"End Of The Earth" - Foreword
As the sun was about to disappear behind the distant hills, I was the last one to get out of the bus. I watched the driver wrestle my backpack out of the hull as best he could before it fell out of his grip and landed on the dirty ground with a hard thud. “Gracias compa!” I said, after putting on my pack and waving goodbye. I took a quick glance around the foreign town, a narrow main street of restaurants and lodges. I walked into the small camping store and bought a can of gas and a map, then quickly shoved it in my bag before hitting the trail. I pushed myself up the narrow, steep, rocky path as quickly as I could, hoping I would make it to my foreseen campsite before dark, but my pack was pulling me backwards, weighing around 60lbs.
The agent that weighed my bag at the airport the day before gave me a look of surprise as she asked me “You’re gonna carry all that?” It was full of my camera gear, camping gear, and food that I had carefully calculated to last me for the next 30 days that I would spend in the backcountry, without needing to return to town: two packets of instant oatmeal and two meat sticks per day, five freeze dried meals, a bag of cashews and almonds, and some Clif bars.
I made it to my camp just after dark, set up my tent, and took one quick look at the black silhouettes of the mountains before going to bed and falling into a deep sleep induced by exhaustion from traveling for the past 48 hours. Those twenty nine days that followed were some of the most amazing of my life, as I went out for hikes as often as the weather would permit, and explored Los Glaciares National Park in Argentina, home to Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre. I was absolutely blown away by the epic scenery; crystal blue glaciers and their lakes below them, rivers and streams, cascading waterfalls, rolling hills, and enchanted forests. Entire days were spent sitting near my camp, just watching clouds scrape against the tips of jagged spires, or shadows and light dancing across the enormous, sheer faces of granite monoliths.
I quickly learned that not all days were able to be spent like this though, due to the infamous, treacherous storms of Southern Patagonia. The weather was extremely difficult to make photographs in, days and days of non-stop rain and relentless wind. If you ever care to test your sanity, sitting in a tent for several days in a row during merciless rainstorms is a great place to start. My longest record without leaving my tent was a 6 day straight stint, where I was only able to step out for a couple minutes at a time to take a piss in the nearby bushes before getting too soaked to be able to dry off again. After a few days, I resorted to peeing in the dirt underneath my vestibule from within the shelter of my tent, fed up with having to go outside and get soaked every time. For the remainder of the storm I only left the tent when it was time to go “number two.”
In order to save weight, I didn’t bring a book with me that trip, nor did I think about downloading anything ahead of time to listen to during downtime. Instead, I entertained myself by reading the labels on everything I had brought with me, scanning the ingredients of my oatmeal and freeze dried meals over and over again just to pass the time. I practically memorized my two-man tent’s warning label from studying it religiously during those long, wet days. A month later, I returned to town with a much lighter backpack, now just full of trash and empty food wrappings, and having lost 15 pounds as a result of my 600-800 calories per day diet. I linked up with some friends in town and drove across the border to Chile to explore Torres Del Paine National Park, only to find another straight week of rain.
Despite the difficult weather, because of the long amount of time I had allotted to myself, I still had many great opportunities to create photographs, most of which all happened on the same handful of days where I was permitted to leave my tent. You can see that gallery here: www.bennettfilm.com/Patagonia17
Ever since that first visit in 2017, I knew that one day I would return to the magnificent mountains of Patagonia. Fortunately, I was able to revisit on two more occasions, in 2018, and again in 2019, both trips during the fall season as well. Again, on my second trip, while I was there for three weeks, I struggled with less than ideal weather conditions, and was only able to see the mountains on a few blessed mornings that I was there. But this time I was equipped with a book, “Finders Keepers” by Craig Childs, and plenty of downloaded audiobooks and podcast episodes since I knew I would be having a decent amount of tent time.
On most occasions, I’d wake up in the morning, happy to see that the rain had ceased, and hike excitedly for several hours to places I had scouted out days prior, only to find the mountains socked in by a thick blanket of clouds. I had also hoped to shoot more of the fall foliage (which I feel is just as remarkable as the mountains); the wonderful Lenga trees with their incredibly vibrant orange and red leaves, but because of lots of snowfall and wind, all the leaves had fallen within just a week or so after changing color. Still, I created a number of images that I was pleased with, but I felt it wasn’t quite enough to truly convey the story of the place that I had imagined. I decided to hang onto those images for the time being, determined to return to Patagonia once again the following year.
I returned to Patagonia this year, 2019, with hopes to complete what I felt like would be a solid gallery to finish off with, knowing that it would probably be my last visit to Patagonia for a while. Fortunately, there was some great light this time around, that many photographers witnessed, and there were plenty of opportunities for creating photographs. However, there was a new, disturbing challenge to deal with; big groups of Lenga trees stood bare, without any leaves, but not due to the change in season, they had all disappeared before Fall even started.
I was perplexed by what the cause may be of these big, dark areas that looked like ominous, black shadows on the hillsides. Some areas of forest in Los Glaciares NP were completely stripped bare, while other trees nearby were still very green. The year prior I had seen these same exact areas full of colorful leaves, looking as alive and healthy as ever. I asked some rangers and local guides what had been going on with the trees and found out that there had been a caterpillar population boom this year, and they had been wreaking havoc on all the flora. Most insects tend to die off as soon as temperatures dip down below freezing at night, but on many days this year, Patagonia was strangely warm.
Trees, especially in colder climates, depend on their leaves in order to survive the long winters. All plants, being made mostly of water, are extremely vulnerable to freezing and their cell walls bursting from the expanding ice. The more leaves a tree has, the more glucose it can create and store throughout the year in order to mix the oily substance with its water and prevent it from turning to ice. As I looked at these big patches of bare branches, I was filled with concern and sadness knowing they probably wouldn’t stand a chance, a chilly dampness already in the air.
As most of us know, Patagonia isn’t the only area being affected by climate change, and many places are being impacted much, much worse. It’s foreseen that the majority of glaciers all over the planet will be gone within the next 35 years. When Glacier National Park, USA was first created in 1910, it was estimated that
it was home to over 150 glaciers. Now, in 2019, there are fewer than 30 remaining. As glaciers all over the world are melting due to the increasing temperatures of the planet, they are releasing thousands and thousands of tons of stored carbon back into the atmosphere, which in turn causes the planet to heat up further due to trapping more of the sun’s heat. It’s a vicious, destructive cycle.
As I sat there on a boulder during my last morning up in the mountains of Patagonia, soaking in the moment while watching and listening as pieces of ice calved off the distant glacier beneath Cerro Torre, I contemplated all of these dramatic changes that are occurring to our planet due to our thoughtless actions. It filled me with both remorse and gratitude to know that one day, this scene will no longer be possible for anyone else to witness, the landscape likely to change entirely from how it is now
What motivates me to photograph the little wilderness that we have left, is the hope that if I can capture a place in the right way, I can give the world a glimpse of its true value in its unaltered, natural state, and inspire others to join in the fight for its protection. I fear that these images I share with you today will eventually only stand as a mere memory of what our wonderful world once was, of the pristine paradises that used to exist, still undisturbed by man.
With these thoughts I’d like to share a quote from a photographer I greatly admire: “I fear that future generations will judge us harshly for our failure to place proper value on wildness, diversity, open space, spirit, solitude, and other treasures of the natural world still available to us today. May they at least know that some of us tried.” - Guy Tal
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