Once upon a time, the easiest way for a visitor to touch ice in Peru was to climb the tourist trail to Pastoruri Glacier, a flat-topped glacier 70 kilometers south of the city of Huaraz. Roads from the highway made the glacier easily accessible to daytrippers, and even though its peak is a staggering 5,200 meters above sea level, the trek upward is relatively gentle, as far as glaciers go. If things got really rough, you could always rent a burro or a horse in the parking lot and haul yourself up that way.
Not now. No longer.
There are no burros for hire at Pastoruri because the glacier is officially off-limits to tourists and nearly everyone else, except to glacier experts and the lone film crew or two. The glacier has receded so dramatically over the last 25 years, it’s on a death watch. Glaciologists like Marco Zapata (below) won’t say exactly when Pastoruri will bite the dust, but the glacier’s demise is around the corner.
The numbers tell the story. Between 1980 and 1990, Pastoruri was receding at a rate of 12.7 meters per year, says Zapata. The following decade, that rate almost doubled to 22 to 23 meters per year. The glacier has dwindled so much, it thinned into two tiny ice masses in 2007 and has been formally downgraded to an “ice cap.” It’s a sad fate for what was formerly once of the most visited sites in the Cordillera Blanca mountain chain. Within our lifetime, we will probably see Pastoruri become a puddle.
I took these photos last week while assisting a production team from NBC Nightly News, including environmental correspondent Anne Thompson, who were in Peru to report on Peru’s melting glaciers and the downstream effects. My role was to scout out locations and interviewees and to help the team get from point A to point B efficiently and safely.
Visiting Pastoruri was at the top of Anne Thompson’s list, and once we got the permission to film from Huascaran National Park, where Pastoruri is located, I was looking forward to seeing the glacier for myself. Once there, however, the barrenness of the dying glacier overwhelmed me. The ice is fleeing up the mountain, leaving behind churned-up moraine of small black shards and messy, melting ice chunks. Stand next to the glacier, and you can see the water dripping nonstop, like the ice in a freezer whose door has been left open in July.
Around noon we were hit by hail and an electric storm, neither of which stopped the crew from filming. (They’d paid a lot for their one-day permit and weren’t about to leave the mountaintop empty-handed.) Anne Thompson interviewed Zapata and glaciologist Thomas Condom and the Mountain Institute’s Jorge Recharte there on the shifting ice, with hard hail pellets whipping everyone in the face. The show must go on.
There was something sad and compelling about the abandoned buildings (above) where vendors used to sell snacks and rent donkeys to out-of-shape tourists.
And it reminded me of things to come, not just in Peru but in the rest of the world.
Once the ice is gone from most of the world’s tropical glaciers, the communities around them will have to change as well. Without ice, without water, who will want to visit a black mountain? Who will want to live there?
Who will be able to?
Published Oct. 14, 2009, An American in Lima
link URL: http://americaninlima.com/2009/10/14/goodbye-pastoruri/
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