Mountain Science Prof Who Survived Crevasse Now Leads New Program at Western

John All, the founding director of Western Washington University’s new Mountain Environments Research Institute (MERI), says the Cordillera Blanca mountains in Peru is one of the best mountain ranges in the world.

“I always go back there because it’s a great place to work,” All says.

All’s research has taken him across the globe, to places such as the Himalayas, Africa, and Nepal. In 2014, he survived a frightening fall into a 70-foot crevasse in Nepal, where he broke 15 bones.

Even with his experience in search and rescue, the fact he managed to climb alone out of the crevasse, using an ice ax and just one arm, was remarkable. He even had the presence of mind to video his predicament. The video showed him bloodied and wracked with pain, a small circle of daylight far above him. It took six hours to climb out, according to reports.

The story made international news. All’s days in recovery were spent writing a book, “Icefall,” about his adventures and events.

After his fall, All came to the realization that he couldn’t be climbing mountains for research forever. He needed to give people the skills to do these types of research.

“I wanted to make sure nobody else got hurt like I did, and provide training for students to be safe,” All says.

Each year, MERI will be hosting a study abroad trip in Peru. The trip will be during the summer and the students will be visiting Lima, hiking in the Andes, visiting local villages and taking samples of glaciers.

From years of research, All learned that scientists do great work, but few can climb to do mountain research. Climbers, on the other hand, want to get involved with something bigger, but don’t have the research skills to know what they’re doing once they are on the mountain. All’s plan? Get the two groups together for research expeditions. Western’s MERI program was born.

The mountains are in All’s blood, and in his hands. As All talks, he is intently focused on the samples he collected on his most recent trip to Peru. He puts the samples in a container, illuminated with a light from below.

All’s focus: the dust in mountain glacier ice. He has taken samples from mountain glaciers from all around the world. Sampling the dust within the glacial ice is critical because for one, dust makes glacial ice melt faster. Finding the dust’s origin is also key—did it come from fires, wind patterns, or climate impacts?

All says older climbers have told him how much the mountains have changed in the past. They told him, back in the day, that Mt. Everest was easier to climb.

MERI students will study the ice in glaciers as part of Western’s certificate program. They will also learn how to plan exhibitions, write research proposals, and study mountain permaculture. After students finish MERI classes, they’ll receive a Mountain Research Certificate.

The certificate allows students to be more qualified for mountain-related jobs and gives an additional training boost. All says students interested in pursuing mountain research could get jobs in the national forest or park service, in environmental research, environmental consulting, or geological exploration.

All says that getting a Mountain Research Certificate can give mountain or ski guides the qualifications to do more on their job. Since they already have the ability to access mountain areas, the certification can give them research skills to study glacial ice.

“For snowboarders that enjoy shredding the mountain, getting this certificate could add to their love of the mountain but also do good for the world,” All says. “And most importantly, get money.”

The container’s light blinks off and All studies the samples again. He’s still talking, but hasn’t taken his eyes off the glacier dust.

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"After his fall, All came to the realization that he couldn't be climbing mountains for research forever. He needed to give people the skills to do these types of research. "