Ephemeral landscapes: glaciers

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Ecuadorian glaciers, ice ‘giants’ thousands of years old, are disappearing before our very eyes. In the last 30 years, we have lost between 30% and 50% of their total mass. In the 1970s, Sincholagua (a volcano located northeast of Mount Cotopaxi) was covered in snow; today its summit exposes bare rock. It’s not the only volcano to have succumbed to climate change.

According to a recent study carried out by the National Institute of Meteorology and Hydrology (Inamhi), glaciers on Carihuairazo and South Iliniza will disappear in five years. The remainder of our mountain peaks, according to certain projections, will lose them by 2070.

A glacier is, by definition, an accumulation of snow that remains in one place and turns into compressed ice. But for Andrés Molestina, photographer and mountaineer, a glacier is more like a mentor that has guided him down a new path in life. In September 2017, the mountain guide and expert Karl Egloff invited Andrés to climb the 5 790 masl of Mount Cayambe. It was his first summit.

“We were lucky to make it all the way up that day, reaching the summit by sunset: the clouds were spectacular, orange and violet. We were exhausted and awestruck. Below and in the distance the cities looked so tiny… At that very moment, I fell in love with the mountains.”

Andrés had joined Cumbre Tours, Karl’s mountaineering agency, as a photographer. Almost every weekend he would ascend another high mountain, backpack and camera in hand.

Glaciers on Carihuairazo and Iliniza Sur will disappear in five years and the remaining peaks have between 50 and 80 years before losing theirs forever

Over time, he even began to notice the changes himself. The climbing routes revealed more moraine (glacier remains) with larger transects traveled without the need of crampons; he noticed more rock, the glacier, receding higher and higher up the mountain. He knew that much of this was a consequence of human activity… and that something had to be done.

A life project

 Andrés created ‘Ephemeral Landscapes’ to raise awareness: there is little doubt that human pollution and unsustainable activities are directly affecting our glaciers.

The project’s main objective is to create a graphic, historical record of the seven tropical glaciers that still exist in Ecuador (Cotopaxi, Chimborazo, Antisana, Cayambe, El Altar, Ilinizas and Carihuairazo). There is no precedent in the country: solo expeditions to these mountains (in a total of 57 days), with a 25 kg satchel and equipment, to record 360-degree-panoramic images of each glacier. The idea is to exhibit his photographs and 10% of their sales will go to reforestation projects.

For Andrés, this historical archive is paramount; a scientific record and a the highlighting of our sacred natural heritage, but also an opportunity to share the beauty and wisdom hidden within the most remote corners of our Andean landscape. “In the mountains, I learned to take care of my body, to manage my time, to focus and maintain mental clarity”, explains Andrés: “it hurts me to know that these great glaciers will disappear. I cannot remain complacent.” This sense of gratitude and responsibility mobilizes Andrés’ project, a feeling born of the deep bond between silent mountains and this young man who has chosen to watch over them.

Why must we protect our glaciers?

75% of the freshwater reserves are found in the glaciers of mountain ranges in Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Americas. As they recede, a crucial reservoir of pure water will disappear, species of flora and fauna will be lost and sea levels will quickly rise.

For more information on Andrés’ project and how to support it, log-on to www.paisajesefimeros.com

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