The first time Carsten Braun visited the Venezuelan Andes was in 2009. He and his wife were climbing Pico Humboldt—the second highest peak in the country—and decided to bring along a GPS in order to measure a small glacier. “That was a total shoestring operation,” he said of the challenging hike to the ice.
Braun, a geography professor at Westfield State University in Massachusetts, has been back to visit the Humboldt Glacier a few more times since then. During his most recent research trip six years ago, the glacier had shrunk noticeably.
“If you imagine draping a pancake over a slope,” that’s what it looked like said Braun of this “pretty thin piece of ice,” no more than 65 feet thick. It would be just under a mile to walk around its entire circumference.
Once one of five major tropical glaciers in the country, the Humboldt is nestled within the Sierra Nevada de Mérida in the western part of the country. Thanks to climate change, Venezuela has found itself a frontrunner in a somber race, with others such as Tanzania and China, to see which country will lose its glaciers first. What we’re seeing now, said Braun, “is maybe the last gasp of the Humboldt Glacier.”