Friday, December 11, 2009

Happy International Mountain Day

Mountains are an important part of our lives. And if you're reading this, you probably consider them an important part of your life as well. However, when we say that mountains are important to us, we really mean that they are important in a recreational or a spiritual way...but they are far more important than that.

The life cycles of many regions on our planet start in the mountains. We depend on the mountains for water for everything from irrigation to hydroelectric power to watering our lawns. The mountains are an incredibly important place for the physical and economic health of massive population centers.

The Convention on Biological Diversity put it best when writing about mountains and their importance to the world:

Mountain systems, covering about 27% of the world’s land surface and directly supporting 22% of the world’s people, are the water towers of the world, providing for the freshwater needs of more than half of humanity. The world’s mountains encompass some of the most spectacular landscapes, a wide variety of ecosystems, a great diversity of species, and distinctive human communities. The world’s principal biome types—from hyper-arid hot desert and tropical forest to arid polar icecaps—all occur in mountains. Mountains support about one quarter of world’s terrestrial biological diversity, with nearly half of the world’s biodiversity “hotspots” concentrated in mountains. Almost every area that is jointly important for plants, amphibians, and endemic birds is located within mountains. Of the 20 plant species that supply 80% of the world’s food, six species (maize, potatoes, barley, sorghum, tomatoes, and apples) originated in mountains. A large portion of domestic mammals—sheep, goats, domestic yak, llama, and alpaca—originated in mountain regions. Genetic diversity tends to be higher in mountains associated with cultural diversity and extreme variation in local environmental conditions.

However, mountains are vulnerable to a host of natural and anthropogenic threats, including seismic hazards, fire, climate change, land cover change and agricultural intensification, infrastructure development, and armed conflict. These pressures degrade mountain environments and affect the provision of ecosystem services and the livelihoods of people dependent upon them. The fragility of mountain ecosystems represents a considerable challenge to sustainable development, as the impacts of unsuitable development are particularly intense, more rapid and more difficult to correct than in other ecosystems.

It was for this reason that the United Nations General Assembly dedicated December 11th as International Mountain Day.

Right now there are specific threats to the recreational value of the mountains all over the world. The Access Fund lists dozens of crags and mountain areas all over the United States as being under the threat of closure. One specific threat that is near and dear to those of us in the Pacific Northwest, is the potential closure of the Index Lower Town Wall.

A Climber on the Lower Town Wall
Photo by Alasdair Turner

A few years ago, I wrote an article for the Seattle P.I. about Index. And though I'd climbed there repeatedly over the years, I never realized the deep and important history of the area not only to local climbers, but indeed, to climbers all over the West Coast. The area has hosted some of the best climbers in the world and has been a training ground for many of today's climbing luminaries.

The land owner at Index has decided that he will sell the property to a quarry if local climbers cannot come up with the money to buy the area. The Washington Climbers Coalition reached an agreement that they would buy 20 acres -- including the Lower Town Wall, the Middle Wall, the Inner Wall and several other crags -- if they could come up with the requisite $300,000 in 18 months.

The Washington Climbers Coalition currently has half of the amount.

As a result, in honor of International Mountain Day, today the American Alpine Institute is running a series of donation only rescue clinics at the YMCA in Bellingham. We are also going to have a raffle, slide show and auction tonight at New York Pizza. All proceeds from these events will be going to the Washington Climbers Coalition and their fund to purchase the walls at Index.

Today is a day for action. Whether your action is to help secure a recreational resource, to support schools in a remote mountain village, or to lobby against environmental degradation in the mountains, today is the day to act. Every climber, hiker, backpacker, and skier needs to ask themselves a question today:

What am I doing to celebrate International Mountain Day?

Juana Cocorico lives in a Pinya, a poor village below Illimani.
Juana's father has been our cook on numerous Bolivian Expeditions.
The author of this blog is sponsoring Juana's education.
Photo by Krista Eytchison

There are a number of quick and easy things that you could do. You could do a stewardship project like help build a trail or replace bolts. You could log onto our website and make a donation to help save Index from becoming a gravel quarry. You could donate to the Access Fund. You could donate to the American Safe Climbing Association. Or you could donate to your local climbing access group. Outside of the climbing world, you could make a donation to a larger environmental organization like the Sierra Club or to a larger mountain children advocacy group like the Central Asia Institute.

Regardless of what you do, you should take some time to do something for the mountains, the mountain people, or the mountain environments today...that's what International Mountain Day is for...

--Jason D. Martin

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