Gathering Moss on Everest: Climbers Rally for Adventurers/Scientists
Written by Alison Osius
[originally published on]

Years ago, when two young twins wandered along the waterways of their Patagonian homeland, exploring, one found a skeleton of a prehistoric marine seal, a new species.

“They named it Benegassorum,” says Willie Benegas, now an alpinist and mountain guide. “Pretty cool!”

So maybe it is a natural that Willie and his identical-twin brother, Damian, this spring joined forces with Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation, collecting plant samples on Mount Everest, from which they returned in May.

The brothers were able to find moss samples up to 21,350 feet, and “definitely” enjoyed the process, in which they followed delineated protocols. “We only needed to be careful not to contaminate the samples!” Willie recalls. As for getting them home through customs—don’t ask, don’t tell.

Established only in January of this year by Gregg Treinish, 29, of Bozeman, the not-for-profit Adventure Scientists aims to bring together the scientific community and outdoor athletes and adventurers in cooperative endeavors. Its website has already taken off as a resource, seen by about 1000 people a day, and offering such banks as a mentors section.

Himself a 2008 National Geographic Adventurer of the Year for a 7800-mile, 22-month journey across the Andes, Treinish describes his impetus in starting the still seat-of-the-pants organization: “I have often had a very selfish feeling when spending extended periods of time on the outdoors. When I began speaking about this selfish feeling with boaters, hikers, climbers, and others, and realized that it was shared, I decided to create ASC to give folks the tools they need to do more with their time outside.”

ASC’s stated aims are to mobilize outdoors people to help the science community gather otherwise difficult-to-obtain data, to give adventure athletes a means to help conserve wild places, and to promote good decision-making in the wild.

Treinish, who has a BA in Sociology from the University of Colorado-Boulder and a BS in Biological Sciences from Montana State University, has also worked as a wildlife biologist and backcountry guide, and through-hiked the Appalachian Trail. On his board are such climbers as Conrad Anker, or the climber-writer Trip Jennings (himself just back from studying elephant dung in the Congo).

Meanwhile, just yesterday two climbers flew from Bozeman to Zurich to repeat Tyndall’s route on the Weisshorn in the Pennine Alps. One of the major peaks in the Alps, this sharply ridged 14,783-pyramid outranks the nearby Matterhorn by nearly 100 feet in height. It was first climbed in 1861 from the town Randa by John Tyndall with the guides J.J. Bennen and Ulrich Wenger.

The current crew, Michael Reidy and Dennis Duenas, will be collecting small rock samples for scientists to look at microbes on their surfaces. Dragos Zaharescu from Biosphere 2 at the University of Arizona will conduct that study to determine their varied degradation rates caused by weathering.

Other recent affiliated climbing trips among ongoing projects include:

Clark Corey – Ice-worm collection for Roman Dial on Chugatch Range Glaciers. Returned in June.

Christine Ichim – Collecting similar rock samples as above from the Eiger, Matterhorn and some Aguilles in Chamonix. Still out.

Lonnie Dupre – Hopes to make first solo January ascent of Denali, collecting similar rock samples as above. Leaves in December.

“Ultimately,” says Treinish, “I want to have everyone who goes outside think about what they can do while they are out there.  I hope that everytime someone goes and climbs a 14er, they look for signs of pika, that every time someone goes to put up a new route, they think about the chance to protect the area they are in through the collection of sound scientific data.”

Willie Benegas is certainly filled with conviction. “Global warming is here,” he says. “I have seen the glaciers of the Himalayas melting under my feet. Finding moss at 21,000 feet is a clear example!”