Climate Change Clarity

16 08 2014

One of my intentions in coming to Glacier National Park was to study climate change. That all went out the window when I recognized the extent of my job description. To this end, I have not been able to explore as much of the park as my previous experiences in Grand Canyon and Yellowstone.

One of the first things we were told in orientation was to not “lecture” the guests and visitors on the subject of climate change. It is a hot topic — pardon the pun. So, off duty, I decided to take an informal poll.

“It shouldn’t be a political issue, it’s a human issue,” said one of my younger co-workers.

The kid is earnest. Twentysomething. Tall, gangly with long hair and a mustache. Works maintenance around Lake McDonald Lodge. It would be fair to call him a hippie.

Human or Political, whatever your view, “Climate Change” had come to Glacier — many times. For there is one thing that is absolutely certain … climate does indeed change.

Intrigued by the company’s line of evasion, I attended several of the Park Service’s environmental programs, where I found more dodgy rhetoric. One of the park’s artists in residence — a songwriter from Texas (surprise) — even refused to reveal his thoughts on climate change, prompting a snarking tourist to ask if he would return to the park once all the glaciers are gone to write a song about it.

Nerd humor at its finest hour.

While the Park Service tries to walk the tightrope, the affects of climate change are obvious here. As our superindendent puts it, “It’s staring at you in the face.”

The glaciers are receeding rapidly. When the park opened in 1910, there were roughly 150 documented glaciers. Presently, there are 25. Call it global warming if you want, but the moving rivers of ice are leaving and what they are leaving behind is quite spectacular.

My ranger friend Christian was the first to truly open my eyes to this whole climate change thing.

“The park wasn’t named for the glaciers, John,” he told me. “It was named for how the park was created by the glaciers.”

Wow.

Christain continued, “This is the biggest misconception we hear from tourists. People come here expecting to see  a lot of glaciers. What they are seeing here, instead, is what the glaciers left behind.”

He was right. These jagged alpine mountains got their rugged good looks from centuries of glacial carving and receeding.

And the Ice Age doesn’t appear to be coming back anytime soon, folks. This summer has been hot. Very hot. In the swealtering Lake McDonald Valley, temperatures have climbed into the 90s quite regularly. Tourists from sun states such as Florida and California, seeking a break from the heat, have surprising found themselves baking aboard one of our red buses.

Sexton Glacier

Sexton Glacier

Meanwhile, seeking a break from the crowds, I embarked on my first challenging hike of the summer — a 10-mile trek on Siyeh Pass. It was a near 4,000 foot elevation gain during the heat of the day. I did it alone — and without bear spray. Fear be damned.

It was an incredible adventure, taking me back to those Grand Canyon hikes with Desmond as the sun beat down and yet I kept climbing, switchback after switchback. A day later, my knee would not forgive me. At the hike’s summit, 10,000-ft Mt. Siyeh, I stopped to eat my sack lunch and gaze across the park. I was indeed on top of the world again.

There was a lot on my mind as I made my descent into Sunrift Gorge. My summer in the International Peace Park had been anything but boring. I was learning a great deal about management and transportation logistics, while beginning to understand the science of climate. And while the experience had left me frustrated and exhausted at times, I am quite certain now I will leave here with new and vitally important skills.

The unkown at this time is just exactly where I will apply those skills next. It may be peaceful in the park, but outside, in places such as Iraq, Gaza and the Ukraine, it has been the summer of war. There is conflict along the Mexican border and civil unrest in Missouri. And on top of all of that, there’s a campaign heating up in Florida.

Stay tuned. 

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4 responses

16 08 2014
Jan McDonald

Great Blog

16 08 2014
Bob Parvin

your best writing yet, John. Use your newfound skills to advance in the park system(s). It’s a good life you’ll regret leaving, if you ever do.
-Parvin

16 08 2014
Cherie hicks

Great read, John, as always.

18 08 2014
davidaltermatt

As always, another heroic adventure John. It’s so much fun to live them vicariously.

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