Retreat of the Furtwangler

Furtwangler is the name of one of the glaciers near the peak of Kilimanjaro.  The glacier was named after German national, Walter Furtwangler, who was one of the members of the 4th party to summit the mountain in 1912 and the 1st to ski back down from the summit.


When we think of glaciers we usually think of the ancient, prehistoric Ice Age behemoths that shaped North America by gouging out our Great Lakes and grinding everything under them into soil – but Furtwangler glacier is not quite that old.  Scientists think, from examining ice cores, that Furtwangler developed sometime in the 1600’s – not exactly Ice Age, but still far pre-dating all modern human interaction with Kilimanjaro. So, for all intents and purposes, Furtwangler has always been up there, waiting to greet everyone who ever climbed Kilimanjaro.


But not much longer.  Furtwangler is melting and sublimating and otherwise disappearing due to climate change or global warming or global weirding or whatever they are calling it these days.  Scientists realized sometime in the 1970s that Furtwangler was melting, and they estimated that by 2025 it would be gone completely.  But in recent years, it has been receding so rapidly that they now project that 2018 will be our last chance to see it before it’s gone for good.


I’m not totally sure how I feel about Furtwangler’s imminent demise.  On one hand, it is sad that we are so capable of screwing up this amazing paradisical Earth that God gave us – but on the other hand, it’s only ice, and ice melts.  It is what glaciers do.


It is also sad that this amazing thing that is almost alien in its majesty has been a part of the Kilimanjaro experience for every person that has ever set foot on the Rooftop of Africa in modern times – but after this year, if it is part of the experience it will be from a guide pointing to a baren crater and saying, “There used to be a huge glacier there.”


That makes me wonder when the Furtwangler glacier disappears, will they retire the name or will they hold that name in reserve for the next time, maybe hundreds of years from now, when Kili is swathed in glaciers again.  If another glacier eventually reappears in that location will the Furtwangler be reborn, or will it have a new name?


In any case, the retreat of the Furtwangler is one of many reasons that Elise and I are headed to Tanzania to climb Kili in January of 2018.  Not being able to get to Kili earlier gives me a tremendous sense of missed opportunity, but on the other hand, The person I was in the past could not have made the trek to Kili.




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