The snows of Kilimanjaro
“When the world first started taking climate change seriously there were 25 mountains at the equator that had a glacier,” adventurer and activist Tim Jarvis explains. “But within 25 years that ice will be gone as a result of climate change. The 25zero project name comes from those two sets of numbers, counting the zero for zero latitude.”
Under the 25zero banner, Jarvis’ goal is to scale all 25 of those equatorial mountains – and raise awareness of climate change globally as he does so. This June, Jarvis, his climbing partner Barry Gray, a film crew and a range of social media influencers and adventurers are climbing 5,895m Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest peak, whose white ice cap has towered above the plains of Tanzania for countless centuries, to document the disappearing ice.
While ice on the equator is a potent image, 25zero was born not at zero latitude but among the snows near the South Pole. “I retraced the journey of Ernest Shackleton back in 2013 and the last piece of that journey involves traversing the sub-Antarctic island of South Georgia,” Jarvis recalls. “Shackleton’s route is very well documented. He had to cross three of these glaciers. For us, 100 years on, it was only two. The other one is melted completely as a result of climate change and now it’s a lake which we had to wade across.”
The retreat of the glaciers that snake around the higher slopes of Kilimanjaro is visible in satellite images and photos. Yet there are no lakes to be seen. “In the case of Kilimanjaro, it’s warm but it’s drier and you’re not getting as much snowfall so the glaciers are literally desiccating,” Jarvis says. “They’re often going straight from a solid state to a gaseous state and evaporating before our eyes.”
That’s a potential catastrophe for local farmers who rely on seasonal meltwater from these slow-moving frozen rivers to support their crops and livestock. “It will be a major impact on the local economy and the local people,” Jarvis says.
And that’s true of glaciers around the world. In Nepal, melting glaciers are forming giant lakes, often sealed only by flimsy natural dams that risk major flooding. In Ladakh, where locals depend entirely on ice and snow melt for their agriculture, retreating glaciers could make farming impossible. Antarctica’s titanic Totten Glacier could raise global sea levels by a catastrophic 3m if it all melted.
"For my North Pole expedition, if I don’t go in the next few years I’m not going to even be able to do it because the ice is melting that fast.”
For Georgina Miranda, an adventurer, speaker and activist who is joining Jarvis for her second Kilimanjaro climb, the retreat of the world’s ice has a very personal significance. She is endeavouring to complete the Explorer Grand Slam, which includes summiting the highest mountains on each continent plus visiting both poles. “I have three expeditions left, but two of them are ones in the North Pole and South Pole,” she says. “Those areas are highly at risk. For my North Pole expedition, if I don’t go in the next few years I’m not going to even be able to do it because the ice is melting that fast.”
While Kilimanjaro is a popular climb with no technical skills required – one estimate suggests as many as 25,000 people summit every year – and for porters looking after the legwork of carrying food and building camps, conditions are still harsh. From the base of Kilimanjaro to the summit is around five vertical kilometres, and temperatures drop dramatically from the warmth of tropical Tanzania. “By the time you’re on the top of something like Kilimanjaro you might have -20 degrees with 50km/h of wind: very, very challenging conditions indeed,” Jarvis says. “I’m expecting -10 to -15 degrees on the summit and probably a fair amount of wind.”
To guard against the sub-zero temperatures, which will feel colder thanks to windchill and elevation, both Miranda and Jarvis will be wearing sustainably produced technical gear from Kathmandu’s XT range, which Jarvis helped design. But besides the chill factor, there is altitude to be borne in mind as well: severe altitude sickness can kill. “There’s no guarantee really how everyone’s body will respond. It doesn’t matter that enough of us climbed some pretty high peaks: there’s no guarantee that we won’t get altitude sickness or anything like that on summit day,” Miranda says. “Regardless, it will be a challenge, because it’s a 12- to 15-hour day to get up there and get back down to a camp where you can sleep.”
Yet their primary quest is about more than just the summit. While it’s too late to save the glaciers on the equator, we can take action on climate change to save more of the world’s ice, Jarvis insists. “There are three things you should do… Invest your money in firms or pension plans that do not in turn invest in fossil-fuel-related businesses,” he says. “The second thing is to green your own personal footprint. And the third thing is if you are going to consume make it more life experiences than material things.”
Tim Jarvis AM is founder and project leader of 25zero.
Tim Jarvis & Kathmandu
This June, Kathmandu Brand Ambassador Tim Jarvis is summiting Mount Kilimanjaro to document the effects of glacial melt due to climate change. Tim and his 25Zero team are powered by Kathmandu XT Series technical alpine gear.