There are

only black

mountains left


My name is Exaltación Chuquichampi Cusihuata

My daughter and I have come to visit our Qhellqaya peak

In the past, the snow was even on the mountain slopes,

The peak used to be very beautiful, but now there have been a lot of changes, so there is no more snow.

That’s why I’m very concerned: our peak has melted.

We made an offering to our Mother Earth on behalf of the mountain. I feel optimistic. 

Glaciers cover 10% of the Earth’s surface and, combined with ice sheets, account for almost 70% of the planet’s fresh water. As global temperatures have risen, almost all the world’s glaciers have shrunk in recent decades, especially in the Tropical Andes.
It is projected that the future temperature of the Central Andes will increase between three and five degrees Celsius, according to model projections of climate change in the 21st century.
70% of the world’s tropical glaciers are in Peru, with 19 snow-capped mountain ranges. Between 1962 and 2016, Peru’s glaciers lost 53.5% of their surface area, equivalent to 1,284 km2 of glacier surface.

I remember that the peak used to be huge. It looked gorgeous, even on the slopes.

The untamed and wild rivers from all sides meet the Lake Sibinacocha and this one with the Ausangate Mountain. They give us abundant water for our Cusco.

The peak gives us water for agriculture, food, drinking, and for the animals.

The peak is now disappearing. It is already at an advanced stage, everything is gone. We found a black mountain.

There is not much snow left, ¿so what are we going to do when the peak is gone? We will run out of water.

That is why we don’t want pollution. Don’t throw plastic in these places. 

The melting of Peru’s glaciers is threatening the water supply in the coastal desert, which is home to 70% of its citizens. It also endangers their food sovereignty and access to electricity.

As for Lima, for instance, which is the second largest desert city in the world, irrigation and electric power for its 10 million inhabitants depends on glacier runoff.

The peaks are melting. We never had that kind of water-like rain before. We never saw anything like that on the high plateau, just sleet. The peak didn’t melt with it, but now it’s raining torrentially. The ground is getting very hot and peaks are melting more and more. It’s really bad. The peak is now melting little by little, even the mountains are turning black because there is no more snow. In Hawaykate’s cairn, where we walked, everything used to be covered with snow. You couldn’t even find space to walk through. Everything was white.

The Quelccaya Ice Cap (QIC) is located in the Cordillera Vilcanota of southern Peru, with a summit elevation of approximately 5,680 m MSL and a median area of nearly 50.2 km2 (during the period 1975-2010).
As is the case with other ice masses, various vital processes depend on the melting of the Quelccaya’s water, which is used for drinking, domestic use, sanitation, agriculture, and so forth.

It’s one of the largest tropical glaciers in the world: it is larger than 9,000 soccer fields.

We shouldn’t pollute our communities. Tourists leave plastic, disposable containers, bottles, and other plastic items behind. That is causing global warming. We’re contaminating more and more of our rivers, our mountains, our peaks, our Mother Earth. We’re melting further our peaks. Yeah, Dad, right on. We also need to make greater offerings to Mother Earth, to the Apus, so they can give us strength in our lives. And on behalf of the next generations too, to walk together in harmony. It used to be this way. Nowadays, we no longer remember Mother Earth, nor make offerings to the Apus. Formerly, each August 1st and during carnivals, people made offerings to the animals and the Apus.

It is estimated that the glacier mass of the QIC has decreased by 31% in the last 30 years. In 2018, climate scientists and glaciologists projected an irreversible retreat of the Quelccaya glacier by the mid-2050s, followed by its complete disappearance, if air temperature warming continues.  

Increasing Andean surface temperature and variations in precipitations have possibly affected the extent of the QIC. In the past, most of them were in the form of snow, and now they are in the form of drizzle, resulting in an accelerated melting of the glacier.  

According to specialist José Luis Becerra Silva, director of the Urubamba-Vilcanota Water Management Authority, the impacts on the QIC, as well as other peaks in Cusco, have also been worsened by forest fires in several areas.

The accelerated melting of glaciers increases the risk of natural hazards such as floods. For example, in the Cordillera Blanca (Peru), glacier-related natural disasters claimed more than 25,000 victims between 1941 and 2003.  

The melting also puts certain species at risk of extinction, given that these areas are the habitat of aquatic and terrestrial animals, thereby also affecting the communities that populate and coexist in the habitat. 

In 2015, the earliest evidence of large-scale atmospheric pollution from human activities was found in a high-altitude ice core on the Quelccaya Ice Cap.

During the Spanish conquest, around 1540, the silver mining boom in Bolivia sent clouds of lead dust rising over the Andes, where tiny remnants of dust settled on the glacier. 

To the Chuquichampi and Teresa family, with whom I shivered with cold at the top of the Quelccaya Ice Cap.


Assistant: Víctor Zea

Quechua translator: Yovana Chuquichampi

Angela Ponce

Documentalist photographer and photojournalist based in Peru. Her work focuses on long-term projects dealing with Latin American social issues, political conflicts and climate change.

She has received several awards such as the ICRC’s Humanitarian Visa d’Or, POY Latam, Sony Latin America Professional Award, Eyewitness Photojournalism Grant by the Pulitzer Center, among others.

Her work has been published in various media such as BBC, National Geographic, Getty Images, NPR, Harper’s Bazaar, El País, La Croix, Al Jazeera, etc.

She is currently a contributor to The New York Times, Reuters, Bloomberg and Washington Post.