On Thursday, August 17, 2023, 48 volunteers gathered on the Pers Glacier near the Diavolezza ski area, Switzerland, for the second annual clean-up day. Together with four mountain guides from the Mountaineering School Pontresina (‘Bergsteigerschule Pontresina’) and the Go Vertical Mountaineering School, the group collected a total of 250kg (552 pounds) of garbage from the glacier.
The Pers Glacier is below the famous Piz Palü, which is part of the Bernina mountain range. Piz Palü rose to fame in the 1920s after the making of the iconic silent movie “The While Hell of Piz Palü”. The peak is known for its treacherous avalanches and deep crevasses.
The ‘Glacier Clean Up Day’ was created last year by the lift operating company at Diavolezza in cooperation with the two aforementioned local mountaineering schools, MortAlive, as well as helicopter company Heli Bernina. Last year’s ‘Glacier Clean Up Day’ took place on August 11, 2022. August ist the perfect month for clean ups, as the summer has melted a lot of last season’s snowfall and released more garbage.
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The team took the gondola to the top of the Diavolezza ski area and from there hiked in small groups with one experienced mountain guide each across the Pers Glacier. Aside from a lot of smaller plastic pieces, the groups found some interesting items, like an old backpack with climbing rope still attached, old skis, a camera, crampons, maps and old food and drink cans.
Items that were found were not necessarily discarded, but rather lost items from past hikes. Raphael Sele, cantonal archeologist, stressed that to him it was so much more than garbage, but rather “pieces of history”, like an old camera from the 1950-60s, bullet cartridges or old food cans, that give you an indication of human behavior in interaction with the environment over time.
Compared to last year when 740kg (1,631 pounds) were found, only about a third garbage was collected. The garbage was transported off the glacier by helicopters by Heli Bernina.
“The amount of garbage found compared to last year shows, that we have been able to reduce the garbage on the glacier and that it makes sense to run the clean up day every year at the glacier.”
Nicolà Michael, Head of Sales & Marketing Diavolezza Lagalb AG
The most interesting pieces, such as some of the old cans, the old ice pick, a single glove or the almost intact looking camera will be handed over to local artist Nora Engels, who will turn the garbage into art sculptures. Engels specializes in wood carvings and the wooden sculptures will be auctioned off with all profits going to the glacier project MortAlive.
MortAlive is a project that tries to preserve the glaciers by using the snowmelt from the summer to create a protective snow layer over the glacial ice. It is basically a form of recycling melt water rather than feeding it into the rivers and thus insulating the glacial ice layer from the summer sun.
“The Clean Up day is not just there to pick up garbage but also to raise awareness for the effect climate change has on the glaciers and water reserves. We are happy so many people participated — they have all become ambassadors of an important message. We will definitely hold another Clear-up-Day next year and we will again announce the date a month in advance on Go Vertical’s website.”