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News

Dec 11, 2016

International Mountain Day: Are We on the Right Track?

How far have we reached in our efforts to protect the mountains and their culture?.

WRITTEN BY

Yogesh Kumar

International Mountain Day is a day dedicated to celebrate mountains, highlight ways to empower and protect mountain culture, people, and resources, as well as regulate mountain tourism.

It has its roots in 1992, during the adoption of Chapter 13 of Agenda 21 “Managing Fragile Ecosystems: Sustainable Mountain Development” at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNDEP). The increasing attention to the importance of mountains led the UN General Assembly to declare 2002 the UN International Year of Mountains. The UN General Assembly then designated 11 December, as “International Mountain Day”. FAO is the coordinating agency for this celebration (IMD) and is mandated to lead observance of it at a global level. The Water and Mountains Team of the Forestry Department is responsible for coordinating this international process.

Mountains are home to 13% of the world population, and attract 16% of global tourism.

The Outdoor Journal spoke to mountaineers and outfits working for the rights of the indigenous mountain people and mountaineering bodies to understand how far we have reached in the protection of mountains around the world and the challenges involved.

Climate Change is Changing Mountain Climbing

Mountaineer and guide Adrian Ballinger, who has been conducting mountaineering expeditions around the world for nearly 15 years explained to The Outdoor Journal, “Overall, high altitude mountains across the world are becoming more difficult. Perhaps due to climate change, traditionally snowy mountains are becoming ice and mixed, and ice and mixed climbs are becoming more rock. These changes seem to increase risks due to rockfall, increased instability in seracs and glaciers, and more difficult climbing. Especially in the Andes, climbs that used to be considered moderate are now extreme, and many extreme lines have become unclimbable. I have seen this change most clearly in the Cordillera Blanca in Peru, where I have spent 13 seasons.” Adrian is a certified IFMGA/AMGA mountain guide, through the American Mountain Guides Association.

The Situation in Nepal

The Himalayan kingdom that was shattered by a disastrous earthquake and is under an unstable government directs most of its tourism (that accounts for a large part of the country’s economy) to mountain activities. Everest is still a big lure, and a lucrative opportunity for tour operators. Mountaineer and writer Alan Arnette, whose blog and news on the Himalaya and Everest are widely followed, told The Outdoor Journal in an email that Everest now sees on a regular basis, 500 people summit, many with limited mountaineering experience.

“The price to climb Everest has been dramatically reduced primarily due to the Sherpa owned guide companies coming into the market and competing on price. Many western companies will charge over $50,000 while a Sherpa owned guide service will ask half of that,” he said.

Nepal suffers from a struggling government, that has been trying to regulate climbers attempting Everest in the past. However, Himalayan Database’s Billi Bierling told The Outdoor Journal, “I think there are too many people involved in making money- first and foremost the Nepal government, as they get 11,000 USD for each person attempting Everest. Even if such a regulation were to be introduced, I think there would always be ways of getting around it, so I don’t think this can be regulated. I think it is important to educate people about the resources the mountains provide us with and make them aware that by putting too much pressure on them we will end up in losing a very important asset to our earth.”

As far as waste management is concerned, Mr. Arnette said, “There has been little substantial improvement by the governments in terms of regulations aimed to keep the mountain clean. The improvements in keeping the mountain clean have been led by the many commercial guides, especially on the Nepal side of Everest. Again trekking, based out of Kathmandu, has led the effort on the South side with their ‘Eco Everest’ climbs and have removed tonnes of trash. Also, the Indian Army has made great contributions as shown with their clean-up of Everest Base Camp after the 2015 earthquake and subsequent avalanche.”

Mr. Ballinger said, “Our most popular mountains must be regulated to promote Leave No Trace ethics, and also to ensure that commercial use of the mountains meet standards of safety. This issue is becoming increasingly severe in Nepal, where low-cost operators are operating in an unregulated environment and reversing the trend of past decades that commercial use (mountain guiding) increases safety and cleanliness on mountains.”

He added that Nepal needs to be encouraged to improve their regulations and enforcement, and encourage clients to demand Leave No Trace and ethical standards for workers, even though this means increased prices.

The Good Initiatives

According to Mr. Arnette, “The Argentinian government is doing a good job with Aconcagua as is the US government with Denali.”

Mr. Ballinger explained, “Mountains like Kilimanjaro and Aconcagua – which used to have horrible reputations for trash, human waste, and the unethical treatment of porters – are now excellent examples of well-managed natural resources. Their governments recognized increasing popularity, and the importance of keeping these places pristine, and they invested in regulation and management. This has also been true in the Alps and USA (Denali is an excellent example of a popular climb that is well managed).”

Utah Valley University (UVU), the state university of Utah, USA, has an outfit called Utah International Mountain Forum (UIMF) that has its members (students and staff of UVU) serve the local communities of Utah’s national parks, where overcrowding and general pollution had become a big problem, owing to its popularity.

“Students are involved in various initiatives concerning mountain communities locally but also on a global level. They have advocated for the inclusion of the mountain targets among the sustainable development goals (SDGs) and contributed to a climate change petition signing under the Mountain Partnership, a UN alliance dedicated to improving the lives of mountain peoples and protecting mountain environments around the world,” stated the representatives of UIMF.

We have a long way to go to protect our mountains. We can begin by educating ourselves and others of best practices – visit the mountains in small groups, leave no trace, and support local communities. 

Feature image © Kuntal Joisher during his May 2016 Everest Expedition 

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Events

Jul 10, 2018

The 2018 Whitewater Awards: Nouria Newman and Benny Marr take the spoils.

The Whitewater Awards is a gathering of the world’s best kayakers to show off the biggest and best things that have happened in the sport over the past year.

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WRITTEN BY

Brooke Hess

 To be considered for an award, athletes, photographers, and filmmakers submit media taken over the past year that they believe showcases the best progression in the sport.  

There are sixteen different categories for submission, including separate male and female categories within the “Best of” kayaking categories. Categories include Photographer of the Year, Film of the Year, Expedition of the Year, Best Trick, Best Line, River Stewardship, Grom of the Year, Rider of the Year, along with several others.  Awards are decided upon by a voting process done by the Association of Whitewater Professionals.

This year’s Whitewater Awards was held in the Egyptian Theater in downtown Boise, Idaho. It was hosted on June 14th, the same weekend as the North Fork Championships, which takes place on the North Fork of the Payette River just outside of Boise.  The North Fork Championship is regarded as one of the hardest kayaking races in the world.

The race takes place on Jacob’s Ladder rapid, which is a rapid so difficult and consequential that most kayakers feel accomplished simply by surviving the rapid, much less racing the rapid. Nouria Newman, a 3-time NFC racer and winner of this year’s Whitewater Awards Female Rider of the Year describes it well,

“The NFC is the hardest race in whitewater kayaking. [Jacob’s Ladder] is a scary, consequential rapid. Running it is challenging, and it only gets harder to race it and make the gates.”

In order to minimize the risk involved in the race, event organizers have developed a strict qualification process for racers. 30 racers will qualify to race Jacob’s Ladder. Ten of them are pre-qualified from placing top ten at the event the year before. Those ten then read numerous athlete applications and vote on the next ten racers who will join them.  The last ten racers are decided through a qualification race on S-Turn rapid, another one of the North Fork’s infamous class V rapids.

Every year on this same weekend in June, kayakers, photographers, and filmmakers from around the world flock to Idaho to celebrate quality whitewater, progression of the sport, and the community that surrounds it. Both the North Fork Championship and the Whitewater Awards had great turnouts of athletes and spectators this year.

John Webster

The finalists of each category in the Whitewater Awards were presented in film format at the Egyptian Theater for the entire audience to view, with the winner being announced live. Winners were presented with an award and expected to give a short speech at the event. The big winners of the night were Nouria Newman and Benny Marr, who were awarded with Line of the Year and Rider of the Year in the female and male categories. Nouria says that voting for the “best” in each category is a challenging process, “…voting is always tricky, (look at both French and U.S. presidents, not too sure if they are really the best available option). And it is also very hard to compare lines and rapids. What’s bigger? What’s harder? I got voted Best Line of the Year with a good line down Parque Jurassic, a long technical rapid, but Rata’s line down Graceland, which is a huge slide, was equally as good, if not better.”

No matter how tricky the voting process can be, Nouria agrees that the Whitewater Awards plays a large role in the progression of the sport, “I think it’s super cool to see what people can do in their kayak, how they push the limit of the sport and how they open new possibilities.”

For more information about the Whitewater Awards, you can visit whitewaterawards.com, you can also follow them on Facebook and on Instagram.

You can follow Nouria on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

You can follow Benny on Facebook and Instagram.

Cover photo courtesy of Ari Walker

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