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AAC to Lead Environmental Expedition to Peru's Cordillera Blanca

Most of the outdoor community has heard of global climate change and is aware that it is due to a combination of natural and human activity. We have all seen and heard about the shrinking of glaciers and melting of the polar caps.

The American Alpine Club (AAC) is leading an environmental mountaineering expedition to Peru’s highest mountain range, the Cordillera Blanca. Nine teams of mountaineers and scientists will collect soil, water, snow, glacial ice, and air samples to determine the environmental impacts of local and global air pollution and global climate change on the Andes Mountains.

The Cordillera Blanca contains the highest concentration of mountains higher than 6,000 meters (19,685 feet) in the Western Hemisphere, as well as the highest mountains in the Tropics.

Cordillera Blanca Environmental Expedition 2011

AAC mountaineering scientists and other AAC mountaineers will spend about four weeks in late June and July 2011 in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca as part of the Cordillera Blanca Environmental Expedition. In conjunction with the Mountaineering School in Marcara, the premiere mountaineering institution in the Cordillera Blanca, the AAC group will work with local climbers to collect valuable environmental samples from elevations too high and remote for most scientists to be able to visit.

Nine teams will collect samples of soil, water, snow, glacial ice, and air from nine regions of the Cordillera at altitudes from the valley floors to the tops of a number of the peaks. Locations of the samples gathered will be coordinated to be at similar altitudes in the nine regions. Air sampling will be done using PPM devices left in place for approximately a week, then retrieved and the particulate matter trapped in the filters analyzed.

Each team will be accompanied by a professional climbing guide from the Mountaineering School in Marcara and one or more Peruvian scientists. We will be training these individuals in use of the equipment and analysis of the data gathered.

The data collected will assist local land managers and scientists studying the environmental impacts of local and global air pollution and global climate-change impacts on the Andes Mountains.

Gathering Met Data i Peru

Daniel, one of our Peruvian colleagues, uses a Kestrel 4500 to measure wind speed and direction during the preliminary 2009 Cordillera Blanca expedition. (Photo: Frank Nederhan)

Team Tasks and Procedures

I will be the Team Leader (Expedition Field Director) for Team 9, which will cover the Quebrada Quilqayhuanca (Quilqayhuanca Valley), at the head of which are the peaks of San Juan (5,843 m/19,280 ft) and Maparaju (5,326 m/15,575 ft), at the southern end of the sampling region. The beautiful and famous peak of Alpamayo (5,947 m/19,625 ft) lies at the northern end of the sampling region, with Huascaran and Huandoy in between. The Quilqayhuanca Valley is close to some of the most active eastern slope mines in Peru.

Below is a video of the Cordillera Blanca region.

In addition to being Expedition Field Director, I have the task of preparing the protocols and procedures for documenting the locations of the samples, along with the boundaries of the glaciers and snowfields. This will be done photographically, using digital cameras linked to GPS receivers to write the location, time, and pointing direction of the camera directly into the image file.

This information will be backed up by downloading all images and handheld GPSR data to laptop computers carried in the field, along with portable external hard drives and good, old-fashioned handwritten data in waterproof notebooks with waterproof pens.

How to Support

A scientific expedition like this is not cheap. So funds are being sought from the outdoor community, both at the individual level (every donation helps, no matter how small) and at the corporate level. The goal is to raise $75,000 for the scientific equipment and other expenses directly related to the study.

  • For further details about the Cordillera Blanca Environmental Expedition visit the American Alpine Club's website at
  • To make a tax-deductible donation click on "Donate page" and select "Cordillera Blanca Environmental Expedition 2011" at the "Allocate my donation to" drop-down menu. You will receive a receipt stating that this is a donation to the American Alpine Club, a 501c3 organization, and it can be deducted on Schedule A of your tax form.

Each of the 18 of us from the American Alpine Club is responsible for our own airfare and $3,000 of the expedition expenses (your donations to the CBEE2011 do not go to individual team members). Even though the economy is said to be recovering, several members of the expedition have had to drop out because of personal financial considerations.

If you are so inclined, you can help me with my personal share of the expedition expenses. Please, email me at for more information.


The AAC does not notify me of any contributions to the CBEE2011. So to check on whether this approach to support for the expedition is effective, please email me at to let me know if you have supported this environmental cause.

The direct URL to the donation page is . Be sure to select "Cordillera Blanca Environmental Expedition 2011" at the pull-down for directing the donation. Filling in your name and address will ensure that the tax receipt gets to you.


A wonderful initiative, you describe above.

I had been a keener hiker, than I am today, but I have been thinking lately, on how environmental mapping, analysis and sampling can be incorporated into hiking, an how this could be done by any lay-person. Through different hiking clubs, I have experienced again and again, among menbers, a signifficantly hightened level of environmental awareness, -to put it simply: most hikers I met, were nature-lowers. At the same time, universities, institutes and government agencies have always been overwhelmed by their work-loads, and it was those hikers, that had strong faworite areas, who became the only real "experts", for such areas. Their nature observations often filled numerous notebooks, but this knowledge never got passed into any other public database.  

Some may claim, it takes a trained professional and a keen statistician, to design a science-worthy sampling campaign. I dissagree. Especially on environmental side, with just a loose connection with a varsity,  institute, or environmental NGO, hikers can cover thousands of sampling points, which will be very informative, and can, if nothing lese, at least lead to follow-up sampling campaigns, by trained professionals. Something  similar, I saw once, called Grassroots Mapping, but it was confined mostly to visual observations.

Especially, as finaces and environemntal constraints lead most of us, to go hiking locally, many of us can become  higher-level "environmental experts" on our own, very local environment. We can then pass our discoveries onto intitutions, or onto media, when alarming facts are found. Some equipment, training and standardization will of course be required. For myself, I think of hiking my gold-mine dominated neighborhood with a Ph meter and sample each and every stream. I bet, my findings will be news-worthy. 







You are right that "ordinary hikers" (if there is such a thing) can be trained to help immensely in environmental sampling and observation. In fact, that is one of the major things we are doing on the Cordillera Blanca Environmental Expedition 2011 - training local climbing guides, porters, muleteers (the guys who help pack gear in on mules for trekkers and climbers), and others in continuing the research, along with training local Peruvian scientists in the climbing aspects.

You mention mining - my team will be concentrating on the southern end of the region, with the large town of Huaraz at the mouth of the valley and the Anta Mina (a huge copper mine) on the other side of the range (Amazon side). These industrial areas, plus global climate change, are having a serious effect on the Andes.

The CBEE2011 is doing this on a shoestring, and we are short of funding - several participants have had to pull out because of the shortage of funds. So every little bit helps. Hopefully more people will be inspired to make even small donations.

Only a couple days left until I am on the plane for Peru and the Cordillera Blanca Environmental Expedition 2011. The expedition is still short of its financial goals (we are at 75% of the original budget), but I do want to thank the couple of Trailspace members who have made contributions. We have had to cut back on some of our goals, and are dependent on post-expedition fundraising to cover the analysis of the samples.

You can still donate at - even small contributions help. The AAC is a 501c3 organization and provides a receipt so you can take a tax deduction. As I said earlier, all the donations through the American Alpine Club go toward the scientific studies, including equipment that will be donated to the local Peruvian scientists who will be continuing the studies. None goes toward supporting the American scientist-climbers (we pay our own airfare, food, and personal gear).

Good luck, Bill.

I'm sure I'm not the only one who will want to read you trip report after you get back.

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