Above: Gregg Treinish, founder of Adventure Scientists, stands at the base of Volcán Cotopaxi.
Gregg Treinish is a Good Human.
He is the Founder and Executive Director of Adventure Scientists, a kickass 501(c)(3) that utilizes the skills of adventurers to further conservation and science through data collection. (“Kickass 501(c)(3)” being a legal term, assigned by the IRS, of course.)
Adventure Scientists’ stated vision explains:
Data collection can be expensive, time consuming, and physically demanding, which limits the role that science currently plays in the conservation process. Adventure Scientists tackles this problem by providing our partners with reliable and otherwise unattainable data. By recruiting, training and managing individuals with strong outdoor skills—such as mountaineering, diving or whitewater kayaking—we bring back hard-to-obtain data from the far corners of the globe.
Science and adventure? Who woulda’ thought?
To date, Adventure Scientists has established conservation partnerships with, among others, Harvard Medical School, Stanford University, The University of Arizona College of Agriculture & Life Sciences, as well as the U.S. Department of the Interior. Gregg has also been named a Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation Entrepreneur, and an Ashoka Fellow.
After reading about and talking to Gregg, it’s easy to see why so many organizations want to work with him and Adventure Scientists. Undoubtedly, there will be many more.
. . .
I stumbled upon Adventure Scientists’ website, before setting out for South America, while Googling “conservation Patagonia mountains,” or super-precise words to that affect. After perusing their website, I emailed them, hoping to get in contact with someone within the organization who could provide more information for an aspiring adventurer.
Moments later, I received an auto-reply from Gregg. In pertinent part, it read “…I will be in Antarctica until December 21st… in the meantime, please contact…”
“Damn,” I thought. “Antarctica. That’s pretty frigging adventurous. Talk about practicing what you preach.”
I emailed the point of contact provided in Gregg’s out-of-“office” reply, expecting to hear back nothing, or a receive a polite “Hey, good luck to ya’ ” response.
Not long after, Merrill Warren, Adventure Scientists’ Development Manager, replied: “I'd be happy to find some time for you and Gregg to connect early in the new year. Will January 4th or 5th work and, if so, what time is best?”
“Damn,” I thought again. “Talk about being eager to feed your boss to the wolves.”
I gratefully accepted Merrill’s generous offer, and began doing some homework on Gregg, in hopes of not sounding like a bumbling idiot whilst interviewing the person who would become the first victim – er, subject, of “Good Humans.”
. . .
Originally from Cleveland, which, apparently, is not known as a Mecca of the outdoors, Gregg is proof positive that, no matter your background, you can always connect (or reconnect, as the case may be for some of us) to the outdoors.
Prior to moving to Colorado, hiking the Appalachian Trail, trekking 7,800 miles of South America through the Andes Mountains, being named a National Geographic Adventurer of the Year, moving to Montana, obtaining a biology degree from Montana State University, studying lions and wolverines, founding Adventure Scientists, and being named one of Men’s Journals’ 50 Most Adventurous Men, Gregg describes his outdoor experience as being “very limited.”
If a person can get from Cleveland to the places Gregg has been, there is hope for us all.
Having returned to his Bozeman, Montana, headquarters from Antarctica, Gregg generously allowed me to interview him from Baños, Ecuador, via Skype, spotty internet connection, crying babies in background, stammering interviewer, and all.
From studying wolverines, to making life decisions on the advice of climbers he met whilst walking past Mount Fitz Roy, to his thoughts on being overly comfortable in the city (which mesh well with a previous, related OtL post), to bumping into Jimmy Chin and Conrad Ankar on their way to Antarctica, Gregg personifies the title of the very organization he founded.
. . .
Outside the Law: You’re from Cleveland. What was your outdoors background before you got to where you’re at?
Gregg Treinish [pronounced “Try-nish”]: Very limited. In Cleveland, I didn’t really grow up doing much in the outdoors. I always loved science and the outdoors; but I didn’t really get into mountains and all of that until I moved out west.
I did my first backpacking trip when I was 16, into British Colombia. Before that, my family took vacations out west – we went to Colorado and did a cross country trip one year.
That was really it.
So, you’re really self-motivated in all of this. You didn’t have anyone forcing you to put a backpack on and go hiking through the mountains?
Not really. [This] wasn’t wilderness therapy, [although] it was certainly therapeutic for me. I did this trek when I was 16 with a group called Adventures Cross Country and my guide on that trip was very influential, but it was definitely my decision to go.
You mentioned in a previous interview that you used to work with at-risk youth. Can you tell me a little about that?
Yeah, I used to take kids with alcohol and drug problems and kids who were just struggling because of family issues – really a wide variety of kids – up into the mountains, and backpack with them. We’d let them climb peaks and gain self-confidence and learn how to take care of themselves… And that goes back to my childhood.
In my childhood, I was definitely an at-risk teen – or so I was labeled. I was just getting into a lot of trouble and not really functioning. I got kicked out of high school when I was 16. So, I thought I would find my calling [working with at risk kids], but it didn’t really speak to my passion the same way the sciences did.
What led you to start Adventure Scientists?
Originally, I wanted to study science. Specifically, I was thinking I wanted to study lion biology and lion behavior, so that I could somehow figure out how to save lions. I instead wound up getting sidetracked, tracking lynx and wolverines and grizzly bears, here in Montana, and doing that work while I was getting a degree.
When the funding ran out for my position, I had learned that I could really benefit these species and really benefit the sciences with some pretty basic skills, and that I was able to be outside and do what I love while doing that. And, I just knew that there had to be thousands and thousands of people like myself who wanted to be outside and wanted to make a difference. So, I looked around and didn’t see that there was an easy way to do that, especially with the sciences, and I ended up just creating it.
So, you obtained a Sociology Degree from Colorado and a Biology degree from Montana State. Did you move to Bozeman because you got into school there or were you living there when you were accepted?
No, I had met some climbers down on Mount Fitz Roy while I was walking past it. And, I had [already] kind of settled on Montana. I was living in Colorado before the trek [through South America] and wanted to be a little more remote, a little bit more into the wilderness and someplace where there’s more wildlife. Then I met these guys who were climbing Mount Fitz Roy, and they sold me on Bozeman over Missoula.
Then, once I’d decided on Bozeman, I reached out a to guy named Scott Creel, who studies lions, and other wildlife – he studies human and wildlife interactions as a population ecologist in Africa – at Montana State. So, I reached out to him and asked him if I could come study with him, and he said yes, and – yeah, so I just ended up here.
What is it about the outdoors that gets your head right, if that question makes sense to you?
First of all, I think it’s the challenge. You’re humbled by the outdoors; you’re broken down pretty quickly; and, it’s not this comfortable environment that we’ve built for ourselves.
In any building you go into, they’re climate controlled, they’re comfortable; the seats we sit in are plush, like the one I’m sitting in now.
So, I just think the challenge of being out there makes you connect with the moment. It makes you present in the moment, inherently, because you’ve got to focus on what you’re doing.
I think you could certainly drive to a spot and sit there and not really have all that challenge, but you still feel the wind on you, you’re still connected to the real world.
Everything we’ve built in cities is artificial. Everything that we have built to isolate ourselves from nature is doing just that: it’s isolating and it’s separating. When you get outside, you’re connected. You’re part of millions of years of evolution.
So, we’re actually out doing what we’re made to do, so to speak, right?
Yeah, I think that’s right. Again, I think it’s the challenge. For me, I think it’s the beauty. I never feel as inspired as I do when I’m looking at mountain views or sunsets. It’s one of the reasons I love living here. I get to come home from work trips, or wherever I’m at, and I get to go mountain biking or skiing and I am just in awe at how beautiful this place is. It’s really amazing.
[In response to my rambling about spending the week or so trying to reconnect with the outdoors, and it snapping me out of a longtime funk, seemingly over night]:
Yeah, absolutely. It can be almost instant, in many cases.
Speaking of being outside, tell me about Antarctica. I couldn’t help but notice that your trip was somewhat contemporaneous with Alex Honnold’s. You weren’t down there with him, were you?
No, I wasn’t.
Did you know you were both down there at the same time?
[GT’s response above is edited to remove OtL’s interruptions of giddy gasps of amazement.]
I was just a guest speaker aboard a National Geographic ship. So, I was living cushy life while they were out there suffering.
And so, there’s a National Geographic cruise?
I presume you set foot on terra firma while you were down there?
Oh, yeah. We spent six or seven days jumping around the peninsula, and hiking and doing cool stuff.
Had you been down there before?
No, I hadn’t. It’s an amazing place – definitely worth the trip down there.
Who do you like to be outdoors with and why?
My wife, and now my son – I have a seven-month-old. And, I love being out there with friends – I love being out there by myself.
I think the awe and inspiration I gain from it, I look forward to sharing with my son. He’s too young to appreciate it yet, but he already lights up when we take him outside. When he goes on a hike, he smiles the entire time and laughs the entire time, which is pretty awesome, and that might be because he’s been [going] on hikes since he was four days old. He really loves it outside.
My wife – you know, I’m at my best when I’m outside and exercising and hiking and mountain biking and skiing, and I think she probably is as well. [They’re] just activities we love to share with each other. I think if you gave either of us the choice, any day of the year, to be inside or out, there’d be no question.
You mentioned going outdoors by yourself: do you make it a point to spend time alone outdoors?
I’m a pretty social person, so I’ll usually reach out with friends and see if anyone wants to go biking or skiing. And if people say no, then I won’t hesitate to go by myself. I often just don’t want to wait for people, so I’ll just go by myself; but I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily a conscious decision to be out there by myself. It’s more just being out there that I love, and less about whether I’m alone or with others. I can make the best or the most of any situation.
While hiking to the refugio on Cotopaxi, I was visiting with a couple from the States, who shared my desire to explore the world, but also a bit of guilt from the fact that our exploring leaves a carbon footprint. Aside from paying money, do you have any recommendations, or favorite ways, for us to offset our carbon footprints?
Yeah, I think about [this] all the time. I think the foods we eat, the products we buy, the decisions we make on a day-to-day basis, matter and add up. I eat vegetarian because of the environmental consequences of eating meat. I try to avoid single-use plastics as much as possible. I will often challenge myself to go a full month, or even longer, without using single-use plastics. I think that the decision to bike to work instead of drive is always an important one, if you live close enough.
I think that going out and seeing the world is great, and I would ask: does your adventure have purpose? Is there anything you can do while you’re down there to make a difference? If it’s for the environment, that’s awesome. If it’s for the benefit of people, that’s awesome. I don’t really think those two things are so separated. I kind of subscribe to this belief that human health is environmental health, and vice versa.
Could you be building houses while you’re down there? Could you be working with glaciologists to bring back samples? Could you be volunteering for human health while you’re down there?
So, I think that’s an important thing. I would love to see a world where, when we do choose to travel, those of us who have the means to do that, we do so with a purpose.