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News | Carraro’s eye on the glacier that no longer exists

laghetto-vallon-popera_ph.RitaZandonella World Heritage
22 December 2021

The last work to carry the signature of journalist and writer Giovanni Carraro was presented on 27 November, during a very well-attended soiree in Dosoledo di Comelico Superiore. The documentary, made possible by the collaboration of the UNESCO Dolomites Foundation, focuses on the Popera group to tell the story of a glacier that no longer exists, as well as offering hiking and historical information as usual. Accompanying visitors along the journey with video narration were Telebelluno director Andrea Cecchella, historian Giovanni De Donà, geologist Gianluca Piccin and video operator Mauro Dalle Feste.

A recent and definitive retreat

As geologist Gianluca Piccin explains, “You only have to look at a map of the trails from a few years ago to see that the glacier was shown then, but now, there is hardly anything left. And that’s not all; if we cast our eyes upwards, we see a typical U-shaped suspended glacial valley. This was the site of the hanging glacier that was documented in photos from the Great War as being fifty metres thick.” The documentary shows how the limit the ice had reached on the walls of that small valley can be perfectly distinguished, thanks to the different colouring of the rock.

A message from Comelico… to COP26

The director asked us to explain the reasons for this work: why did you choose the Popera case specifically to tell the story about glacial melting?

It all stems from the work I’ve been doing for a few years now with geologists, with a view to a book on geotourism. We have already taken several excursions to the Dolomites for documentaries, specifically: Croda da Lago and the G. Palmieri Mountain Hut; The Pelmo Tour Ring Route; The Cernera Range and the Mondeval River; Col Quaternà, the Volcano of the Dolomites; Col dei Bos, the Amber Mountain; The Tre Cime di Lavaredo, the Trinity of the Dolomites; Setsass, the Mountain of two Atolls. The Popera area was missing, so we got together at the beginning of the summer and decided on the eighth route, ‘The Bygone Glaciers of the Popera’. I take care of the hiking part of this project, and the geologists are in charge of the naturalistic and geological parts. I am very passionate about this scientific subject, because it allows me to discover new things that you don’t notice without guided observation directly in the field. Each itinerary had its own theme, for example, Pelmo with its dinosaur footprints, Col Quaternà as an ancient volcano, the amber of Col dei Bos which retains organisms millions of years old, and much more. For the Popera, we have pinpointed the topic of disappearing glaciers, not coincidentally at the same time as COP26 in Glasgow. Many of these itineraries have included a documentary of which I am producer and director. In their own small way, these tasks have always been successful, thanks in part to Telebelluno and the UNESCO Dolomites Foundation, who often support me.

How should mountain tourism change in light of what is described in the documentary?

I hope that my editorial and film work will serve to stimulate awareness in people, and not only while hiking in the mountains. When I speak in the context of the Prosecco Hills of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene UNESCO site in Treviso, I am often heard repeating that we have gold under our boots, a priceless asset that must be safeguarded, regardless of political considerations. The mountains belong to everyone.

In quantitative terms, human history is very short compared to geological history. Yet warfare has stained these mountains with blood, and many of the events of 1915-18 also bear witness to the transformations of the landscape that have been brought about, or simply witnessed, by humankind.

I usually include stories of the Great War in my documentaries, precisely because each mountain has something to say about it. In the case of the Popera, the theme is even more present, because in addition to the dramatic aspect of a terrible historical period, the scientific level of the narrative is also very important. In fact, a photo taken a hundred years ago perfectly illustrates a 50-metre layer of ice that made up the mountain’s hanging glacier; today there is nothing left. Another thing is that the path that the soldiers used to reach Sentinel Pass is now almost inaccessible, because it has collapsed; there is no longer any permafrost to support it.

What motivates you to tell the story of the Dolomites?

I just have a great passion for walking in nature. I like the physical exertion and the feeling of satisfaction when I get home and light the fire for a nice barbecue with friends. This has led me to recount my experiences over many years of hiking in the mountains. I first became an author of books, then a journalist, and then a documentary filmmaker, always with a single theme: the mountains. And it’s all for passion, because my job as a car dealer is completely different. Two sides of the same coin, one as an entrepreneur, and the other as a hiker. And I’m proud of that.

Ph. Rita Zandonella, Rifugio Berti – Vallon Popera 

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