While the rest of the world reaches into the freezer for ice, there’s someone on this planet who actually climbs mountains to chop it off. Meet Baltazar Ushca, Ecuador’s last hielero, or ‘iceman’.
Ushca is the last surviving practitioner of his family’s trade – passed on from father to son for centuries. At least once a week, the 68-year-old spends five hours hiking up Mount Chimborazo, Ecuador’s highest peak. He keeps going until he reaches the ice mine that has fed him and his family for generations.
Negotiating the steep 14,700-foot path is no joke, especially at Uscha’s age. But he continues the family tradition of cutting ice from the cave and shaping it into blocks. He then transports the blocks, by mule, down to the nearest city of Riobamba, where they are sold.
Despite his age and his short stature (4ft 11in) Ushca can carry two 66-lb blocks of ice on his shoulders. And he’s quite happy working on the mountain that he considers to be sacred. “This is a man’s work,” he said, proudly. “I am happy when I walk. Father Chimborazo looks after me.”