New film portrays far-reaching impacts of a changing mountain
“Can you hear that rock buzzing?” someone asks high atop Mount Kenya during a lightning storm.
The person is a member of the climbing team organized by Pete McBride, a Basalt filmmaker and photographer who portrays in his second documentary, “The Water Tower,” the effects of the mountain’s fading glaciers on the vast east African watershed below.
Another member says during the climb that he had no idea what burley meant, “but now I do. This was burley.” A few moments later, a stomach-churning shot of a gap above a sheer cliff at 16,200 feet — just below the summit of the continent’s second highest peak — underscores his statement.
But the mountain scene, with its hair-raising static electricity and vistas roiled by clouds, are only one part of the 28-minute film, which premieres next month in Hawaii’s Waimea Ocean Film Festival.
Coming from a family of “intrepid vacationers,” McBride said in an interview Friday that his parents took him up to Mount Kenya’s false summit at 16,355 feet.
He was 9 years old, and “it was pretty impactful on me on many levels,” he said. “It was the first time I really saw a glacier.”
That was in 1980. Now: “It’s all just vanished,” McBride said. “It still gets a lot of precipitation, but it’s just not cold enough to turn into snow. It’s not acting that way.”
And that spells trouble for Kenyans, 7 million of whom rely on water from Mount Kenya, which also sustains countless wildlife and industries, McBride says in “The Water Tower.”
The film contains stunning scenes that range from interviews with residents of the slums of the nation’s capital, Nairobi, to shots of animals on the grasslands and in the rivers.
McBride made the film in July, when he visited Kenya for two weeks.
“It’s an environmental film with climbing in the background,” he said. “It’s an excuse to talk about glaciers that have disappeared. They’re all gone except for this one snow pile.”
Comparing images from July to 1980, McBride said there is “no question it’s a climate change issue.”
The film was made in conjunction with Jake Norton of Challenge 21, who is attempting to climb the three highest peaks on every continent to raise awareness for global water and sanitation issues. Some 2.1 million people are in need of functioning wells and clean water, McBride said.
“It’s amazing,” he said. “I’ve been documenting for the last couple of years natural resources that are disappearing. What amazes me is very few people are aware of it.
“It’s changing before our eyes.”