Ice loss on Africa’s highest peak prompts star climber Will Gadd to reconsider his sport

Mountain Protection, UIAA

World-renowned adventurer Will Gadd is having a rethink about his ice-climbing career and carbon footprint after discovering that his planned ascent of Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro was no longer possible due to the extensive shrinking of its glaciers. Gadd’s story was published by the United Nations Environment Programme (UN Environment) on 14 September and can be viewed in full here.

“This is a powerful example of the type of reflection and re-evaluation of ‘mountaineering values’ that we need to proactively and constructively engage with going forward, precisely at a time when ‘first ascents’ appear to be no more a feasible prospect or definition for mountaineering and exploration – but rather, ‘last ascents’,” explains UIAA Mountain Protection Commission President Dr Carolina Adler. “Reimagining what it means to practice mountaineering in this age of unprecedented rates of global change that we as humans have experienced, is something the UIAA needs to inspire and support its members to realise.”

The UIAA is collaborating with UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) to boost environmental protection in mountainous areas. The planned work includes training mountain guides on sustainability issues in collaboration with the International Federation of Mountain Guides Associations. One example is working with the climbing and mountaineering community on reducing the amount of litter left in these fragile landscapes. A Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the two sides in February 2020.

Recently, UNEP and partners started to jointly implement the Adaptation at Altitude programme, which is funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation. The objective is to improve the availability and use of mountain observation data, to strengthen regional exchange and collaboration and to establish a community of practice on climate change adaptation in mountains. In East Africa, UNEP supports strengthening the East African Community and building capacities at the local and regional levels for adaptation in mountains, including in the Kilimanjaro region.

Further details on the UIAA’s work in mountain protection can be found here.

Photos: Courtesy of UNEP, Will Gadd climbing fragments of Mount Kilimanjaro’s Furtwängler Glacier in 2014 (top) and 2020 (bottom). These images, shot from a similar location, show the dramatic retreat of the Furtwängler. Another piece of ice behind the glacier has now gone