Global Warming and Crumbling Mountains

Published Feb 28th, 2018 in the East Hampton Star, under Guest Words:


In August 2017 the mountain world witnessed an impressive manifestation of global warming. An entire mountain-side in the Swiss alps broke loose and crashed into the Bondasca valley. The mountain is called Piz Cengalo and is situated next to Piz Badile, both of fame among the world’s top rock climbers. The crumbling of an entire mountain side is impressive. You should take a look at the live videos on youtube, or here:

The massive landslide crashed through Val Bondasca and partially destroyed the village Bondo, which lies at the bottom of this valley, by a major transit way from Milano to St. Moritz in the Engadin.

I had visited Bondo in the summer of 2016. The highlight of my trip was a 5 hour hike up Val Bondasca to the Sciora hut. That is the mountain hut where serious climbers prepare to climb Cengalo and the neighboring peaks.   I stayed overnight with about 40 climbers. They set off on their climbs at 4 AM while I headed back down in to the valley. I knew the area was considered a danger zone for rockslides but I stayed on the marked pathways and avoided those trails that were marked “chiuso” (closed).  In the wake of the recent rockslide of August 23rd, there were 8 hikers missing, later presumed dead. They too descended from the Sciora hut through Val Bondasca along the same path I had been on. Sections of this path are now covered with up to 40 meters of rocks.

In Bondo, television images show a trail of destruction left by a river of mud and stone.  Satellite images recorded the event, as did people in the Sciora hut, and even climbers hanging from ropes on the neighboring mountain (Piz Badile)!

Check these videos out:

(This one taken by climbers hanging off a cliff on the neighboring mountain)
(This one was taken from the Sciora hut where I slept over)


From Swiss authorities at I learned the following:

Thawing permafrost and heavy rainfall have been responsible for several fatal landslides or rockslides in recent years:

  • Thirteen people were killed by a landslide in Gondo, a small village in canton Valais, in 2000. The landslide was triggered by days of torrential rainfall.
  • In 2003, 90 climbers had to be airlifted off the Matterhorn after an unusually large part of the mountain came tumbling down. No-one was hurt, but climbing was temporarily suspended.
  • In May 2006, Switzerland’s main north-south road axis through the Alps – the Gotthard – was temporarily closed following a rockslide, which crushed a car killing two people.
  • Two months later, 400,000 cubic meters of rock fell from one of Switzerland’s most iconic mountains – the Eiger. Fortunately, no one was injured.
  • Heavy rainfall was again responsible for a landslide that killed two people in Lugano in November 2014. The particularly warm summer of 2015, combined with precipitation at high altitudes, resulted in a significantly higher number of rockslides.
  • In September of that year, 80,000 cubic meters of rock fell in the canton Valais.
  • In July 2017 scientists warned of a heightened risk of rockslides in the Moosfluh mountain range flanking Switzerland’s longest glacier, the Aletsch. Scientists at Zurich’s Federal Institute of Technology issued a report showing a direct linkage between retreating glaciers and rockslides. Apparently, a critical threshold had been reached in the shrinkage of the Aletsch glacier … where the situation could rapidly deteriorate, as reported by Kos and his colleagues.

As another mountaineer explained to me, “permafrost holds rocks together like glue”.

Why should we care in the Hamptons?  Here, the major dangers brought on by global warming are the increased severity and frequency of hurricanes, flooding, damage to infrastructure (and to expensive homes along the beach) along with disappearing salt-marshes which represent the breeding grounds for fish and shell fish.  Some ignorami in our country even doubt that global warming is occurring or that humans have a role in it.

In the mountains there is no doubt. Glaciers that were once tourist attractions, have all but disappeared. And famous mountains, like Eiger and Matterhorn are now crumbling. There is concern that pillars supporting mountain telecabines might be in danger and “tourist installations” are being carefully monitored. Lack of snow, receding glaciers, and now the danger of rockslides are all threatening tourism in a major way.

Europeans can’t understand defiant American politicians that pulled the US out of the Paris agreement. They can’t understand people like Pres. Trump, or his cheer leading Congressman, Lee Zeldin, when they appear to support banning science from the Environmental Protection Agency and banning the very words ‘climate change’ within the Energy Department Climate Office.

For mountain folks the disasters are real and all too close to home.

Global warming has different effects in different parts of the world.  What we do here to combat climate change (or neglect it), has worldwide effects.  What others do in remote locations across the globe affects us in our home communities.  You can not be an environmentalist in your own community and neglect the rest of the world (take heed Lee Zeldin).

Politicians can rail as much as they want.  They will not solve a scientific problem.  They remind me of the medieval powers that persecuted Copernicus and Galilleo for holding that the world was round.

Also read these reports:


Global warming ‘is causing the Alps to CRUMBLE’

The Consequences of Climate Change

The Relationship Between Landslides and Climate Change in North America







About D. Posnett MD

Emeritus Prof. of Medicine, Weill Cornell Medical College
This entry was posted in climate change, Environment, Trump, Uncategorized, Zeldin and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Global Warming and Crumbling Mountains

  1. James Ewing says:

    Thanks for these, David.
    Frightening and time wake up .

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