Scarpa North America Blog

Climbing for Bugs: Majka Burnhardt uses Climbing to Conserve Wildlife

Aug. 16th 2013

Professional climber and SCARPA athlete, Majka Burhardt, along with professional climber Kate Rutherford, are taking a hiatus from their typical climbing routines to advance a cause that ironically, presented itself to them through their passion to climb. The two women have started a Kickstarter campaign to fund a research mission on East Africa’s Mozambique Mountain to find new species of insects and reptiles, and build a conservation plan with local conservationists to help protect and preserve “one of the world’s most precious biodiversity hotspots”.

I never considered myself a bug person says Majka. I’ve never liked them but they’ve always liked me. And snakes, I’d rather keep my distance. But that’s all going to change this November on Mt. Namuli’s 2,000-ft. south face in northwestern Mozambique.

Majka Burhardt and her favorite frog. Photo by Sarah Garlick.

Climbing can get you into some wild positions – in life, your body, and in the world. In this particular case, climbing inspired me to climb for bugs, snakes, geckos, and more. It wasn’t intentional but now that I’m whole-heartedly committed, I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Last week a friend asked what the hook was for climbing on Namuli. We were eating dinner in her kitchen at 8:30 p.m. after she’d just had an evening climbing session at Cathedral Ledge, near our homes in New Hampshire. I’d spent the entire day working on government and grant paperwork for the project in Mozambique. Consequently, I had not been a part of the evening cragging session. I realized, in that moment, that I was ok missing the day of climbing to focus on climbing for three weeks in Mozambique in November. I also realized that climbing has come to mean something murkier to me as of late. Murkier as in buggier, snakier, dirtier.

“The climbing hook,” I finally said to Alycia, “is that it’s climbing you’d never think you should pick as a ‘climber’.” I paused, ate some kale and chicken, took a swig of local beer and sighed. “And doing it means letting go of any other criteria I’ve used for what is hard, scary, difficult, or meaningful. It’s letting go of some sort of ego – or at least trying to let go.”

Sarah Garlick, part of the 2011 Lost Mountain Recon Trip. Photo by Majka Burhardt

Don’t get me wrong. I love to climb. I’ll take a perfectly clean, steep and glorious granite finger crack any day. But I don’t know if I’d choose only those cracks for my life, now. Maybe I’ve been kidding myself for 36 years – maybe I am a bug person. Perhaps climbing is revealing my true identity.

No matter how you cut it, Kate Rutherford and I are heading up a big wall for science, helping herpetologists and entomologist find dozens of new species in the vertical word and in the surrounding rainforest, and helping launch a new integrated conservation area on Mozambique’s second highest mountain. It’s as complex, fun, insane, and full on as it sounds. And as crazy as it sounds, I’m excited to hang with bugs in the dirt.

Join Majka, Kate, and their team to help them reach their Kickstarter Goal:

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