Yosemite National Park remains among the largest preserved wild spaces in the world, but with over 4 million visitors annually, it’s becoming more and more difficult to find solitude there. This month, Yosemite was thrust into the media as the United States became aware of (and potentially a little obsessed with) two rock climbers trying successfully to free-climb the Dawn Wall, which is the most difficult route on one of Yosemite’s iconic rock faces, El Capitan. Through mobile phones and hotspots, climbers Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson shared and received real-time updates (including photos and streaming videos) with friends, family, and of course the media.
The climbers spent 19 days off the ground, much longer than the typical iPhone battery could ever last. So, they hauled solar powered chargers up the wall with them to power their phones, lights, cameras, computers, and other gadgets. Their solar gear came from Goal Zero, one of a few companies that fill the niche for mobile/recreational solar power kits for athletes and travelers.
All the Mod Cons
These devices, although they lower demand for energy infrastructure in wilderness areas, are among many new technologies that are allowing visitors to enjoy modern niceties while enhancing preservation efforts in the face of record numbers of visitors. Over the years, the park has had to develop strategies for transportation, sanitation, power, and communications that support preservation.
Another big issue is constant, full bandwidth connectivity. On the Dawn Wall, the climbers enjoyed a relatively strong cellular connection. But for areas without such access, the connectivity problem can be solved with a two-way satellite phone, an old technology that can now carry enough bandwidth to upload and send photos and videos. A couple of years ago, these climbers remotely produced and shared a short film from a peak in Nepal. Edmund Hillary would be astounded, not to say depressed.
The Waste Issue
Aside from managing new demands for connectivity and power, one of the biggest issues for the national parks and other preservation bureaus is human waste. As the number of visitors grows, so does the need to deal with their … leftovers. There are basically two ways to deal with human waste in areas without sewage systems. The first is to carry it away and put it somewhere else. Most commonly, companies are contracted to collect and transport the waste, which is expensive. In British Columbia, Bugaboo Provincial Park uses a helicopter to transport waste out of the park.
The second method, much less common, is to deal with it on site. A park in Colorado began constructing an evaporative system for human waste in 2001, with reported successful outcomes. Organizations like the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation have recently poured money into research for developing isolated toilet systems for rural developing communities, which could also be appropriate for public outdoor spaces (I wrote a blog about the Gates program in 2013).
Caldwell and Jorgeson stored their waste and disposed of it offsite, which is common practice for mountaineers and climbers. This system, made by a company called Metolius Gear, comes highly recommended.
In any case, the Dawn Wall ascent and the worldwide interest it generated, highlighted a keen interest in natural spaces and human activity therein. More than ever, companies in various markets have begun to realize how their technologies can support this growing wave of outdoor enthusiasts who desire to visit these spaces in comfort and with a good connections. That’s a good thing, because these spaces are now able to support more visitors with heightened needs while retaining the beauty that makes them so special.
Tags: Distributed Generation, Energy Efficiency, Energy Technologies, Pico Solar, solar PV
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