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Ice climber faces climate change in a set of striking images

Photography projects and contests that raise awareness of environmental issues can leave quite an impression on us. And a recent project from Red Bull is definitely among them. Red Bull teamed up with professional climber Will Gadd and photographer Christian Pondella to capture Will’s last ascent on Mount Kilimanjaro’s ice towers. The last one, because they are soon to disappear.

Will’s first trip to Kilimanjaro took place in 2014. Other than being fascinated by the ice formations, he also learned that they could disappear in only a few years due to climate change. “Scientists estimate that these glaciers have lost upwards of 70% of their mass since Gadd’s first journey up Kilimanjaro,” Red Bull explains.  It was way back in 2000 that researchers predicted that the ice on the 5,895m high dormant volcano in the Eastern Rift Mountains may disappear by this year. This is one of the things that made Will want to return to Kilimanjaro in 2020.

The first person to climb all 14 ice towers on the Messner Route was Italian legend, Reinhold Messner. He did it in 1978, which was, interestingly enough, the year Gadd first got hooked on ice climbing. In 2014, along with Sarah Hueniken and photographer Christian Pondella, Will first ascended the unique glacier ice features formed by melting factors that are unique to the tropics with the new expedition seeing them return there as well as tackling the tough Messner Route. For this attempt, Douglas Hardy, a researcher at the University of Massachusetts Amherst who has maintained a weather station atop Kilimanjaro since 2000, also joined the group.

Although Will wasn’t the first one to undertake this demanding climb, he might be the last one. In 2020, he decided to go back there once again and climb these massive ice formations before they’re gone forever. In February 2020, Will took another trip to Kilimanjaro. He was shocked by just how fast the ice towers were disappearing. He felt responsible to educate others on the global impacts of climate change, and his efforts were recorded in a documentary titled The Last Ascent. This movie doesn’t only follow Will’s climbs in 2014 and 2020. By comparing them, it reveals just how quickly the ice has disappeared, and it’s devastating.

Detail of a side-by-side comparison of Will Gadd on Mt Kilimanjaro on 1 April, 2020

“The thing about this trip that is most important to me is to show people this change in a way that a graph and a newspaper can’t,” Will explains. “We think of climate change as being a relatively slow process, but just five years made a world of difference up there. When you look at the cumulative effects of what we saw, it’s quite fast. I always thought of climate change as a future problem. It’s going to be a lot faster, at times, than we think it is.”

Take a look at more photos below, and you can watch The Last Ascent on Red Bull TV.