Explorer Tim Jarvis is climbing all 25 equatorial peaks in the name of climate change awareness. Travel writer Sarah Reid joined him on his Mount Kilimanjaro ascent and found time for a chat.
Meet Tim Jarvis. He’s been stalked by polar bears in the Arctic, pulled a sled 2,000 kilometers across Antarctica, and recreated Sir Ernest Shackleton’s epic 1916 crossing of the Southern Ocean using the same equipment, clothing and food as the original expedition party. By all accounts, he ranks among the world’s greatest modern-day explorers.
More recently, the British-Australian adventurer has been busy scaling the world’s 25 equatorial peaks (with glaciers)—all in the name of climate change. “My journeys to the polar regions over the past 20 years in particular really opened my eyes to how susceptible these fragile regions are to pollution and climate change,” Tim tells Adventure.com. “I feel a responsibility to use my expeditions as a platform to communicate the state of the planet— and what we can do about it—to a broader audience.”
When he’s not climbing mountains, the 52-year-old environmental scientist travels the world as a public speaker, works with a handful of top international companies on climate change solutions, and is a brand ambassador for outdoor clothing company Kathmandu and Shackleton Whisky.
He also has two kids under 10 at home in Adelaide. In other words, he’s a busy bloke. So when we were invited to join Tim on his most recent expedition—an ascent of Mount Kilimanjaro—we grabbed the opportunity to learn more about the man and his latest project, 25zero, en route.
Adventure.com: What is 25zero?
Tim Jarvis: 25zero is a project that uses dramatic images of melting equatorial glaciers to ‘show’ climate change, to educate and engage new people in the issue and fund climate change projects. Showing climate change is important—seeing is believing for many people and climate change suffers from the fact that we can’t physically see greenhouse gases.
Why the focus on equatorial glaciers?
Melting glacial ice is one of the clearest indicators of climate change, and nowhere is it more apparent than where you’d least expect to find ice—along the equator, where there are only 25 mountains with glaciers. Within a quarter of a century, these glaciers will be gone due to climate change—in some cases, far sooner. In fact, four have already lost their glaciers in the last few years.
“Losing my expedition partner in a blizzard during my Trans Antarctic expedition in 1999 was also an interesting moment. I found him after several hours, but suffered frostbite as a result.”
What was the inspiration behind the project?
I suppose you can say 25zero was ‘inspired’ by the dramatic retreat of the Konig Glacier on South Georgia, Antarctica, which I witnessed while retracing Shackleton’s Southern Ocean voyage in 2013. The Konig was one of three glaciers Shackleton crossed a century ago, but when we arrived, it was a lake! We spent hours trying to figure out how to get around the thing, and ended up having to wade through it.
Have there been many other hairy moments during the 25zero expeditions?
On a mountain in Ecuador called Illiniza Sur, I slipped on something called La Rampa (The Ramp). A fall from where I was would have been a fatal 500 meters down a very steep face. It got my heart rate up, I can tell you. On my descent of Mount Speke in Uganda’s Rwenzori mountains, I also slipped and popped my right knee out. It was painful, but fortunately I didn’t have an ACL to rupture as there isn’t one in my right knee due to an old sports injury.
Losing my expedition partner in a blizzard during my Trans Antarctic expedition in 1999 was also an interesting moment. It was -40°C with high winds and my survival would have been almost impossible without the shelter of the tent, which he was carrying. I found him after several hours, but suffered frostbite as a result.
In 2015, you beamed footage from the top of one of the 25zero mountains, Carstensz Pyramid in Papua, Indonesia, into the COP21 Climate Change Conference in Paris, which contributed to an international climate deal being reached. That’s pretty badass.
It was a pretty special moment, although work is still needed on the Paris Accord to make it effective. The Accord is like going on a diet. The legally binding bit is the fact we’ve all signed up to going on the diet. The amount we’ve agreed to lose however isn’t enough.
And the US has already pulled out …
When it comes to Trump, I don’t know which I find more staggering—the fact that he doesn’t believe in climate change or the fact that he thinks he’s serving America’s interests best by pulling out of the Paris agreement. There are millions of US jobs in renewables and related technologies, but these are reliant on policy certainty around climate change. There are only 51,000 jobs in coal in a sector that is declining rapidly. Go figure.
“It’s probably too late to save these glaciers. The bigger question is: When these glaciers are gone, what else are we prepared to lose?”
What runs through your mind when you summit each 25zero mountain?
It’s always mixed feelings. On the one hand, reaching the summit of a mountain is always a great feeling, especially the challenging ones. On the other hand, the summits provide a view of the extent to which the glaciers have melted which is sad and sometimes pretty confronting.
Which mountain will you be climbing next?
I have 10 mountains to climb now as part of the 25zero project—five in Colombia, four in Ecuador and Mount Kenya. The next mountain will be Mount Kenya in March 2019. It’s not only a pretty challenging climb but its glaciers are melting at one of the fastest rates of all the 25zero mountains. This is disastrous, as its glaciers support the livelihoods of many local people in what is a very dry region.
It’s difficult to imagine Kilimanjaro without its iconic hat of ice and snow. Can any of the 25zero glaciers be saved?
It’s probably too late to save these glaciers. The bigger question is: When these glaciers are gone, what else are we prepared to lose?
A short film documenting Tim’s Kilimanjaro expedition is due for release in the coming months. Visit the official website, 25zero.com, for updates on the film, as well as info on past and future 25zero expeditions. You can learn more about Tim’s environmental work and other expeditions at timjarvis.org.
Sarah Reid is an Australian travel writer, currently living out of a backpack somewhere in Africa. She specializes in sustainable travel and writes for a range of travel publications in Australia, the UK, the US and beyond.