“I am sure that I will remember my Climate Hike experience for the rest of my life, and share it with anyone who is willing to listen. Glacier is magical and you should see it!” -Erin Mezger
Erin Mezgar is an environmental conservationist who decided to do more for the planet in 2018 by taking on the challenge of Climate Hike Glacier. She was motivated by her love for humanity and our mother Earth and because “climate change is the biggest challenge facing humanity, and I wanted to feel that I was making a difference for our Earth and the places I love. I am an avid hiker and when presented with the opportunity to do the thing I love most, while also supporting a good cause, it was a no-brainer. I chose the Glacier National Park hike because it is an irrefutable example of climate change in real time, and I wanted to witness the changes the park is facing first-hand.”
While you can see the effects of climate change where ever you live, the retreating glaciers in Glacier National Park are, as Erin points out, a dramatic marker. Simply Google “Grinnell Glacier Retreat” and you’ll find scores of images documenting the glacier’s change over the last hundred years. Because Glacier has been a destination over a long period of warming and the glaciers have served as iconic landscapes for visitors, the documentation of their changes is widespread. About 150 years ago, the area had around 150 glaciers. That number has dwindled to less than 40, and is expected to reach zero before 2040 according to recent projections.
Erin also points out that the polar vortex taking over headlines across the US this past week is caused by climate change. Where she lives, seasonal temps of 30-40 degrees Fahrenheit have dropped to 10. The summers in DC have become unbearably hot, and they now have months of rains and flooding that the city infrastructure is unprepared for. Sometimes she cannot use the metro trains to get to work because the underground stations are flooded. However, her primary concern lies with the most marginalized communities that may be forced to leave their homes due to rising seas and food insecurities caused by global warming.
Pulling together to fund the fight and help each other
On her hike, Erin decided to support the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) because it has a 100-year-old reputation of advocating for our public lands and making them more resilient in the face of climate change. When she gives to NPCA through the Climate Ride grants program, she’s confident that the money is being used by incredibly passionate “national park nerds” that will continue to fight for our environment.
Her biggest obstacle on the hike was the elevation gain. She acclimated for Glacier by hiking every week near her home and in national parks, seeking out the highest places she could find. She thought she was physically prepared, and for the most part, she was right – but on the day of the hike to Grinnell Glacier, which is a punishing climb to 6,515 feet, she found herself feeling exhausted about halfway up. She remembered she had only eaten a peanut butter sandwich that day – probably because she got lost in conversation with all of her hike-mates during breakfast! Fortunately, Mackenzie from Climate Ride hung back with her while she stopped for a snack. Then they hiked up to the Glacier to meet up with the group. Everyone on the hike made it to the top and witnessed it together.
Climate Hike has inspired her to consider her own impact on the environment. She is paying attention to big polluters like the beef and clothing industries and divesting her money from them. She is also avoiding purchasing anything with plastic packaging. She pledges to also continue to speak up for our environment to public officials. Erin knows that we all have to pull together to make changes for the planet, but she also knows that if we do, we can fend off the worst of what is coming. Her message is simple, but right in line with Dr. Steve Running and the other speakers from the hike: