When you arrive in a town and the first things people tell you about are how they’ve never seen so much good weather, how the trees are turning fall colors months early because it is so dry, how the approach to the Torre valley that climbers have been using for half a century is too dangerous to continue using because the glacier is receding, there is no doubt about the changes. People who spend their time in the mountains, who make their living in the mountains see it every day. There is no doubt.
Yet for the people who do not interact with these landscapes, it is easy to keep thinking that nothing has changed. The changes are more subtle. More fights over water rights, ski areas only having fake snow into late January, and restrictions on when people can water their lawns. The real question is how to connect people with these changes in a way that they understand. At Alpine of the Americas Project we see repeat photography not only as a useful tool for scientific research, but also as an extremely powerful way of communicating these changes to people who don’t see it for themselves. In a world that relies heavily on visual communication, we hope that showing people the huge changes that are occurring in alpine areas will contribute to people taking ownership for our collective impacts.
The last few weeks in El Chalten, Argentina, has been an interesting experience in contrasts. The town is nestled at the base of the Fitz Roy group of mountains. The town has only been in existence for 25 years and was established to lay claim to land that both Argentina and Chile say they own. While the economy of the town is based on taking people out into the mountains to experience the spectacular natural beauty, the town itself has a lot to figure out. Trash is dumped in a big open pile by the river, and four generators run full blast day and night to power the town. The town has no plan for development and is facing the pressure of rapidly increasing tourism and development. As with any time a community faces rapid changes, whether it is a small mountain town or a global community, they need to come together and decide what they want and what action they need to take.
We are currently focusing on writing a handful of grants for the American Alpine Club and National Geographic to secure funding for another year of this project. We’ve also been focusing on getting other people out repeating photographs for us. The photo above is of the road near El Chalten, which is now a paved two lane highway. Hopefully a few Canadian cyclists will be able to get this photo. In the mean time, be well.