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Conference Wrap-Up and Final Good-Byes

After 18 days of trekking through the Khumbu, the expedition team returned to chaotic world of Kathmandu for a two-day knowledge sharing conference and a daylong writer’s workshop. After settling-in to the hustle and bustle of the city, we dug into the task at hand: to pull together our experience and knowledge to create tangible recommendations for future work.

Collaboration between scientists like these, researchers, NGOs, government, communities, and all stakeholders is the way to truly solve the problems of climate change.

On the first day of the conference, we listened to talks on glaciers, glacial lakes, and water management that supplemented the information gained on the expedition. On the second day, we streamlined this information into priority recommendations for future research and action. The writer’s workshop solidified these recommendations by drafting one-page proposal outlines for the key recommendations.

One of the most exciting outcomes of the expedition and the subsequent workshops is the formation of the new Global Glacial Lake Partnership, a network of scientists, researchers, NGOs, government, communities, and other stakeholders that will collaborate to address issues of glacial lake management through research and tangible action. It will be fascinating to see how the Global Glacial Lake Partnership evolves and to see the varied research, action projects, and knowledge that emerge from the members.

As participants depart for their home countries and the expedition ends, there is a tangible excitement for the future. And with the Global Glacial Lake Partnership, future collaboration is inevitable.

Thank you for following our stories from the field, and be on the lookout for future glacial lake expeditions across the globe, including here on The Mountain Institute Expedition Blog. To stay informed of future TMI expeditions and treks, make sure to become a fan on Facebook or follow us on Twitter if you haven’t already.

Namaste from Nepal!

- Kate

Posted in Imja Lake, Nepal Expedition (2011) | 1 Comment

Successful Field Expedition!

We’ve survived Imja Lake with all members intact, and safely arrived in Kathmandu. Over the course of our expedition, 35 people of varying levels of fitness and experience traversed over 12 vertical miles in 18 days. Scientists from 13 countries came together to learn from one another about managing glacial lakes. Our workshop over the next 4 days will focus on where we go from here.

A chorten beneath the Himalayas (Photo by Daniel Byers)

One thing we emphasized the the Nepali press yesterday and remains as essential part of this process: we’re working to capture priority recommendations from our experts in order to take action. We have funding available through the adaptation partnership for that express purpose – the goal now is to create and develop the projects that should be pursued.

The field expedition team. The 'tangerine' Summit Series jackets were generously supplied by The North Face. (Photo by Daniel Byers)

All outputs from the workshop including proceedings, powerpoint presentations given by our experts during the field expedition, priority recommendations for action plans, films, the glacial lake management handbook, etc. can be accessed at

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Acute Mountain Sickness

Before our trek began, James made a presentation to the team on acute mountain sickness (AMS) outlining the risk factors, causes, symptoms and preventative measures. Young males suffer AMS at a increased rate in comparison to other groups. As the case may be, our expedition was no exception.

Continue reading

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An update

Dear Readers,

We’ve arrived safely in Kathmandu after a long (7 hour) trek from Namche to Lukla, which involved circumnavigating a hanging bridge that had been taken out by the recent earthquake. At lunch we had a press conference with representatives from major Nepalese newspapers and television shows, where we emphasized our hope that this mission will be not just research, but real action-project reconnaissance. We’re taking one day to catch our breath before the conference and writers workshop get underway, and we hope that this experience will form some strong partnerships for future lake research and management!


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The Mountain Institute and the Imja Lake expedition team says thanks.

Keeping hydrated and protected from the sun are really important at extreme altitude!

It takes the cooperation of many behind the scenes  players to properly equip, support, provide logistics and fund an expedition of this size and representation. The Mountain Institute was fortunate to have a number of contributors. We wish to thank USAID, the National Science Foundation, The United States State Department, Adaptation Partnership, IRG, and ICIMOD. We would also like to acknowledge our corporate contributors and partners who provided products. We are grateful to The North Face, Sunday Afternoons, Polar Bottle, Natures Koffee Kettle and US Space Mobil Communications.

Nature's Coffee Kettle supplied us with their innovative new product for the outdoors:

Keeping hydrated and protected from the sun are really important at extreme altitude. The members of The Mountain Institute’s expedition to Imja Lake were hydrated with Polar water bottles and protected by Sunday Afternoons’ Adventure hats.

Several outdoor product manufactures provided products to support The Mountain Institute’s scientific expedition to Imja Lake. Northface’s waterproof Windwall gloves and fleece caps (and the tangerine Verto jackets featured in an earlier blog) kept us warm and dry. Nature’s Coffee Kettle supplied us with their innovative new product for the outdoors: America’s first “fresh coffee brewer in a bag,” so we could wake up each morning with fresh brewed coffee, tea, hot chocolate or cider and we kept hydrated with clean water carried in 24 oz insulated Polar Bottles.

Members of the Imja Lake Expedition give a "thumbs up" to two of the products used on the trek. Polar Bottle and Nature's Coffee Kettle We were happy to drink clean, cold water and hot brewed coffee at Imja Lake! --


Posted in Imja Lake, Nepal Expedition (2011) | 2 Comments

Water Spirits

In Nepal, the waters live.  Lakes, streams, rivers and glaciers have a spirit all their own.  Nag, the Nepali name for the gods of the water, or lhu, the Sherpa term, inhabit all water bodies.  These spiritual and religious beliefs seep into the day-to-day actions and perspectives of communities.

At all water sources, communities pay homage to the spirits of the water with white flags, shrines, and prayer flags.  If the nag is happy, then the community will be blessed with good fortune.  But if the nag is unhappy or disrespected, then it can inflict illness or other harm.  A community can stay in the good graces of the nag by respecting the water bodies through puja (offering rituals) and by not polluting the water source.

A water puja blessing a new water irrigation project. (Photo by Ornella Puschiasis)

In recent years, these beliefs have been put to the test.  Human waste, mainly sewage, from trekking expeditions should be removed from the mountains.  Where can it go?  Many lodge owners have compromised on the spiritual rules of the water and put the waste back in the rivers and streams, polluting water sources across the Khumbu region.  With the pressures of tourism, cultural norms have shifted.  A sustainable solution to waste in the high-mountains is needed to solve both the problem of pollution and to ease the spiritual tension.

Our expedition incorporated the spiritual aspects of water into our work at Imja Lake.  Before we started our trek to Imja Lake, we held a community meeting with the Khumbu Alpine Conservation Committee.  Within the first few minutes, the spiritual aspects of water came to the forefront the conversation.  Community members recommended that we bring a lama, the key religious figure in the Khumbu, to bless the expedition site at Imja Lake — and of course we did.  By paying homage to the water spirits through religious ritual, we appeased the nag at Imja Lake and ensured the safety of our expedition team.

Looking to the future of this project, the communities’ spiritual beliefs will be incorporated into any solution or action that our team develops.  By honoring the spiritual aspects of water in Nepal, we honor the culture of the local communities.  As a result, The Mountain Institute will gain the support of local communities and the respect the powerful nag of Imja Lake.

- Kate Voss

Posted in Imja Lake, Nepal Expedition (2011) | 1 Comment

The Value of Field Work

The Mountain Institute’s expedition to Imja Lake has demonstrated the importance of “muddy boots” when working in remote mountain communities — of getting out of the office and into the field before designing any program. During the planning of this project (and during the trek to Imja Lake), most of us thought the major challenges would be technical: what is the structure of the terminal moraine; what is the volume of water flowing into and out of the lake; how can we solve the engineering problem of stabilizing the lake so it does not burst; and how can we transport materials to the lake without roads?

The Mountain Institute's scientists doing "muddy boots" research at Imja Lake

However, after being here for several weeks (with our muddy boots), a number of the scientists and engineers are realizing that the greatest challenges may be social and political, not technical.  In development, we prefer to work with host country government and non-government partners. The Mountain Institute in Nepal always designs projects so they are implemented by Nepalis with assistance from an outside partner (i.e., us), rather than development projects implemented by outsiders in Nepal.

It is unclear right now who our best partners might be in the Imja Valley. There are village and district level committees; in some areas, committees of lodge owners are forming.  But there is little or no coordination between the various constituents on many issues.  For example, there is no community water service in these villages.  Instead, individual homes and lodges run their own pipes from the rivers to their own buildings. In some places, a half-dozen black pipes snake across the landscape from the river to the village — everyone acting for themselves.

There is the Sagarmatha (Mt Everest) National Park management.  And there is the Nepali national government. A project of the scale of managing Imja Lake’s flood risk calls for a big partner, not a village of a few dozen families and a handful of tourist lodges. However, the national government’s influence in the Imja area is not evident — there are few schools and no post offices.  In fact, it’s pretty remote at Imja Lake, as this photo shows!

One of the early challenges of any project in Nepal is understanding the communities’ interests and encouraging coordination among many small, at-risk villages to strengthen their voices.  We gain their trust so they work with us — and then we work together with the government and the Park. Technical solutions may seem simple by comparison.  But of course, The Mountain Institute is accustomed to working successfully to gain the trust and admiration of communities, governments and funders, which is why we are so successful.

Posted in Imja Lake, Nepal Expedition (2011) | 6 Comments

A side visit to the Pyramid

After an early morning hike to the summit of Kala Pattar, the group made its way back to Lobuche.  Along the way, we took a side visit to the Italian-funded Ev-K2-CNR Pyramid Research Center to learn about the research currently taking place as well as future opportunities.

The group walks to the Ev-K2-CNR Pyramid Research Center (Photo by Kate Voss)

The “Pyramid” is a high-tech, solar-powered research station in the Khumbu region.  There are several meteorological stations throughout the valley in Lukla, Namche, Pheriche, Lobuche and Kala Pattar that radio transmit real-time data to the research center.  There is also a live video feed of Everest that you can find at:


The Pyramid (Photo by Kate Voss)

However, the research at the Pyramid spans beyond meteorology.  Since it opened its doors, over 300 scientists have conducted research at the research station, ranging from geological to medical to climatic to hydrologic studies.

One project uses an atmospheric brown cloud station at the Pyramid to evaluate pollution dust levels across the Indian subcontinent.  Another project monitors hydrology in the region by collecting data on river flow, glacial retreat and water samples.  And yet another initiative studies the impacts of altitude on humans’ cognitive abilities.

At 5050 meters above sea level, the Ev-K2-CNR Pyramid Research Center is the highest laboratory in the world.  With its solar-paneled sides, it is self-sustaining.  And with a cabinet full of Danish butter cookies, life in the Pyramid is good.

- Kate Voss



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Impacts of Global Processes in the Imja Valley

Global processes are driving changes in the Imja Valley’s (Nepal) social-ecological system (SES). On one hand, climate change has expanded glacial lakes to the point that the lakes are dangerous to the local populations in the glacial valleys. On the other hand, the social system has been transformed by the increased flow of international tourism into the valley. Although pastoralism used to be the main economic driver in the area, it is now a only a marginal contributor. Tourism services (e.g., lodges, guides and climbs to the summit of Island Peak) are now the dominant economic driver in the Imja Valley. The transition from pastoralism to tourism also shows a shift in the services provided by the ecosystem: from depending on pastures and water that sustain livestock herding to depending on the scenic views and trekking landscapes of this SES. Of course, now with larger numbers of people traveling through and depending on this fragile environment, greater efforts must be taken to sustain the landscape so it is not destroyed.

Lodges in Dingboche (Photo by Julio Postigo)

Himalayan Yaks (Photo by Julio Postigo)

- Julio C. Postigo
The University of Texas at Austin & Peruvian Center for Social Studies (CEPES)

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Impressions of Imja Lake: Day 3

On the third day we hiked up to the end of the lake to investigate the confluence of the lake and glacier. Streams of melt water from the glaciers were flowing into the lake. There were many ice cliffs and icebergs floating in the water that had broken recently from the glaciers. On the surface of the glaciers, small pools and ponds had formed.  These cause the glacier to melt even faster because they remove debris from the glacial surface, exposing the bare ice to the sun and its warmth.  There is also glacial melt water flowing under the ice, which may be a contributing factor or indicator of a potential threat.

Waterfall from the edge of Imja Lake (Photo by Daniel Byers)

The Andean scientists that The Mountain Institute has brought on this expedition have decades of experience with glacial flooding and, more importantly, with successful solutions to dramatically reduce the risk of flooding.  They also know how to utilize the water from these lakes to benefit local communities, for irrigation and for hydropower.  They are teaching Himalayan scientists, bringing technology from the Andes to the Himalayas. So much work remains to be done, but The Mountain Institute remains committed to the people of the mountains and to finding appropriate solutions to the daunting issues of the mountains.

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