Posted on: March 1, 2006
The first signs of Barry Blanchard's alpine vocation came when he was ten years old. He was riding a Greyhound bus when a woman began to read out loud to him from Heinrich Harrer's The White Spider, the 1938 account of the first ascent of the Eiger's north face (see "The Calling" in this issue). It's easy to imagine how a child might find the book compelling: Harrer describes the mountain as a monstrous, beautiful thing, waiting to test the courage and focus of those who would climb it:
The "Spider" on the Eiger's face is white. Its body consists of ice and eternal snow. Its legs and its predatory arms, all hundreds of feet long, are white, too. From that perpetual, fearfully steep field of frozen snow nothing but ice emerges to fill gullies, cracks and crevices. Up and down. To left, to right. In every direction, at every angle of steepness. And there the "Spider" waits.
Yet, as many climbers know, since 2003, the "Spider" waits no longer: its radiating lines of ice have melted, leaving only loose choss slopes. The 1938 route, one of the most iconic climbs in mountaineering literature and history, is now lost to global warming.
It is one of many historic lines that are gone. The Bonatti Pillar, the North Face of Les Droites, the Grand Teton's Black Ice Couloir, Mt. Kenya's Diamond Couloir: the names read off like lists of the dead. The snows of Kilimanjaro are forecast to melt in ten years. When Dieter Klose flew over Alaska's Coast Range in the fall of 2004, he observed that three major snow gullies on the Devils Thumb, Mt. Burkett and Oasis Peak had all disappeared. Worldwide, the alpine landscape that inspires all of us, may, in the next few decades, persist only in words, memory and imagination.
It's ironic, then, that the printed matter of books like The White Spider—and of magazines like Alpinist—that extol this landscape also contribute in a significant way to its destruction. According to The PAPER Project (a joint study by Co-op America, Independent Press Association and Conservatree), the pulp and paper industry is the second-largest energy consumer in the US: magazine production consumes 2.2 million tons of paper per year, requiring the annual logging of more than 35 million trees. The loss of natural forests not only affects the views from the mountaintops and walls, but also results in both the release of carbon dioxide and the depletion of carbon sinks that would absorb it—thus increasing the amount of a greenhouse gas that is one of the main causes of global warming.
In the US, 90% of magazines are thrown out within a year of publication. Most of them wind up in landfills, where they give off methane, the most potent greenhouse gas, as they decompose. Since our start, in an effort to avoid this outcome, we've been inspired by The Surfer's Journal, the magazine published by Steve and Debbee Pezman out of southern California. Like them, we use a sewn binding; we're the only two magazines in the outdoor industry to do so. We've taken some pride in the archival-quality publication that results: by combining distinctive editorial content, striking photos, heavy-stock paper and a sewn binding (almost all other magazines use glue, which falls apart relatively quickly), we've tried to create a work of lasting value, one that our readers will save and, by extension, one that stays out of the landfills. A reader survey we completed in 2005 suggests we're headed in the right direction: 97% of Alpinist readers archive their issues.
Our team has spent the past year researching additional ways to minimize our ecological footprint. Beginning with Issue 15, we're now printing on 50% recycled paper using soy-based inks. The remaining fibers come from responsibly managed forestry approved by the PEFC (Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification) Council. We've set up a schedule to switch to 100% recycled paper within five years.
Some members of the print industry argue that the energy used to create recycled paper causes as much ecological damage as the milling of virgin paper. Our research, however, indicates that recycled paper significantly reduces environmental impact: by decreasing pressure on natural forests and wildlife habitats, we'll help preserve them for the future. Furthermore, while typical paper mills produce chlorinated organic compounds, many of which are carcinogenic, Alpinist paper is made in a Total Chlorine-Free (TCF) facility. Our archival quality, recycled paper and use of responsible forestry products allow us to create the outdoor industry's first sustainable printing practice.
We estimate that our new production methods will save 339 trees a year, while reducing carbon dioxide emissions equivalent to the amount produced annually by three cars. (Environmental impact estimates were made using the Environmental Defense Paper Calculator. For more information visit www.papercalculator.org.) This difference may not seem like much on the national scale, but it permits us to offer a lasting contribution to climbing culture, while doing everything we can to protect the source of all our stories—the environment—for us, and for our children, to enjoy. We'll continue to develop our practice, one we hope other outdoor magazines will emulate. The economic costs are higher to us as a company, but as climbers, writers, photographers, editors and readers we can't afford to continue the destruction of the routes we celebrate and the lifestyle we've embraced.
Here at Alpinist, our small editorial staff works hard to create in-depth stories that are thoughtfully edited, thoroughly fact-checked and beautifully designed. Please consider supporting our efforts by subscribing.