My guide tells me that there are only 260-270m left to go.
At the end of the trek, he assures me that I will see with my own eyes the magnificent Yanapaccha glacier high in Peruthe mountains of the Cordillera Blanca.
The thing is, he didn’t mean about 250m, he meant 250m up.
Already at 3,500 m, I was breathing air. Now only one day in the Andes, with little acclimatization, I was trying to reach almost 5,000m by walking for two hours, climbing over slippery rocks and mud, along barely discernible trails.
Above me rose the peaks of the mountains, the sunlight sparkling on the snow and ice; all around, the sound of small avalanches roaring in the valleys, above pristine blue lakes fed by meltwater from glaciers.
Previously you could drive to these particular glaciers in Peru, now to see them you have to walk.
That’s how far they’ve backed off.
“Slowly, small steps Stuart, don’t rush,” Charlie Good, my guide, a Brit who has been here for 17 years told me.
He smiled at me when I hoisted my trekking poles to the top of a particularly trying climb, about 5m, a huge distance, I can assure you when your head is pounding hard and you can barely breathe thin air.
Finally, we reached the glacier, a huge sheet of ice on top of a gray expanse of moraine – debris and rocks once carried by the glacier, but now exposed because it retreated.
We had come to see firsthand what many predict is the slow but certain extinction of the Peruvian glaciers, caused by global warming and guaranteed if climate change will not stop for the next 20 years.
Charlie, an expert mountaineer who has been trekking here for almost two decades, told me the changes in these mountains and their glaciers due to global warming are no longer subtle.
“It receded all the way back, so a few hundred yards,” he said, pointing to one of the glaciers.
“You know there is only one waterfall that is supposed to come out of this glacier. In November [a couple of years ago] when the sun was almost directly above us because we are tropical there were nine waterfalls coming out of it.
“It’s melting in front of your eyes, I was crying, I was shooting a music video and I was just crying about how much water was pouring out of this glacier.”
The Cordillera Blanca glaciers provide water for agriculture and drinking to millions of people in northern Peru.
They are vital for the entire society and economy of the country, but they are literally melting at an astonishing rate. A third has disappeared in the past ten years.
Some 72% of the world’s tropical glaciers are found here.
They exist around the equator at altitudes above 4000 m, but because of their position on the equator, they are particularly sensitive to climate change. As the world warms, glaciers are receding.
Signs of climate change and global warming first appeared in this part of the world in the mid-1970s.
The glaciers started to melt, but at the time it was not a disaster, in fact the sudden appearance of plentiful water supplies helped fuel an agricultural “gold rush” downstream.
Since then, commercial agriculture has flourished here, with exports all over the world.
This economy depends on glacial water and if it dries up, which some researchers predict, the land could turn back into a desert, cutting off people’s livelihoods and fundamentally altering society.
One of the main world authorities in this field is the glaciologist Cesar Portocarrero.
We met him at his home in Huaraz where he has lived for 50 years and he drove with us to a viewpoint at the top of the mountain.
The 74-year-old first arrived here as an expert in disaster management, but thanks to a chance meeting with a scientist, he agreed to move to the mountains and began a mission of a lifetime. to understand and explore climate change by studying glaciers.
He has been warning Peru and the world about the effects of climate change for decades and is frustrated by the lack of action.
“Peru is facing a major water crisis,” he told me, “and there is no plan.
He explained how glaciers not only provide water to communities in the valleys, but are also essential to Lima’s water needs.
Lima is one of the driest capitals in the world, when it rains it makes headlines and continuous TV coverage.
Caesar says we are on the brink of disaster and pleads with the leaders who meet at COP26 in Glasgow to rise to the challenge – not today but yesterday.
“Our glaciers may last a few more decades, but in 2050 we will only have a small amount of glaciers,” he explained.
“If we don’t start working in water resources management yesterday, since yesterday, since today, our grandchildren will have big problems in the future.
He himself is a grandfather who fought for the world to recognize what is going on. Sometimes he is emotional when he thinks about their future.
“We have to think [of] the new generation, no [of] we.
“We will be leaving this world in the near future, but we are leaving the problem, as James Hansen says, ‘storms for our grandchildren’.
“We leave the problem to them and if we like them we should work from now on.”