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
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
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.