Hola amigos! My latest expedition has taken me into the Andes, where I’ve been for the last week, working with the Mountain Institute’s Andean Program, based in Huaraz. The Andes mountains are stunning, impossibly tall, bewildering my sense of space and distance. Their foothills roll with pale golden grass, and the midday sun bakes the lowlands ovenbread brown.
Some Timelapse Photography of the Cordilleras:
I’m working on 3 projects at once with only 3 weeks to capture everything I need, so the schedule’s been relentless. A standard day involves waking up at 5AM, piling wearily into a truck, and trying to get a packed ham sandwich into your mouth while bouncing furiously along a winding rock-ridden excuse for a road. Getting to location requires long walks or even longer horseback rides into Ketchuan communities, remote glacial valleys, and the beautiful, terrible lakes themselves.
Peru is the site of the worst glacier-related catastrophes in history. For the first two days, we accompanied our friend Cesar to sites of previous disasters: the vast old cemetery in Huaraz, where a disproportionate number of graves bear the date 1941 – the year lake Palpa Cocha burst, killing 5,000 people. Next we saw the mass grave at Yungay, where a glacier collapsed in 1970 onto the community living below, causing a debris flow that killed no less than 20,000.
Following these and other disasters, Cesar began the Glacialogical unit that has had such triumphs in glacial lake management in Peru, and which we hope to use as a model for lake management in Nepal. However, Peru is not without it’s own worries: despite aggressive and effective management, many lakes are simply growing too fast. Palpa Cocha is now 3-4 times the size it was when it had its first catastrophic outburst, and there are some 35 other lakes of concern in the Peruvian Cordilleras.
Since then, we’ve also filmed at the remote Shaqcsa glacial lake, 20 miles by horse, and Canre Chico, a small Ketchuan community whose water supplies are threatened by the runoff of heavy metals from mining operations. At San Toribio, I saw my first Andean alpenglow, as the mountains were lit up by the last red rays of the setting sun.
Tomorrow we head into the field for a 3-day expedition to Palpa Cocha, so it will be a few days until my next update. In the meantime, I invite you to have a look at my Flickr account for photos of the expedition so far. Here are a few from Canre Chico:
Second Caballero Closeup
Woman with Baby
The San Sebastian hotel in Huaraz is beautiful, and I definitely recommend it. The waitress is cute and brought me a free hot mulled wine yesterday, and the beds are comfortable enough to make up for my west-coast jetlag, which has me averaging 3-4 hours of sleep a night. I’m looking forward to being in a tent tomorrow, though – the southern stars here are the most beautiful I’ve seen anywhere in the world.
If you haven’t yet had the chance, check out the documentary I just finished in Honduras, Paradise in Peril. See you in a few!