How mountaineering advanced science


Today 150 years after the pioneer scientist and mountaineer John tyndall climbed the Weisshorn in the Swiss Alps, professor at Montana State University Michel reidy climbed the mountain too.

“Tyndall did it in 7pm. We did it in 6:45 pm, ”he said. “It was stupid to do it initially, and I would never do it again.”

Reidy aimed to learn more about Tyndall and how mountaineering advanced science.

“Without needing to do this science you don’t get the sport of mountaineering and without mountaineering you don’t get this type of science,” he said.

Tyndall and his climbing team were the first to climb the Weisshorn in 1861. He was a frequent visitor to the Alps and made important discoveries in understanding air and glaciers.

As Tyndall used his rock climbing to advance science, Reidy teamed up with an Arizona State University researcher who needed mountaineers to help him collect data. Reidy collected rock samples every 100 yards.

“The beauty of it is not only that I study this scientist and the history of mountaineering and wake up the ghost of Tyndall, but I was able to do the exact type of science that Tyndall did. in this vertical lab, ”he said.

Mountaineering scientists have transformed ideas about the natural world, climate change and evolution.

“These scientists were practicing a type of science that is still practiced today and that transformed our understanding of the world,” Reidy said. “The history of mountaineering is full of fundamentally transformative experiences and experiments”.

Scientists in the 1860s and 1870s noticed that glaciers were retreating in the Alps. Using temperature data dating back to the 1540s, they noticed that heavily polluted London was getting warmer. Pollution traps heat.

“They didn’t note it’s as we note it as a large scale thing, but they thought maybe we shouldn’t pollute London – but Liverpool were OK to pollute. And they said “hey, that’s great, the glaciers are receding so we can climb more easily,” he said.

Plus, these rock climbing scientists, who take measurements and experiment along the slopes, have climbing technology as advanced as nails in their shoes for grip.

“Weisshorn kills about one person a year and 17 people die in the Alps each year, and these guys are doing it without modern ropes and without drinking wine. Can you imagine? ”Said Reidy.

“The Andes created all of South America” ​​- Charles Darwin, 1834

The Beagle’s five-year trip around the world means people associate Charles Darwin and this research with islands and oceans, but Darwin was first a geologist and loved mountains. There are 43 mountains and mountain ranges that bear his name.

“Darwin doesn’t get a lot of credit for being one of the founders of mountaineering,” Reidy said. “That was before rock climbing existed, but he was a climber, an early mountaineer.”

And something from an advanced bagger, writing in South America in 1833: “How universal is the desire of man to show that he has climbed the highest point in every country.

Darwin extensively explored the tip of South America, particularly between Chile and Argentina. He made two major trips to the Andes Mountains, reaching around 14,000 feet, very high for the 1830s.

“It would have been a deep, deep desert,” Reidy said. “He’s a conservative thinker until he hits the mountains. He slowly convinces himself of the old age of the earth.

Darwin begins to believe that his discoveries will change the world. He knows he’s going to need a lot of proof.

In Terra Del Fuego in southern South America, he realizes that the mountains were islands and the oceans were once higher or the mountains much lower. He realizes that the earth rises and falls during geological periods.

During a hike to the Uspallata pass, he finds a petrified forest at 7,000 feet. He must therefore think about the geological sequence of events, a forest submerged and covered by volcanic activity and thrust to thousands of feet.

“If you read his journals, they’re boring, on the beadles and my students hate that,” Reidy said. “But in the mountains, his mind clicked and no assumption was too drastic.”

In the middle of the Andes, he proposes a theory of coral atoll formation via a slowly sinking ocean “which no one believed for about a hundred years, but it turns out he’s absolutely right and that’s our modern theory.”

Darwin published a book on his geological explorations and the first cross section of the Andes.

“He finds out that you can date the areas and their rise and fall based on fossils,” Reidy said. “It makes him think about when and how these beings get there. It is because of and through the rise and fall of mountains that he proposes the theory of evolution.

He ruminates on his observations. He writes in notebooks. He sticks his story on the top shelf and doesn’t tell anyone for a while. It’s like “confessing to murder,” he writes, realizing that species are not immutable but evolve.

This friend, JD Hooker, is traveling to the Himalayas. He is the first to travel with the theory of evolution in mind. Like Darwin, it is oriented vertically and traces areas of vegetation as the altitude changes.

â–ºThe final Bringing the U to You conference is “What do we eat for dinner?” Rethinking the dinner table ” with Florence Dunkel, MSU pioneer in insect cooking and in the use of alternatives to chemical pesticides. The conference will be held from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Great Falls College MSU Heritage Hall. Tickets cost $ 10 at the door. Student tickets cost $ 5 per conference.