Tag Archives: Alberto de Agostini

Next Best Thing to a Time Machine

I’ve never gotten to go in a time machine but until they invent one repeat photography is about as close as I’ll get.

The process starts slowly:  mining the internet, talking to museum archivists, getting hundreds of old photographs with vague descriptions of locations from scientists, leafing through beautiful old books that are worth more than my camera, and ending up with thousands of historic photographs, sketches, and maps on my computer.Lago Dickson Threepeat

Days are spent pouring over maps and working in Google Earth to try to align mountains, glaciers, and ridges, figuring out the most likely area the photo was taken from and how to get there.  From this point it’s time to go to the nearest town, print out the black and white images on paper, load up my backpack with tent, stove, food, and camera gear and go into the mountains.  Some photos can be gotten on an afternoon run, others require multiple days of hiking to get to.

Then the psychology starts.  To find the precise location of  a photograph I find that I need to get into the mind of the photographer I am repeating.  Through repeating many photos I start to learn where different photographers liked standing and what subjects interested them. Alberto de Agostini, a mountaineer at heart, liked shooting from high ridges with grand views.  G.K. Gilbert, a photographer for the U.S. Geological Survey, really liked unique rocks and landscapes.  When I look with this knowledge I can almost intuitively know where they might have stood.Rio_Blanco_Perspectives_sm

Finally it clicks.  Walking along a ridge, seeing two boulders and thinking “Yep.  That is exactly where de Agostini stood.”  Seeing a rock outcrop and thinking, “If I were G.K. Gilbert, that is where I would have taken this photo from.”  And it all comes together.  Get the print out of my pocket, hold it up, and I have a window into the past.

Sometimes the changes are obvious, sometimes subtle, but standing in the same location and being able to see how it looked 50, 80, 100, years ago is an incredible experience.  The next best thing to a time machine: a time window.

Don’t take my word for it, go try it!Fitz_Road_sm

No Doubt

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.

First Views of the Andino

Our first experience in the Andino verdad has been an incredible trip up Mount Tronador. As with any of our repeat photography trips we started with a stack of photos printed in black and white and ended up with a deeper understanding of a place.

Cierro Tronador is a large volcano hidden behind the mountains near Bariloche, Argentina.  On our first day on the mountain we climbed above Refugio Otto Meiling toward a beautiful ridge called Lamotte. A short hike obtains this ridge giving the spectator wonderful views of two of Tronador’s three summits. From this vantage it is easy to appreciate the former scale of these incredible glaciers that still pour off this volcanoes flanks. Here, we repeated two historic photos. After a short jaunt to a nearby summit to preview our next two adventures, we descended back to the refugio for a great New Years celebration with friends.

On our second day, we climbed Cierro Constitucion. Despite the bushwhacking through lenga bush and tabanos, or horseflies, we were able to summit and take one of our best historic repeat photos to date. Alberto M. de Agostini, in some ways the Ansel Adams of the Andes, took this photo of Tronador´s Frias Glacier from the summit of Constitucion in 1949.  These photos show the most startling changes we’ve witnessed so far.  Our repeat photo reveals an incredible amount of retreat and thinning. Where there were once huge icefalls, there are now rivers, lakes, and breathtaking waterfalls.

Our most difficult decision was to forgo taking our oldest photos. We decided to not climb to Cierro Interncional where these photos were taken from because the temperatures were unusually warm at night and the glacier surface was not freezing. This meant that the loose volcanic rocks were free to crumble off of the summits to the glacier paths below. Instead we chose to climb Pico Argentino, since it had far less rock fall danger. We were living our dreams, celebrating the sunrise as we welcomed the spirit of adventure and gave our thoughts to Travis Lizotte, whose life was taken very near our route.

Phase two is now complete.  Next, we are setting out for Chile, where a whole new adventure awaits:  to better understand and articulate the deep and intricate relationships between glaciers, people, and dams.