Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Man Turns Everest Trash Into Treasure

BRUNSWICK, Maine (AP) - Thousands of adventurers have been drawn to Mount Everest by the challenge of climbing to the top of the world. Jeff Clapp was drawn by the trash they leave behind.

Inspired by a documentary about Everest's rubbish, Clapp traveled to Nepal and brought a load of discarded oxygen bottles back in 2004.

He has created a business of transforming those banged-up, aluminum containers into gleaming bells, bowls and ornaments with a goal of inspiring people to do more to clean up the environment in their own small ways, just as he has.

"One guy can make a difference," he said, whether by transforming trash into treasures, turning off lights, installing insulation or using less gas.

What began as a "madcap idea" is now called Bells from Everest. Clapp has sold 35 bells and bowls so far.

The trashing of Everest began even before Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay first scaled the world's tallest mountain in 1953. Hillary acknowledged leaving behind oxygen bottles, food containers and torn tents in a pile near his base camp.

Like Hillary, virtually all hikers rely on oxygen because the air at Everest's summit has only one-third of the oxygen found at sea level. Over the years, hundreds of bottles piled up along with discarded climbing gear and other trash.

Rick Wilcox, of Eaton, N.H., saw 500 to 600 bottles en route to the summit in 1991. It was common practice for climbers to dump gear to save weight on the way down. "When it becomes your life or your gear, you choose your life and leave the gear behind," he said.

Thing have changed in recent years.

Efforts to clean up the 29,035-foot mountain include a successful bounty program for oxygen bottles left behind. The Nepalese government now requires expeditions to pay deposits that are forfeited if rubbish is left behind.

By doing this, fresh garbage is reduced and the cumulative problem is controlled, Deebas Bickram Shah of the Nepal Mountaineering Association said in an e-mail.

John Bagnulo, who became the first Mainer to reach Everest's summit on his 36th birthday last May 11, said he was heartened by what he saw on the less-traveled north side.

"I didn't see that many empty oxygen bottles, so that's a good thing," Bagnulo said by telephone from Massachusetts, where he now works at a wellness center in the Berkshires. "I was pleasantly surprised by the low volume of trash."

Clapp, an artist, chef and concerned father, was inspired to go to Nepal by a National Geographic documentary about trash on Everest, which some called "the world's highest junkyard." He obtained 132 cylinders from the Nepal Mountaineering Association for $7,000. It cost nearly that much to ship them back to Maine.

Back at home in Brunswick, he works on the canisters in a basement workshop where the floor is littered with piles of aluminum shavings.

The hardest part, he said, is stripping away the yellow fiberglass shell to expose the darkened, oxidized aluminum underneath. He then uses hand tools to shape the bottles as they spin on a wood-turning lathe.

Eventually, they're buffed to a shiny silver color. Prices range from $1,600 to $3,000 for bells, and $500 to $1,500 for the bowls.

Little goes to waste. The shavings are put in glass balls to become $15 Christmas ornaments that Clapp originally created as gifts for family members. They're sold at several locations, including the gift shop at Walt Disney World's Expedition Everest roller coaster, he said.

The work takes time, especially for the more expensive items. In December, he sold six pieces in one five-day period, which he described as a flood of orders.

Clapp, who's 48, said buyers like getting a unique piece of artwork and knowing that they're helping the environment at the same time. "They see the added value of purchasing a gift item that has social responsibility," he said.

When his supply of oxygen cylinders runs out, Clapp doesn't plan to retrieve any more of them. By the time he uses them up in a few years, he'd like to return to Nepal to show locals how to create the bells to make money for themselves.

Clapp has had a preliminary discussion with a Bates College graduate who founded Porters' Progress, a Sanbornton, N.H.-based organization that works to improve the lives of the porters who carry equipment for Everest expeditions.

Ben Ayers from Porters' Progress said there are challenges including startup costs but he likes Clapp's idea of teaching metalsmithing skills to poor children. It's "just crazy enough to work," he wrote in an e-mail from Katmandu.

Clapp said he hopes to line up corporate sponsors for the project, and to create a documentary. Eventually, he wants to write a book.

"My ultimate goal of returning this project to Nepal is very exciting to me," he said. "When I first visualized creating this artwork, I was driven with the concept that it would be a benefit to others, specifically in Nepal."


On the Net:

Bells from Everest:

Life and Death on Mt. Everest: Sherpas and Himalayan Mountaineering

Profiting From Lost Baggage Big Time.

Endangered Snowflakes

It's official: meteorologists logged 2006 as the warmest year on record in the United States. No need to remind Ken Libbrecht.

"Terrible year," says the California Institute of Technology physicist, one of a handful of scientists who takes serious the study of snowflakes.

Living in flake-free (meteorologically speaking, at least) Southern California, Libbrecht over the years has traveled to Michigan, Alaska and rural Canada to study and photograph his subject, which he also grows from scratch in his lab.

His efforts and those of other flake fanatics are helping unravel how these frozen works of art are created. It's also finding applications in some unexpected places, including computer chip manufacturing and aircraft safety.

In October, the U.S. Postal Service issued a set of 39-cent stamps featuring Libbrecht's flake portraits. He has also written what is likely to become the bible of snowflake buffs, Ken Libbrecht's Field Guide to Snowflakes, published last year by Voyageur Press.

"Looking at snowflakes is a much-underappreciated recreation," the 48-year-old North Dakota native argues in the book's forward.

Scientists who study the phenomenon, he points out, are a bit particular about their subject, cringing slightly at the word "snowflake." Their quarry is properly described as snow crystals, says Libbrecht, since flakes are often puffy agglomerations of individual crystals.

Whatever you call them, they've attracted an interesting cast of scientific characters over the years.

Johannes Kepler, a German mathematician and astronomer who first proposed that the planets orbit the sun on an elliptical path, was among the first to seriously ponder how snow crystals form.

In 1611, he wrote The Six-Cornered Snowflake, an extended rumination on the source of a snow crystal's flower-like six-sided symmetry.

Several hundred years later, a self-educated Vermont farmer named Wilson Bentley pioneered techniques to capture frozen crystals on film.

In 1885, after years of tinkering, he connected a microscope to a bellows camera and successfully captured the first photograph of a single snow crystal, which he called "miracles of beauty."

More than 5,000 photographs followed, nearly half of which wound up in Bentley's 1931 magnum opus, Snow Crystals. (The book arrived in the nick of time. The 66-year-old died later that year, two days before Christmas, in his rural Jericho, Vt., farmhouse.)

With his images, Bentley provided the first hard proof of the astounding variety of shapes snow crystals could take.

"Every crystal," he wrote, "was a masterpiece of design and no one design was ever repeated. When a snowflake melted, that design was forever lost."

Still, a central mystery remained: How do all these intricate shapes arise in the first place?

Enter Ukichiro Nakaya in Japan. In the 1930s, after earning a degree in nuclear physics, Nakaya was hired by Hokkaido University on the country's frigid northernmost island.

But when he showed up, he quickly realized the university owned no equipment for nuclear work. So Nakaya instead turned his attention to a substance found in abundance: snow.

Nakaya, who described snowflakes as "letters sent from heaven," began trying to grow individual crystals on rabbit hairs, spider webs and other thin filaments.

Skiers everywhere owe him. Nakaya was not only the first person to make artificial snow, but his experiments helped unravel the complex relationship between crystal shape and two key atmospheric conditions: temperature and humidity.

(Snowflake aficionados can make a pilgrimage to The Ukichiro Nakaya Museum of Snow and Ice, in Nakaya's hometown 300 miles west of Tokyo.)

Today, thanks to the physicist's efforts, scientists have a much better understanding of how snow crystals are formed.

They don't start life as raindrops or liquid water, says Libbrecht. Instead, snow crystals form directly from water vapor in the atmosphere. This vapor typically condenses around airborne dust particles, which serve as "seeds" for the fledgling crystals.

"The crystals become heavier as they grow, until gravity eventually pulls them out of their cloudy nurseries," Libbrecht writes in the January-February issue of American Scientist.

These days some scientists are drawn to snowflake studies for practical reasons. John Hallett, a meteorologist at the Desert Research Institute in Reno, Nev., is growing snow crystals to improve aircraft safety.

Hallett, director of the institute's Ice Physics Laboratory, says his work is helping create a cockpit-mounted device to warn pilots away from crystal-filled clouds that might ice their wings.

A better understanding of snow crystals, he adds, could translate to more commercially significant crystals, including sugar, silicon semiconductors in computer chips and many metals.

"If you grow snowflakes from vapor, you could just as well be growing metals from vapor. You can use one to get insight into the other," he says.

Caltech's Libbrecht, on the other hand, says his quest is simply to understand nature's most wondrous winter display.

Since he first started working on snow crystals in 1997, Libbrecht has refined Nakaya's insights into snow crystal formation and has categorized them into 35 common species. Stellar dendrites are the ones most people know best: These are the snowflakes of Hallmark cards and the boughs of Christmas trees. But there are also less-familiar forms with poetic names such as capped bullets and arrowhead twins, needle clusters and hexagonal plates.

Libbrecht's research has shown that crystals tend to be simpler when humidity is low and more complex as water vapor content rises.

Temperature changes also have a significant impact on snow crystal shapes - but the exact relationship remains a scientific mystery. (For more technical details on Libbrecht's research, go to

The one thing that everyone who encounters Libbrecht wants to know is: Is it really true no two snowflakes are alike?

The short answer, he says, is yes. The larger mystery for him is why people are so fascinated by that notion.

"It's really a funny question because no two grains of sand are alike either," he says. And nobody seems to care about that.

The Baltimore Sun

Ken Libbrecht's Field Guide to Snowflakes

Offer Of Beer Used To Lure Burglary Suspect To Deputies

Police Offcer Pulls Shopping Cart For A Homeless For 12 Miles

A city police officer is being simultaneously celebrated and after he went out of his way to save a homeless woman's shopping cart full of possessions.

After arresting Marie Brooks on an outstanding warrant early one morning last week, Officer Nicholas Evans pulled her shopping cart alongside his police cruiser for 12 miles to the county jail so Brooks wouldn't lose her meager belongings. The trip took him an hour.

"He wasn't obligated to have a generous, spiritual heart," said Mary DeLazzer, who manages Our Daily Bread, a soup kitchen in Bradenton.

But police are looking into whether Evans acted inappropriately and should be reprimanded. The act has made Evans the butt of jokes among peers who have heard the story, now posted on a popular police Web site.

Evans is a three-year veteran officer who works the overnight shift. He told his bosses he was unsuccessful at trying to find someone to take the cart after arresting Brooks for violating a court order stemming from a misdemeanor drug arrest, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune reported.

A call to Evans at the police department Tuesday was not immediately returned.

Copyright © 2007 The Associated Press

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