Founded in 2014, Furtenbach Adventures has been a lead pioneer in sustainable mountain climbing expeditions with Mount Everest being one of their most well-known excursions. Led by outdoor adventurer Lukas Furtenbach, who has more than two decades of extreme mountaineering experience, the operating team currently holds the highest safety rating in the field.
With that being said, to say that summiting Mount Everest is a challenge is a wild understatement. This is something that Lukas knows all too well, but he also knows that there's another side to mountaineering that many people don't even think about: sustainability.
While one mountain climber isn't likely to make a huge impact on the slopes of Mount Everest, a full year of expeditions can do more damage than many even realize. That's why Lukas Furtenbach has made it a goal of Furtenbach Adventures to prevent - and even eliminate - some of these potentially hazardous effects, and it all starts with the first CO2-negative ascent of Everest by "Sherpa Power."
How Furtenbach Adventures Is Leading The World's First-Ever CO2-Negative Mount Everest Climb
With sustainability at the forefront of every expedition, Furtenbach Adventures' "Sherpa Power" team is the first in history to be attempting a successful CO2-negative ascent of Everest. The ultimate goal is to offset more CO2 than their expedition will even produce, and they plan to do this through a number of technological advances unique to Lukas and his history in mountaineering. Top-of-the-line scientific and medical advances have also factored into this trek, putting Sherpa Power light years ahead of many other operators taking the same routes up and down the mountain.
Of course, every life-changing trek begins somewhere - and Lukas' began at a young age, with an intense passion for these mountains that he now strives to protect.
I grew up in the mountains in Innsbruck and started very early with expeditions to the Himalayas. It was an inner longing that drove me. As a geographer and glaciologist, I have observed the changes caused by global warming in the mountains over the last 20 years, and that made me want to do something.
The expert mountaineer then went on to say that the issue of sustainability on mountains such as Everest, which also double as tourist hotspots, has "long been neglected in expedition mountaineering."
- Fact: Furtenbach Expeditions has been clearing trash off Mount Everest for the last 10-15 years, and much of it has been left behind over the course of a century.
The driving force behind this tremendous cleanup effort and the prevention tactic that is soon to follow this year has come from Lukas' own personal experience climbing the world's tallest mountains. "The inspiration came from having a bad conscience every time I was on an expedition over the past 20 years. Of course, the environmental impact of a climbing expedition is marginal compared to a cruise ship or a ski resort, for example. But still, we come here to these mountains because we admire them, we love them. And finally, in our case, they are our fundamental basis of business."
Lukas believes wholeheartedly that the same people who summit these seemingly impossible peaks also knowingly take on an unspoken pact to protect them. Such a fragile environment such as that of Everest is exposed to every single climber who steps foot on its slopes, meaning that the footprint, by the end of one year, can be significant.
So it must be our obligation to protect them. No matter the cost. It is our responsibility.
He went on to say that while the remote location of Everest obviously provides its logistical challenges, Furtenbach Adventures has found ways to negate the potentially negative impacts climbers can have. "...year after year we learned and improved, and now we are already a big step further. Still not at the end, but much better than years ago."
Just How Big Is The Environmental Impact From Climbers On A Mountain Such As Everest?
Of course, we asked Lukas what the environmental impact looks like for climbers who ascend Everest. While it's not common knowledge to the average person, his response was fascinating. Knowing that collectively, climbers are likely doing more harm than good can completely revolutionize the way expeditions are led in the future. For Furtenbach Adventures, this journey into a more sustainable and eco-friendly climb is already well underway.
The individual climber has no great impact when it comes to the carbon footprint. As is often the case, it's about the bigger picture, a deeper awareness. Climbing itself does not cause much CO2. Of course, there is the flight, transport, heated tent, cooking and many other things. But CO2 has a big impact on the sensitive high mountain landscapes and glaciers.The global temperature increase caused by CO2 has a dramatic effect on glaciers. Not only in the Himalayas, but also in the Alps, in Antarctica or in South America, for example. As a result, conditions on the mountain are changing, routes are becoming more dangerous. But also the water balance of entire regions is affected.
These effects on alpine environments are only the beginning. Lukas then went into the supraregional effects that climbers can have, and from a local level, the effects are even more widespread.
If all mountaineers develop an awareness that even a small contribution can help, that every gram of CO2 that is avoided or compensated for is a small contribution to slowing down global warming, then a lot has already been gained.
It's not just science and data that's leading Lukas and his crew at Furtenbach Adventures into the future of sustainability, however. From a personal standpoint, they've been able to literally watch the changing landscape over time as Everest treks gain popularity, and the human footprint steadily increases until the environment around such a place reflects it as such. "I have been able to see the changes on the glaciers from year to year. And it was frightening. But the ultimate moment to say we need to do more came in my home mountains, the Alps."When one grows up surrounded by such a beautiful environment that faces a threat - one that could be prevented - it goes without saying that sustainability becomes a top motivator. When asked about the drive behind applying this eco-friendly plan to Furtenbach Adventures and their excursions, Lukas said that "the idea has been developing for years." It's safe to say that watching the negative effects on the world's most breathtaking mountain ranges left a lifelong impression.
Here, the consequences of the temperature rise can be seen most dramatically. I decided I only want to do expeditions that meet the sustainability requirement.
Climbing Everest In A Sustainable Way With Furtenbach Adventures At The Helm
The fearless leaders of Furtenbach Adventures aren't only blazing the trail with environmentally-friendly treks. They're also leading excursions with access to top scientific and medical advancements, both of which contribute to their incredible success and safety ratings. When it comes to technological advancements, Lukas has been able to combine a passion for future-forward thinking with the historic mountain routes that climbers have taken for centuries.
A Customized Hypoxic Pre-Acclimatization Program: The Flash Expedition
It's hard to believe that one could climb Mount Everest in only a few weeks' time. Called the Flash Expedition, Furtenbach Adventures is also using cutting-edge technology in the form of hypoxic tents to put climbers through gradual, active hypoxic training before the big trek. The program itself lasts for eight weeks and involves setting climbers up in a range of mock elevations for a varying number of hours in order to acclimate them quickly. By doing so, the goal is to have climbers making their way safely and healthily up the mountain in three weeks as opposed to the traditional nine.
We have spent the last 15 years adapting the equipment we use to our specific requirements and fine-tuning the programme. At the end of the eight weeks, each participant will have spent a fixed number of hours at different altitudes and reached a maximum sleeping altitude of over 7,100m (23,294 ft). In this way, we are able to simulate two full rotations on the mountain.
For those concerned about safety risks, Lukas adds, "In addition, we work with a new live vital parameter monitoring technology to make sure that everyone is safe in this hostile environment where you would die within a couple of hours without additional oxygen."
Arguably one of the most impressive innovations by Furtenbach Adventures, Lukas went on to divulge how hypoxic pre-acclimatization is something he's been experimenting with since 2000. The approach was used for the first time seven years later, but the most fascinating aspect to his journey might just be the fact that he was part of the research process. "In the early years I was a proband in a scientific study about the effects of hypoxia and I found out that the increase in red blood cells was similar to what I had when I came back from an expedition.
So I started to use this technology for my own expeditions and it worked surprisingly well. It was still a long way from this early stage to a market-ready product that you could sell to the C-suite. I was obsessed with the idea to make 8000m expeditions significantly shorter. When we had our first Everest team summiting Everest after only 21 days with a success rate of 100% in 2018, a team of regular clients, no professional athletes, I was absolutely sure that this will be the future of high altitude mountaineering."
Less time away from home, less time spent on the mountain exposed to risks, less energy wasted for doing acclimatizing rotations on the mountgain, and finally, also less environmental impact because of the shorter duration.
The Next Big Challenge For Furtenbach Adventures: The Sustainable, CO2-Negative Ascent To Everest
It started with hypoxic training and now, Lukas is adding additional challenges to his expeditions - however, it's nothing that Sherpa Power can't handle. The first CO2-negative ascent of Everest is set to break records, but that's not the only goal of the trek.
As for the CO2 that can't be offset - as it's nearly impossible to eliminate all of it - Furtenbach Adventures has created a brilliant plan for its use. "We are not only avoiding much of the CO2 that an expedition would normally produce, we have an offset program for the remaining CO2 that can`t be avoided. This offset program is about micro biogas plants for households in rural areas of Nepal." Not only is Furtenbach Adventures leading a more eco-friendly team into Nepal and Tibet, but they're also doing their part to help the rural households that call these mountains home.
Producing biogas for cooking and power on site out of organic waste is a perfect way to help the local rural population, and do good for the environment.
The initiative that the team is supporting is one that already exists, and Lukas explains that rural households in the region are not usually connected to electricity or any other infrastructure. This means that the biogas produced will help many who would not typically have access to modern advances that many are used to.
While the efforts to maintain Everest's clean environment are something that will necessitate an ongoing effort, Lukas does say that conditions have improved on the mountain. "Much has changed in recent years but there are still strong biases. Today every expedition operator has to bring down more garbage from the mountain than they produce. This regulation is enforced very strictly. This way we are cleaning the mountain from garbage that was left from expeditions in the last decades." He went on to say that Everest's Basecamp is already much cleaner than it would have been in years prior, and even the South Col is in much better condition than it once was.
All the oxygen cylinders that we use today are recycled and used again. You won't find any empty oxygen cylinders on the mountain.
The Future Of Furtenbach Adventures & Their Mission For Sustainability
The enthusiasm regarding further future sustainability from Furtenbach Adventures was met with great enthusiasm from Lukas. When asked if he would continue striving to revolutionize sustainable journeys up to the summer of the world's tallest mountains, his response was overwhelmingly positive:
Definitely! After successfully making Everest climbing shorter, safer and with higher chances of success, we now make it clean and green.The future is a one week Eveerst expedition from home to summit. This is possible. Also in a sustainable way.
Those interested in taking their own sustainable, eco-friendly expedition - and one that's shorter than the average with a proven program - can find information at Furtenbach Adventures. Curious about how the expeditions work? Follow along with the Furtenbach Adventures social media pages!