There is a curious duality to wilderness expeditions; those who undertake them love the natural world they are going into, but the expedition itself is often harmful to that same world. As the outdoor industry evolved from enormous, conquering expeditions used for political leverage to the light and fast style we often see today, this issue became more and more prevalent. Fortunately, many companies and athletes are now changing their expedition style to address this contradiction. The two record-breaking climbs recently completed by Kilian Jornet and Alex Honnold--and the widespread attention they have received--show the growing trend in the modern outdoor industry toward expeditions that cause as little harm as possible to both the environment and the people who inhabit it. Minimalist, ethical, and fair means, these expeditions are the future of outdoor exploration in a world where we are aware of the impact our backcountry travels can have on the environment.
On June 3, Alex Honnold became the first person to free solo the face of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. With nothing but his climbing shoes and chalk bag--no rope, no bolts, no bulky supplies to haul--he scaled the 5.13a route Free Rider in just under four hours. As a climb, it was an incredible feat; Tommy Caldwell even called it the "moon landing of free soloing". As an expedition that left no trace of its passing upon the rock and required almost no gear to complete, it was a beacon of minimalism and doing no harm. Honnold rested on natural ledges, placed no protection, and relied on nothing but the rock and himself to complete his climb in what he calls "the purest, most elegant way to scale big walls." His climb left no trace or harm on the environment he climbed in and required no ethical compromises or unfair treatment of human labor.
Kilian Jornet's speed ascent of Mt Everest, despite its vastly different setting, shared many important qualities with Honnold's climb. Like Honnold, Jornet aims to climb "in the purest way possible", causing the least amount of harm he can to the land and the people in the places he climbs. On Everest this meant no bottled oxygen and no fixed ropes, instead moving "alpine style" up the mountain. Without an enormous support group at base camp or the piles of gear required by more traditional expeditions, Jornet summited Everest in 26 hours. "this is the way...to approach the mountain" Jornet said when describing his expedition method, adding that "in the end, it's the mountain that's in charge and we have to be humble."
Adventuring in the wilderness we love without causing harm is an idea every outdoor enthusiast can believe in: no harm to the environment and no harm to the people. While professionals like Alex Honnold and Kilian Jornet raise awareness about the importance and advantages of minimalist expeditions on a global level, smaller groups and companies live this "no harm" philosophy as best they can every day. At Triad River Tours these kinds of minimalist, ethically-run trips from the bedrock of our river rafting style. Luke Baugh, owner and lead guide at Triad, describes these trios as "no waste, no consumption, just people and nature seeing what they can do together." With all the company's actions based on established principles of safety, experience, and minimalism, Triad lives this philosophy every day.
The purest expedition experience of nature without causing harm to the environment or to people is the goal of these minimalist, ethical expeditions; and while celebrities like Alex Honnold and Kilian Jornet draw media coverage on the cutting edge of this style, influencing the wider outdoor industry, smaller companies like Triad River Tours lead by example on every whitewater river trip we run.
sources:Adventure journal, Rock and Ice "big deal--Alex Honnold Free Solos El Cap" and "Alex Honnold--El Cap Free Solo Interview" and "alex honnold, freerider and what it means for climbing", The New York Times "the calculus of climbing at the edge", The Independent "Mt Everest Fastest Time", Outside Online "Kilian Jornet Summits Everest in Fastest Known Time", the Himalayan Times "Spanish Climber Kilian Jornet Scales Mt Everest Alpine Style",kilianjornet.cat "Summits of my Life"