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Aspen’s Aron Ralston hitting new heights for climate change

Charles Agar
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN ” In a town of outdoor overachievers, climbing Mount Everest is almost routine, but Aspen local Aron Ralston will join modern-day adventurer Eric Larsen on the roof of the world for a cause.

The pair hope to raise awareness about climate change in 2009 as part of Larsen’s Save the Poles Expedition, his larger effort to be the first man to reach the North and South poles and climb Mount Everest, the world’s highest peak, in one year. (Larsen was the first man to reach the North Pole in summer.)

Ralston is best known for his now-legendary survival story and experience in Utah’s remote Blue John Canyon ” he amputated his own arm after it was pinned under a boulder in order to escape certain starvation.



Since his harrowing experience, Ralston has made a full-time business of motivational speaking and advocating wilderness causes.

He’ll join Larsen’s team as an advisor to teach the experienced polar explorer about mountaineering.




“He’s used to the flat frozen spaces,” Ralston quipped of Larsen.

On recent polar expeditions, Larsen has noticed huge losses in ice pack ” an effect exacerbated at the poles ” and it has disturbed him enough that he wants to do something about it, Ralston said.

“It’s more than just the carbon emissions from the rest of the planet,” Ralston said. Reflection from snow melt and increased methane are multiplying the effects in sensitive polar regions and at high altitude.

Members of the expedition will collect scientific data and study ways people can make a difference through reducing carbon emissions.

After the adventure ” the expedition hopes to send as many as four people to the summit in the spring of 2009 ” the group will use its experience to visit schools and to promote solutions for global warming, anything from reducing consumption (driving less, turning down the thermostat and using efficient appliances and light bulbs) to the growing push to create clean energy or buy offsets.

There would be some fulfillment in a simple, self-serving ego boost to the top of Everest ” a longtime goal, Ralston said ” but he hopes the trip will be more.

Ralston pointed to the paradox that only by being of service to others can a person achieve all of the self-actualization and fulfillment they seek.

“I don’t have to do this to prove anything to myself, but it’s giving me a great cause to do it,” Ralston said.

Ralston and Larsen already have begun training ” they recently scampered up Castle Peak near Aspen ” and in coming months the pair will travel to the high plains of the Andes and later Alaska for more high altitude experience.

It’s not the first time Ralston has trained someone in mountaineering, and he said oftentimes endurance athletes like Larsen quickly eclipse the skills of the teacher. Ralston also expects that Larsen’s core toughness and ability to handle inclement weather will stand him in good stead on the high peak.

“It’s not a massive expedition,” Ralston said, but it’s the largest he’s helped organized.

And Ralston, who is a member of Mountain Rescue Aspen, said he’s benefiting from the collective experience of friends and locals in town.

“I probably know ten people in town who’ve climbed Everest already,” Ralston said.

The pair will send messages via blogs and Internet posts from the route, then will visit schools and groups after the adventure as a way to help “address this tremendous situation we’re all in together,” Ralston said.

It’s a message Ralston conveys through his very actions, he said.

Ralston flies 50,000 miles per year and drives as much as 20,000 miles on speaking engagements or for work as a consultant, but buys energy offsets and runs a zero carbon footprint.

“What I can’t reduce or make more efficient, I can offset,” Ralston said.

cagar@aspentimes.com.