charities. Having checked most of the shops in London, the bins are not obvious. You’ll often need to ask a shop assistant to help you locate them.

But many of the outdoor shops which recycle do not give to charities. Instead they sell the recycled items to a large company that in turn sells them on the second-hand market in Eastern Europe and Africa where the unusable items are transformed into fibres. Not to say that this is necessarily a bad thing - at least items do not go to landfill. But it is not a charitable action.

The only UK retailers I have found who donate their collected clothes to charities are:

  • Outside – Our very own Dick Turnbull has set up a scheme, run by his sons Robert and James, to receive second-hand outdoor clothing. These are refurbished when needed and sold. The proceeds are then donated to local homeless charities. Sleeping bags are donated immediately without reselling. 
  • Ellis Brigham – You can bring in your old outdoor clothes and they will donate them to homeless charities.
  • Rohan – Has a “Gift your Gear” scheme whereby donated items are gifted to a wide array of charities which are listed on their website. 
  • Alpkit Continuum – Kit can be donated in store or sent free of charge via a Royal Mail Tracked service. There is a comprehensive list of charities served on the Alpkit website
  • Mountain Warehouse – Items will be sold by the charity New Life which will use the funds to buy equipment for disabled children. 
  • The Climbers Shop and Joe Browns – Will send your gear to the Brathay Trust for their youth projects and other charities. 


Details of Outside's Re-action Scheme


Second Point of Call: Give Directly to Charities

As a volunteer in a homeless daycentre, I know that it’s best not to give directly to homeless charities unless you have ascertained that they need your stuff. Don’t just drop a bag in front of their door. I have been on the receiving end of such generous but ill-advised donations. We end up spending a lot of resources in manpower and space to store and sort donations. In the end, we get very few items that are actually usable by our population of homeless who have very specific needs.

That is why I set up KindWinter, with the support of the Rotary Club, to solve this pain point of sorting random donations. At KindWinter we procure the specific equipment that is needed by the homeless in order to withstand sleeping out. We either get gear directly from companies or fundraise and bulk-buy exactly what people need: warm clothing, warm underlayers, waterproof outerlayers, synthetic sleeping bags, bivvy bags…etc The homeless get the right kit, new and clean.

If you are in the outdoor industry, or know someone who is, please consider giving KindWinter a helping hand by donating your surplus stock. 

Alternatively, anyone can make a financial contribution at any time by donating via our website.


And next time we are bivvying, let us all be grateful for the opportunity we have to watch the stars even if we are cold and uncomfortable. Because we are doing so out of choice rather than necessity and, unlike so many others, we have a comfy bed waiting for us back home.


Françoise Call is an Alpine Club member and the founder of KindWinter. 
Contact: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 




Mountain Stability in the Mont Blanc Massif - Summer 2022

Mountain Stability in the Mont Blanc Massif -  Summer 2022

What follows is a summary of a discussion/Q&A that was organised by IFMGA guide Martin Elias on behalf of Chamonix Experience in early August 2022.

It was presented by Ludovic Ravanel, geomorphologist, IFMGA guide and instructor at the Ecole Nationale de Ski et Alpinisme, the French national centre for mountaineering in Chamonix.

The interpretation of his words and their translation from French are by British Mountain Guide Andy Perkins. He accepts no responsibility for injury or death that may occur when following this advice. You are reminded that mountain conditions are, by their nature, changeable and that climbing is an activity with inherent risks to the participant.


A climber stands on a slab of granite, gesturing towards a face. In the background, tracks in the snow of a glacier are clear.


The Situation

The mountains around Mont Blanc changed very little in the previous six to seven thousand years but are now changing very rapidly. The alpine areas are warming two or three times faster than the rest of the world on average.

Inspection of images of the Mont Blanc Massif show very little change to snow cover from the end of the last mini ice age (c.1850) until around 1980. In the last 20 – 30 years, the rate of change has been significant. The effect of climate change on the mountains was noted in 2003, when the Goûter hut was closed due to rockfall in the Grand Couloir. In 2005, a large part of the Bonatti Pillar on the Drus collapsed.

It was around this time that investigation into the link between permafrost and rock collapses was started. A relationship was suspected in research from the ‘70s through to the ‘90s, but now there is a firm statistical link between the two.

Specifically, we are concerned by areas above 2,300-2,500m on north aspects, and above 3,300- 3,500m on south aspects. This is where we know there is permafrost thanks to an increasing number of temperature gauges (now over 100 in the Mont Blanc Massif). With this “heat map”, it is possible to correlate permafrost and increased rockfall activity.

You might think that rockfall/collapse would only increase once the temperature of the rock goes above 0°C, but in fact it becomes a concern from about -3°C.

Alongside melting of permafrost, the loss of thickness of glacial ice is an important contributor to geological instability. The rock underneath the ice expands due to there being less weight of ice on it (known as post glacial decompression). This is what is happening at the base of the south face of the Midi, for example.

In 2015, the Goûter was also closed for the same reason as in 2003, and since then there have been heatwaves in four of the six summers that followed (as well as the ongoing one).

The big difference in 2022 is that:

  1. It was a low snow winter.
  2. May was very warm.
  3. The first heatwave was in June. As a consequence, the warming of the rock started earlier and penetrated deeper into the rock. By mid-July, the internal temperatures of the rock on north aspects were the same as they would normally be at the end of August, so we are 4 – 6 weeks in advance of what happened previously.

On a slightly less grim note, temperatures on south faces are slightly lower than in previous years.


A black and white image of a mountain.


There have been 4 major rock collapse events so far in 2022:

  • The Tour Ronde
  • West face of the Dru
  • Aiguille du Tacul
  • Another incident in Italy

[Editor’s Note: Subsequent to this talk, there was a further significant rockfall, this time on the Cosmiques Arête].

In addition, there is very little snow on the glaciers. This means more ice is melting. There has been a 7m loss of thickness on the Mer de Glace and snow bridges are weaker than in the past.



Avoid North Faces Above 2,300m

For example, the north ends of the Marbrées and the Entrèves are suspect, so better to do these out and back from the south ends rather than as complete traverses.

The heat will keep going into these faces even if/when it starts to cool down, and there could be some big rockfalls this autumn.


Avoid Ridges

This is because the rock is being heated from both sides.


Avoid Couloirs

This is often where there are faults and more instability as a result, plus the debris gets channeled.


South Faces Up To 3,300m Generally OK, But Keep An Eye On Stuff Above

Glacial approaches to these faces may well be problematic.


Be Alert For Microsigns Of Impending Collapse

These include:

  • Grating noises.
  • Water running down cracks.
  • Cracks getting wider than you remember (e.g. taking a larger size of cam).
  • Gravel in cracks.
  • Fresh rock on ledges.
  • Rumbling noises like an empty stomach.
  • Increased rockfall in general – for example there is rockfall below the Triangle du Tacul for the first time ever, meaning that there is no ice left in certain areas there.


Even in the lower areas, there can be a problem with the terrain drying out (aka desiccation), and then a bit of rainfall lubricates it. Hence the recent rockfall on Barberine.

After rockfall has occurred , the hang fire can stick around for a minimum of 10 years. In other words, don’t go to a place where there’s been a recent event in the assumption that it’s now more stable.

There is going to be a big event some time on the Red Pillar of the Blaitière. It might be tomorrow, it might be in 10 years, but there will be one.


A bridge on the Aiguille du Midi, Chamonix
The Mer de Glace Glacier, Chamonix


The Good News

The Aravis is post-glacial, so less issue there (except for desiccation).

Aiguilles Rouges are generally good, though there is overcrowding on the Brevent. Even a short walk of an hour will get you away from many of the crowds.

The Valais is better too, as the strata are generally horizontal so less prone to slippage. One notable exception is the Matterhorn. Purging the Hörnli by removing rock will most likely accelerate penetration of heat into the mountain.

In July 2022, there were lots of “little” rockfalls. In August there are/will be less frequent falls but they will be bigger.

The permafrost will continue to be degraded by:

a) Conduction of heat.
b) Convection by either air in the cracks or (way worse) water. One of the lucky aspects of this summer is that it’s been dry.
    It will be important to keep an eye on the snow-rain limit when the next precipitation cycles come through.
    If it rains above 2,300m, the situation will get quite active.

It’s unlikely that the situation will get any better until there have been a few cold cycles. A heavy snowfall at the start of autumn would be bad, as it would insulate the ground below. The best scenario would be a long, cold, dry period, and then snow after that.

The best period for stability is the end of Spring when the rock is coolest.

The periods when routes come into condition will get shorter. One of the problems with social media is that everyone now knows when things are in, and so there are crowds/queues which lead to their own particular problems.

Alpinists need to be more reactive, and come to the mountains for an experience rather than a specific summit.

Ludovic referred to a need to “deseasonalise” the activity.


Structures in the Mountains

  • The suspended pylon between Grands and Petits Flambeaux is becoming an issue.
  • The foundations of the Grands Mulets too. (Access to the toilets is increasingly problematic).
  • The Midi isn’t a problem just yet, but may well be in the future.
  • It’s unlikely the Goûter hut will reopen this summer [Editor’s Note: The Goûter did subsequently re-open].


We are indebted to Andy Perkins and the organisers of this talk for allowing us to reproduce these notes. While the exact details may change in future seasons, there are many good principles here that alpinists should take note of as we approach climbing in an era of global warming.