On the Trails of the Glaciers


[Photo] Fabiano Ventura

How difficult was it to actually find each shooting location? Can you talk a little bit about what it was like researching the old trips? Where and how did you do it?

The search for the actual photographic locations was one of the most difficult activities, but also one of the most exciting. We had to take into account all the logistical difficulties due to the enormous vastness and the distances to be walked on the glaciers, not to mention the altitude. The research was performed in part before leaving Italy, and in part in the field. Information for the first expedition was gathered in Italy, by searching historic archives for images, texts and historical maps, with the valuable collaboration of the Italian Geographic Society, Military Geographic Institute, Fondazione Sella, the Ardito Desio Association and the National Museum of the Mountain.

We selected the historic photographs with the help of the researchers from our scientific committee, taking into account two main desired features: aesthetic beauty and scientific value. Then, we started to trace the points on modern maps, using all the data retrieved from the travel diaries, the original routes and also from photographic points, which in some cases were marked on Sella's maps. Moreover, in addition to marking those spots on our new maps, we traced the points on a DEM (Digital Elevation Model) to render 3D models of the terrain, to preview the viewpoint and verify that it matched with historic pictures.

During the expedition, we adopted several different methods of searching: we had printouts of the historical images with us, to be compared directly with the always-changing landscape during the climbs. Before the photographic climbing, surveys were always performed, and after having carefully considered the time of the original shots, in order to reproduce also the illumination as best as possible, we previewed the final image using the Digital Elevation Model rendering to determine if the locations we wanted to reach were the right ones. At the end, usually on the day after we left, we would make the shot. Finally, we also carried the old maps so we could compare our routes to the historical ones.

How large was your scientific committee? What did they do while you were taking the photographs?

The international scientific committee is composed by some of the world's leading experts in glaciology. During the expedition, geologist Pinuccio D'Aquila performed surveys in the field, under the coordination of Prof. Kenneth Hewitt, Prof. Claudio Smiraglia and Dr. Massimo Pecci. Due to the rough nature of the environment, we were limited in the types of instruments we could carry. In particular, we used a special cartographic GPS in order to perform geomorphological and glaciological mappings, a metric rib, a crystallographic plate, a magnifying glass, a dynamometer and a volume sampler for snow surveys regarding the thickness of snow and ice, crevasses and ice formations. We made GPS cross sections of the Biafo, Baltoro and Liligo glacier fronts, and measurements at the Memorial and the Desio boulders, important landmarks in the area.

How long were you in the Karakoram? Can you talk a little about expedition life?


The expedition lasted 45 days. After several days spent in Islamabad carrying out various bureaucratic duties and finally receiving the special permits needed to access the restricted area of the Baltoro glacier, we left by plane for the city of Skardu. What hard work it was to receive those special permits. It took almost three months!

In just over a month, the field expedition traveled more than 200km by foot. Often, it was necessary to leave at night in order to avoid the risk of falling rocks or avalanches. Sometimes we were away from base camp for three or four days in order to reach the right location. For our inspection visits, we often reached the base of the mountain to be climbed and studied the ascent route with binoculars. After each ascent, there was the work of recording the data (photographs, scientific data and videos), and the writing of a travelogue to be sent to the website's editorial team via satellite with the comparative photos, texts and video streams. We aimed always to keep the website updated with daily reports.

The only thing that we didn't have to take care of was food. Our dear chef Rashool was in contact via radio at any hour of the night, and was always able to make us wonderful dinners.

[Photo] Fabiano Ventura

How has the landscape and culture in the region changed over the last 100 years?

Landscapes, glaciers and even human culture have changed very slightly in the last century. This is a very remote, hardly accessible region, where technological innovations don't bring many advancements. According to our researchers, the Karakoram sports very peculiar behavior, exceedingly different from that of the Alps or even of the nearby Himalaya, places where the glaciers' melting is extremely noticeable. The different behavior of the Karakoram was the reason that our research in the region was of such interest to the scientists.

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