As alpine ice melts, anecdotal evidence suggests that mountaineering may become more dangerous. Retreating glaciers create yawning crevasses, and warmer temperatures generally increase hazards like rock fall and avalanches. With the drastic changes in topography, many guidebooks have gone quickly out of date. And some of climbing's most coveted routes have become too unpredictable to safely attempt.Little did I know when I wrote those words that the Eiger, one of Switzerland's most famous peaks, was poised to shed a large portion of its face. On July 13th, some 20 million cubic feet of stone came crumbling down. The avalanche lasted 15 minutes and blanketed the valley resort of Grindenwald with dust.
Experts are now warning that, as permafrost continues to melt, many Alpine population centers are at greater risk from rock fall and the potential for meltwater lakes to burst and inundate valleys. Among the towns threatened are such world-famous destinations as St. Moritz and Zermatt. Swiss Glaciologist Michael Zemp warned that:
Especially in densely populated high mountain areas such as the European Alps, one should start immediately to consider the consequences of such extreme glacier wasting on the hydrological cycles, water management, tourism, and natural hazards.Computer modelling experiments show that the Alps will lose 80 per cent of their glacier cover if summer air temperatures rise by three degrees Celsius. A five degree rise and you can bid the ice auf wiedersehen.