On Day 9, we awoke to find our base camp shrouded by fog. We split up to make the most of our last day at this altitude.
Half of the group got ready to climb up to the Stübel Glacier, whilst the others set off on search of flora and fauna at almost 4250 m above sea level. The first surprise of the day came early – Christian managed to capture a herd of vicuñas enjoying a spot of breakfast in the morning mist up close on camera. Vicuñas are one of the two species of wild camelids found in South America, with the other being guanacos, which tend to live further south. The wild ancestor of the domesticated llama and alpaca, vicuñas were reintroduced into the wild on Chimborazo just a few decades ago.
Meanwhile, the rest of us headed for the Stübel Glacier, located an incredible 5200 metres above sea level. We wanted to take a sample of ice from the highest point as another piece in the puzzle revealing the impact we humans have on our planet’s climate. Under semi-clear skies, we packed up our equipment and set off on our way.
But we were in for a nasty shock when we reached our destination – there was simply no glacier to be seen! Our experienced mountain guide had not been up to see the glacier since 2015. And now debris filled the space where ice had stood just five years ago. The Stübel Glacier had retreated more than 100 metres in altitude since 2015. Talk about witnessing climate change in action!
So, we had lugged the drill all the way up to this height for nothing, as we didn’t have time to make it the rest of the way up given the rough and uneven terrain. We had no choice but to head back down.
Dirk unpacked his photography equipment to document the retreat of the glacier in several hundred high-resolution photographs, clearly capturing the glacier’s composition.
But we didn’t have to head back to camp completely empty-handed. Luckily, our wonderful mountain guide Jaime Vargas was on hand to help and he took us on a detour through the challenging terrain. Armed with nothing more than light baggage and an ice pick, we did eventually manage to take a sample from the surface of the Stübel Glacier. Thank you, Jaime!