On the Trail of the Glaciers: Andes 2016

21 February 2016: we’re at the Torres del Paine National Park, in Chile, searching for the exact point where Alberto Maria De Agostini, the Salesian explorer who worked in Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego for over half a century (from 1910 to 1960), took his photograph of the famous peaks. 

In the early morning, we saddle the horses and quickly arrive at the edge of the forest, at about 750 metres above sea level. Taking one of the horses with us, loaded with rucksacks of equipment, we reach the saddle. Here, the wind is very strong and I continue on the ridge up to the summit alone. I position my tripod and camera with great difficulty: the gusts are over 120 kilometres an hour, it’s very cold and my hands are numb. The moment I take the shot is exciting, as always: I take advantage of a ray of sunlight to expose the plate. Just after that, I realise the peaks of a mountain on the left of the frame are covered by clouds, just like in the historical photo. 

On 20 March, a team of researchers from the Engineering Department at Rome’s Sapienza University and glaciologists from the Department of Earth Sciences at the State University of Milan join us to carry out the planned scientific activities.

Our next destination is the Los Glaciares National Park in Argentina, where we’ll carry out the most important work of the entire expedition.

Here, we decide to start from the Upsala glacier, the second biggest in Argentina, also photographed by De Agostini in the past. At the vantage point chosen by the explorer, the view of the valley is breath-taking. It’s a basin, 90 kilometres long and 10 wide. Comparing it with the historical images, it’s disheartening to see how such a wide valley has been completely emptied of its ice in a little over 80 years.

In the following days, we continue to replicate the historical photos on the Ameghino glacier (in this case, too, the withdrawal is noticeable. Where there used to be a long white strip, there is now a valley of debris and a lagoon, at least four kilometres long, that arrives up to the current front).

In the area of El Chaltén, in the mythical mountains of Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre, the next photo destination is the peak of Cerro Polo, where I try to replicate De Agostini’s panoramic photo showing the entire skyline of Fitz Roy from a frontal position. At the peak, I start searching for the right vantage point, with the historical photos in hand. I find it only after several attempts. Comparing the historical image, it is clear how the end of the Blanco glacier has lost several hundred metres. 

Later, I repeat the historical photos taken by De Agostini from Loma de las Pizarras and Mirador Maestri, with a breath-taking view of the Cerro Torre: the Torre glacier has retreated dramatically on the front and has lost a lot of thickness.

On 18 March, we reunite with the team of Italian engineers and geologists in Chile, to continue to the Exploradores glacier, where they’ll perform scientific testing and modelling of the glacial fronts in 3D. This is crucial to the study of the consequences of climate change.

Text by Parallelozero, loosely taken from: “The Travel Diaries of Fabiano Ventura © 2009 - 2018”