The water challenge: ain´t no mountain high enough?

  • A personal experience of how the world transforms under climate change. 

This is Solvatten; where technology meets purpose and long-term benefits, human intervention, bravery, creative energy, and dreams of a better world. “ Meet-Up” is a series of meetings that we want to share to provide some glimpses of hope in a darkening time. We invite guests that inspire, pushes and moves us and we hope it will move you to. In this first series we have meet with Parul Sharma, human rights activist, and Andri Snaer Magnason, author and film director from Iceland. And today we are meeting Andreas Wadström, Adventurer, athlete and crisis expert.

Do you have an idea or suggestion or who you would like us to meet? Please drop us an email at And remember to also support our work with practical action as we provide solar powered water treatment technology to families and communities in Sub Saharan Africa. To places where grid electricity and water infrastructure still is a distant dream.

Now, think back to the last time your eyes were wide open and your mouth was a gape and the hairs on your neck stood on end as you took in a profound or inspiring sight. Do you remember that overwhelming feeling?

On today’s episode of “ Meet-up” we are joined by Andreas Wadström, Senior Advisor at Murphy solution and mountaineer to talk about this profound experience of awe, and deep understanding of a world that is quickly transforming under an escalating climate crisis. Climbing a mountain can be tough and dangerous. Andreas climbed 66 peaks over 4000 meters in 66 days this summer. That’s tougher.

David: So Andreas, thank you for your patience and welcome. Can you please give us some background to how it all started?

Andreas: Thank you, David. And thanks for having me here. This journey started a long time ago. We must go back when I was 12 years old and my father took me to the Swedish highest mountain, Kebnekaise. I can remember is as it was yesterday. I remember walking up this glacier alongside a small glacier river coming down from the glacier and then moving up to the big glacier just below the summit of Kebnekaise. And I remember it as it was big. You have this glacier wells coming just straight down in the glacier. This journey really made me feel the passion for a mountain. And it was the starting point for me being in the outdoor and being out in the mountains as much as I’ve been since that point. But it also was a point where I picked up a good self-confidence. Because climbing Sweden’s highest mountain at 12 made me see the world in a in another perspective. So, it was a big change for me.

And last year, I was doing the same walk with my seven-year-old son. We walked the same path of this jökel and up to this same glacier, the big glacier underneath Kebnekaise that used to be the summit. But this year, more than 25 years later, there wasn’t so much of that glacier left. And at that point, I realized that my children won’t be able to walk over this glacier with their children. So just in one generation or two, the glaciers has been disappearing.

Andreas: That was the starting point for me to do something to raise awareness about the melting glacier. And in Sweden, the glaciers are melting, but we see even worse melting in the Alps in Europe. So that was the starting point for my project. And the project, as you said, was climbing 66 peaks in 66 days which I finished. But the initial goal was to climb 82 peaks in 82 days, but I had to stop because of the weather. The conditions in the mountains were not good because this summer has been warmer. They have never recorded so much glacier melting as this year. So yeah, this was the starting point, to raise awareness about this very important question for me.

Solvatten: To hear that first story of you, being a child visiting the Kebnekaise is amazing. And then this summer, how could we forget this hot summer in Europe? It’s been catastrophic also in the mountains. So, tell me more about the summer? How was it different from how you expected it to be?

Andreas: I started this project in May. And normally during this time, it’s possible to ski a lot of the mountains. And the glacier is normally in quite good conditions. The snow from the winter usually covers the glacier, so it’s easy to march with the skis on and to access the peaks. But during this project, or at the beginning, I started in the Bernese Oberland, in the Grunewald in Switzerland. And there was crevasses everywhere, and they haven’t seen so warm temperatures in the beginning of the projects. So, for me, I had to change a little bit of the plans, instead of skiing, I had more walking to do and I could not use the glacier so much. I had to change the plans and take other routes to reach the summits of the mountains. I had to use more of the rocks to reach the summits. So yeah, that was a big change in the start of this project. And this contined all the summer.

Solvatten: So, you were doing most of this yourself, or did you have a group of people around you? Or can you tell me more about who were with you?

Andreas: I climbed with a lot of people but doing the first peak, the Jungfrau Joch, I did together with my wife, Miriam. That was an amazing feeling to stand on this mountain together. We started there in the Grindelwald climbing those mountains. And then I climbed with mountain guides from different parts of Europe, but I also climbed with other climbers that I know from before and that I also got to know during this project, so I probably climbed with around 10 plus people. The best would have been to have found one person who could be with me all the time. But it was hard to find someone that could be away for 82 days and do this push.

Solvatten: You had quite high tempo. It got me thinking that when you stand up there and watch mountains, you would get this feeling of awe, or inspiration. How grand the view and the mountains are. Peak moments, but then you had to run back quick to go up the next mountain. Did you ever have time to like, soak that peak-feeling in?

Andreas: Yes, I had. But still, as you say, I mean, I was pushing for the next mountain. And once you’re down or even when you’re on your way up, you need to start to plan for the next mountain. Because you cannot make a solid schedule on climbs like this, the mountains and the conditions are changing constantly. So, what is a good mountain climb today might not be that tomorrow. You need to follow the weather forecast closely and try to figure out and talk to other people in the mountains to learn about the conditions on different routes. Of course, I had beautiful experiences. I slept in a sleeping bag on a 4000-meter height watching the mountains and valleys. It’s quite amazing being in the alps because you can in the same day be in a village, having a pizza and then you can walk up 4000 meters. And then you’re in a totally different setting. You have the village down there in the valley. That’s quite unique for the Alps. Going to Himalaya or other peaks around the world, they’re more remote.

“Right now, in Europe half of the glaciers have disappeared in the last nine years.” 

Solvatten: So, tell me besides the athletic challenge to climb 66 mountains over 4000 meters, you were also a witness of the rapidly collapsing glaciers in the Alps then. Science says it’s nearly irreversible now. And if all the glaciers of the world would melt, most of what today is land would be underwater. How awful is that? And when glaciers melt like this, what’s happening with the mountains?

Andreas: First I look at myself as a 12-year-old, and the south summit of Kebnekaise was higher than the North Summit. In 50 years, the summit has decreased 50 centimeters, half a meter, every year. And I think as you said, this year might be the first one that it temporarily had stopped, but still the trend is like a half meter declining every year.

Right now, in Europe half of the glaciers have disappeared in the last nine years. And that’s a rapid change. Now, this is going faster and faster. You can see this movie clip from my Instagram here on one of the moments. I was really shocked about this. I was in Chamonix, for the first time in 2005 and the glacier I was skiing on is now gone, this clip will show you. In 2005, when I was there the first time, you could ski on this level, and then we could walk up and take the lift down. Now this time, as you can see, it’s more than 200 meters below. There is no glacier left. It is really shocking, when taking the stairs down to the bottom, you can see how fast the glacier is disappearing every year. And you can also see that it’s melting faster and faster for every year. That’s a big, big change.

Watch the movie clip here: IMG_9294

Solvatten: You were really 360 degrees surrounded in nature, but you could still notice the effect and presence of civilization. How it has an effect on everything. How did this kind of experience make you feel? A first-hand experience?

Andreas: A big thing for me was hearing all the stories. For instance, you could hear stories from managers of mountain huts. Many mountain huts in these areas have been kept for generations. And they can see how it changes faster and faster. One of the biggest routes going up to the mountains from the Italian side, the Gondella, had to close because there was no drinking water because of the glaciers melting. They can no longer use water normally. There were lots of these huts that need to close much earlier in the season. And some of them couldn’t even be open because the glaciers above them had decreased so much that they could not get any water. And the only way to get water up to the hut is now by helicopter. That is not environmentally friendly. So, the huts must close and that resulted in that I had to carry a lot of water all the time going up. There was no not so much snow either. And in the mountains, you are hearing all these stories. I wouldn’t say it was all shocking, but it was sad to hear it from them.

“No one really believed me and probably not even myself”

I met so many mountain professionals, and mountain guides. I talked to them, and I learned about their decision to make a career change and so on. The mountains are too dangerous now. They’re getting more and more dangerous, because what is happening is that the permafrost on the higher mountains, normally over 4000meters, is always minus degrees, which means that rocks will stick together. But now during this time of the year, and the last years, the permafrost is starting to melt. And then the big rocks come falling down. So that was the main thing why I halted the project. When climbing near the summit of one of these 4000-meter peaks and there were rocks coming down. I had experienced those rock falls before. And then I knew that it would only get worse and worse. So that was the turning point for me because the mountains have become too dangerous.

Solvatten: I heard that this is common, that mountaineering accidents often happens when rocks tumble down.

Andreas: Yes, in this type of climbing, you can see a lot. In Chamonix, which is the main area for mountaineering in Europe, you see a lot of helicopters coming down. And most of them is because of the rock falls. And, the normal route up to the mountain, which most people climb, was closed because of the rock falls. I had a friend who was guiding there, and he said he saw a piece of rock, like the size of a car coming down. So scary.

Solvatten: What an experience. Do you have three takeaways from this whole experience?

Andreas: First of all, climate change is here. And it’s going faster and faster, that’s for sure. I can see it myself in the Alps. If it’s irreversible or not, I don’t know, I mean, I’m not a scientist. But I know that what I saw is real. And I also know that when you listen to the people and hear the stories from places where you can really see it, like my video here from 2005 until this summer. I mean, it’s astonishing to see those changes. And you don’t really see that things happening slowly over time. Unless you don’t have the pictures to compare with or you don’t have memories from times before. So that’s one takeaway. And we need to act now. I mean, everyone needs to take responsibility for this. The second thing I would say, is cooperation. You mentioned, in the beginning, I work as a crisis management consultant and one of the most important things during any crisis is to know yourself, and also, the organization’s around you to work together. Because if we’re working together, we can, we can achieve really, really good things together.

Solvatten: That’s the strength of a community. It could be a pandemic, it could be a forest fire, really anything but we would be so much better off together compared to not working together. If we can just do this together, we can achieve a lot. So, coordinate and build resilience with people around you.

Andreas: Yes, resilience is a word we are discussing a lot. The ability to bounce back after something happened. That’s nature and you can see it all the time. I think we could probably see that also with the glaciers, if we just start acting, glaciers can bounce back up. It’s built into nature. The last thing for me as an individual, you CAN climb peaks. You can do so much more than you think. A year ago, when I first had the thought, talking to my wife and talking to friends that I had this plan of climbing all the 82, 4000-meter peaks in Europe. I mean, no one really believed me and probably not even myself, but the small step all the time can make huge, huge things and you can do so much more than you think.

Solvatten: Great three takeaways! And that comes with the insight from deep within. That is also an inspiration for others that just sit on the sofa. Thank you so much Andreas. It is great that you use your voice and spread awareness of the climate crisis and the escalating water situation and water crisis in the wake of climate change. Water – it’s too little of it or too much of it or the quality of water is unfit for drinking. We at Solvatten know, as we work with these projects every day, it´s a far too big problem in the world and we need to make more people aware of it. Finally, I want to know what’s next for you? Do you plan to bring your children up on all these peaks? Or maybe in Sweden?

Andreas: Yes, there are many plans. But first I wanted to say a thing about Solvatten. That for the people in the Alps, it’s really sad that the glaciers are melting, but they’re not really the ones that face the most serious consequences of the melting glaciers. Just think of the rise of the sea because of the glaciers melting in the North and the South Pole. I think what you’re doing with Solvatten is so good that you support the people that already pay the highest price for this. For me and plans, I have, as my father did, a goal to take all my three kids to the summit of the Kebnekaise. I will do that for sure. I will take my middle daughter next year, to do the same routes, and then hopefully, my youngest daughter as well as when she’s in age. Then later well, hopefully I will try to push myself in the mountains also in the Alps and complete those last peaks during the winter season when it’s cold around and the mountains are in better conditions, so you don’t have the rockfalls.

Solvatten: You wanted to pass on a challenge to two more people to push harder and go beyond their limits. Who are they? And why them?

Andreas: I would pass the challenge to the politicians because they’re the ones who can do the most to climate change and this matter. Political leaders, I know that they also like being in the outdoors. I know, they are also hiking, I know they’re doing outdoorsy stuff. They are the ones that can ultimately push the big changes that need to be done. If we can just make the planet a little bit better for the next generation, I would be so happy. Every father, every mother out there that could take their kids out to the mountains, do it. It will be so good, because you see, you can connect to nature and in a sense, you will also do something about it.

Solvatten: Thank you Andreas. Final words are that we should always remember that the meaning of life is what we make of it. The children’s future and the health of our planet is really all our business. Thank you again for coming Andreas, we’ll keep following your adventures.

Andreas: Yeah, hopefully next year I can be back here and I’ve finished what I started, thank you.