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THE MOUNTAIN FOOTPRINT PROJECT

Posted on April 15th, 2014

From its inception in 1987, Mountain Wilderness International (MWI) has placed a strong emphasis on the human experience of wilderness. This “wilderness”notion,

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can be defined as a nature whose status has not been conditioned or altered by humans.

The work carried out over 25 years by the MW movement worldwide attempts to change behaviors to achieve a balance between man and nature and to preserve the wilderness of the mountain.

But how can this work be evaluated?

To address this question Mountain Wilderness International has launched an innovative project: the “Mountain Human Footprint” project with the aim to assess the human impact on the highest peaks of the World. An evaluation template, defined by MWI, has been tested on four peaks in Bolivia (the Sajama, the Acotango, the Huayna and the Jhanko Laya) by four MW Catalonia members, including MWI president, Jordi Quera. This is the key tool to achieve this objective.

 

The expedition enjoyed strong local support from various organizations and people involved in mountain activities.

It was also an opportunity, through a rehabilitation program, to train local young people to a professional level in various mountain sports. This expedition laid the ground of the work which now could be implemented on all the globe Mountain Ranges.

To carry-out this project, MWI needs to capitalize on as many Mountaineering practitioners as possible using the “Footprint Mountain Ratio” template to establish a large survey of the status of the wilderness of our mountains worldwide.

This project is a milestone in the awareness and preservation of natural areas. It is undoubtedly an important first step toward further work that could more generally assess the “ecological footprint” of human presence on our mountains and monitor its evolution.

Help us to undertake this new challenge: Download and distribute the evaluation template Mountain Human Footprint ratio card

Once completed send it to your local Mountain Wilderness organization by e-mail or post or to Mountain wilderness International – Via Laietana, 54, 2n, desp.213.08003 Barcelona. Catalonia. Spain, internationalmw@gmail.com



2014 Mountain Wilderness International General Assembly

Posted on March 29th, 2014

photo MWI AG

 

June 14: Mountain Wilderness International General Assembly

June 14: proMONT-BLANC General Assembly

June 13 to June 16 : the Wilderness converges to the Roof of Europe.

 

 

The General Assembly of Mountain Wilderness International, which takes place every two years, will be held on Saturday, June 14, 2014, in France, in the Chamonix Valley. More precisely at the ATC Road Of the world (ATC Route du Monde) in Argentière. It will be organized by the French chapter of the organization and will offer an opportunity for the delegates from all of Europe and representatives from Pakistan, Iran and Tunisia to share their experience. The Mont-Blanc being a cradle of Mountain Wilderness several events focusing on Mont-Blanc related issues are planned over a few days around the General Assembly, (see below the article on that topics). People who wish to register for accommodations for the General Assembly or the other events can do so by downloading the Registration form , and by sending it back to:

cb @mountainwilderness.fr


Mountain Wilderness Austria created

Posted on March 24th, 2014

2013_Alpinmesse_kleinFoundation of Mountain Wilderness Austria

The international organization Mountain Wilderness dedicated to the preservation of mountain areas gladly announced the foundation of its tenth chapter on November 9 2013.

Due to a technical reason the MWI site team did not publish at time a press release, we are trying to correct this with this article and we deeply apologize for the inconvenience that this may have caused to various people.

Right from the start, on the same weekend, the new team members took action in favour of the “Kalkkögl” preservation area .

The 9Th of November, 2013, during the “Innsbruck Alpinmesse” (Alpine Exhibition), Mountain Wilderness Austria was founded. Mountain Wilderness Austria is the tenth National Association of Mountain Wilderness International.

Vorstand MW Österreich Kerrin Lessel,Heidi v

 

Thirteen nature-loving mountaineers from Austria, Germany and Switzerland took part in the foundation meeting. Further participants were Dr. Gotlind Blechschmidt, vice president of Mountain Wilderness International, and Irene Brendt, vice president of Cipra Germany. Dr. Kerrin Lessel, Bad Ischl, was elected president of the newly founded association. Heidi von Wettstein,

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hutkeeper of Müllerhütte (Rifugio Cima libera), took on the cashier job.

 

 

 

 

MW Aktion - Hände weg von den KalkkögelRight on Sunday following the inaugural event, a group of activists from Mountain Wilderness Austria climbed up from Axamer Lixum to the “Hoadl” during a heavy foehn storm, demanding “Hands off from preservation area Kalkkögel”, sending thus a first clear signal. The Austrian alpine organisation supports all efforts that help to protect this unique recreational area located just outside the city of Innsbruck.
According to their statutes, a main issue of Mountain Wilderness is the conservation of unspoilt alpine nature rather than land degradation due to skiing slopes and ski lifts. The members of Mountain Wilderness Austria are firmly opposed to pooling the skiing area Schlick with the Axamer Lixum area, because the above mentioned preservation area “Ruhegebiet Kalkkögel“ protected by the Alpine Convention would be badly affected.

In addition to the issues regarding expansion and overdevelopment of skiing areas, Mountain Wilderness Austria will deal, among others, with fun park tourism and the construction of ferrate. Furthermore, they will stand up for an ecologically sustainable coexistence of human beings and nature in the alpine area, so that our children will be able to experience an unspoilt alpine environment.

Villach born Kurt Diemberger, representative of MW, is very happy with the foundation of Mountain Wilderness Austria. “There will be a lot of problems, some will be solved, others not. You will need a lot of patience and stamina, but mountaineers know how to deal with that”.


A biomass power plant project cancelled in the Abruzzi

Posted on March 24th, 2014

castelli1inabruzzoDuring its March 20th session the Municipality of Castelli (in the Abruzzi region) has cancelled a biomass power plant project strongly opposed by a regional team of Mountain Wilderness Italy.
From the beginning of the project Mountain Wilderness members have been convinced to do the right thing by siding with the citizens of Castelli and in particular with farmers who practice biological agriculture, protecting at the same time the well-being of the local fauna such as the chamois.
Mario Marano Viola said that “The successful demonstration we organized on October 13th, 2013, together with the Committee of the Association “La Nostra Terra” has produced this important result which marks a turning point in the environmental policies concerning the Apennines in Abruzzo. From now on, municipal administrators will have to take into account requests for environmental protection invoked by citizens and environmental associations which carry the same beliefs as Mountain Wilderness”.

Source: Mario Marano Viola – Regional Delegate

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of Mountain Wilderness Italy in Abruzzo


The Alps Macro-Region: Toward an EU Strategy for the Alpine Region

Posted on March 4th, 2014

Aline convention logoAfter 23 years of commitment to a sustainable development of the Alps, the Alpine Convention is facing a new challenge that offers opportunities but also creates some concerns. Indeed, on December 19, 2013 the European Union decided jointly with Alpine states and regions to establish an Alpine Macro-Region. Already two similar Macro-Regions exist around the Baltic Sea and along the Danube. As its name indicates the perimeter under consideration will be much larger than that of the Alpine Convention. It will include vast regions such as Rhône-Alpes, PACA, Lombardy and Bavaria, for example, but also large urban centers such as Lyon, Milan, Vienna and Munich bringing along their respective political and economical weight.
Ideally the goal is – obviously – to balance development and protection in accordance with the 2020 Strategy of the whole Union. The new strategy is based on three pillars: 1) ensure growth and sustainable competitiveness through mutual solidarity between cities and mountains 2) promote an ecologically balanced territorial development by favoring soft mobility and a stronger cooperation in science, services and infrastructure 3) sustainably manage energy, natural and cultural resources while protecting biodiversity and natural areas. States and regions negotiators continue to work on the EUSAR Strategy in the Steering Committee (on the basis of an outline (also called Resolution of Grenoble) approved last October in Grenoble), in which the Alpine Convention and the Alpine Space Program (EU funds for transnational projects ) are observers only. A public consultation is planned for the summer of 2014. For the moment the participation of NGOs, representing the civil society, is not yet defined. CIPRA, with its 60 years of intensive work for the Alps, and other Alpine networks such as proMONT-BLANC seem to be in good position to be accepted as the « to be established » working groups members, but a participation in the Steering Committee is not guaranteed yet. The implementation of such a top-down defined strategy may encounter difficulties as it is the case for the Danube.
The challenge for the Alpine Convention is also the valuation, by the future macro-region, of its multiple experiences acquired in the protection of biodiversity, natural resources (water, energy, forests, etc..,) and ecosystem services, transport, tourism, culture, etc..,
In this context, what are the challenges for the tri-national Mont Blanc, the roof of the Macro-Region and of the entire European Union? Will it be finally better protected on its three sides and will it evolve faster toward a benchmark model of international sustainable development? And will the EMB Strategy for the Mont-Blanc converge with the European Strategy for the Alpine region?
Anyway, the working groups addressing these strategies have a huge task ahead of them and deserve an increased level of commitment from all involved parties. (BE, BM)


Events: The Wilderness converges to the roof of Europe.

Posted on March 4th, 2014

 

Photo: Guillaume Blanc, Eperon Migot

Photo: Guillaume Blanc   -Eperon Migot

The General Assembly of Mountain Wilderness International, which takes place every two years, will be held on Saturday, June 14, 2014, in the Chamonix Valley. It will be organized by the French chapter of the organization with delegates from all Europe and with representatives from Pakistan and Iran.

As it happens that proMONT BLANC’s General Assembly will run in parallel, it was decided jointly to give some shine to these events and surround them with a series of activities in the interest of the Mont Blanc territory heritage.

Succession of events:

  • Friday evening, 13th of June: Mont-Blanc Strategy round-table
  • Saturday, 14th of June: Mountain Wilderness International General Assembly
  • Saturday evening, 14th of June: Panel discussion “The Wilderness made me”
  • Sunday Morning, 15th of June: Protest for “Silence”

image002The Mont-Blanc Strategy round table, co-organized by Mountain Wilderness and proMONT BLANC will be held on Friday, June 13th, late afternoon, this will allow the CTMB (Conférence transfrontalière Mont-Blanc) participants to attend and contribute to the discussion. In the constructive spirit supported by the « Call for our mountains », launched, among others, by Mountain Wilderness France, three key issues for the range will be addressed: “Has the Mont-Blanc an ecological value”? ”Could everything be done in the mountains?» And “The Mont Blanc tomorrow” .
Two years after the Argentière public panel and after the initial articulation of the “Strategy for the Mont-Blanc”, it is an appropriate time to review the progress made thus far and define how to move forth taking into account various factors such as: national and international contexts, changes in trans-border cooperation and new opportunities to possibly give the “Espace Mont-Blanc” (the entity managing initiatives on the three sides of the Mont-Blanc) a legal status to get things done with national and European authorities. And indeed, what about the initiative for the Mont-Blanc registration at the UNESCO World Heritage? Should this still be the prevailing label?
280px-Langkofel_stchristinaPanel discussion, How Wilderness made me: A conference organized by Mountain Wilderness France will be held in the evening of Saturday, June 14th, based on testimonies of several international mountaineers on the theme “The wilderness made me”. This will be a public event during which mountain practitioners of various backgrounds will discuss their practice (e.g. climbing) in a natural and free environment and will express how it helped them to become the man/woman they are, building their humanity and sociability.
Thus, 4-5 personalities of various age and experience will testify how their immersion in the natural environment of the mountain brought them a back to the roots type of experience
The idea is to demonstrate that what they get out as “exceptional practitioners” in exceptional environments is possible for all regardless of the practice level, provided that the naturalness state of the traveled land allow anyone to feel being the first one to go.
Both meetings will take place under the auspices of the “Coordination Montagne”, an action coordination organization including most of the French associations dealing with mountains environment and practices in France.
stop heliskiing at the marmolada

Protest for Silence: A “Silence” protest will take place on Sunday morning of June 15. It will be organized under the aegis of Mountain Wilderness International, its location is currently being identified.
In the absence of specific regulations, the Mont Blanc undergoes a multiplication of commercial and touristic flights. For the mountain practitioners the echoes reflected by the walls of the engines roars becomes unbearable in this realm of beauty and silence . The Mont Blanc deserves better. At a moment where the “Espace Mont Blanc” is about to launch its “future trans-border strategy” which contains a “airspace” section, it is appropriate to recall that the priority for these places should be a return to « peace and serenity »
Always committed to an effective Mont Blanc protection, Mountain Wilderness proposes that the « Espace Mont Blanc » moves towards the implementation of a harmonized and stringent regulation for motorized flights on the entire range equivalent to that found in Natural Reserves and French National Parks. (BM)


About the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, A Wound to the Environment

Posted on January 29th, 2014

sochi_2014_mountains2The XXII Olympic Winter Games will be held from February 7 to 23, 2014 in the resort city of Sochi, on the shores of the Black Sea and in the surrounding mountains.
They already have broken a record as they are considered as the most costly Winter Games ever as everything had to be build from scratch.
Russian and IOC officials are painting a rosy picture of the upcoming games. But things in Sochi are far from perfect according to various environment protection associations including “Environmental Watch on North Caucasus”, a group of activists that has received hard treatments from the current authorities. This organization works to protect “wild nature” and advocate environmental human rights in the Russian Caucasus, the Black and Caspian seas and mountain ecosystems.

Construction waste in the countryside in Sochi in October 2013. Thomas Peter/Reuters/Landov

Construction waste in the countryside in Sochi in October 2013. Thomas Peter/Reuters/Landov

These Winter Games were sold to the media and the public as the greenest Olympic games. However, to make them happen Russian laws have been changed to allow construction work in various protected areas, roads have been built across wilderness without consideration for the unique flora and fauna destruction, population has been displaced where venues and infrastructure building needed it (sometimes without true compensation), waste management has been neglected, new polluting power plants have popped-up to supply all the needed energy….

But, in the end one can ask the question: who will benefit short term and long term from this expected manna? Will it really come? What will happen after the games?
In order to shed some light into this MWI will publish a few articles from people and organizations that have been close to the issues during the preparation of the games sites

 

Billions in renovations and construction work will leave permanent damages in the unique nature around Sochi.

The bill will not only be paid by the environment, but also by the inhabitants.

(Translation of a German article by Luzia Tschirky, a freelance journalist in Moscow, in Tages Woche)

This is the final sprint before the 2014 Winter Olympic Games: During these days the excavators of Sochi shovel day and night. Even before their start the cost of the games breaks all records: With around 50 billion euros the Russian games rank among the most expensive in Olympic history.

The Black Sea summer resort used to be the holiday paradise of the Soviet Union. Even in the early winter, the temperatures are here around 18 degrees.
Now the peaceful resort with its yellow sandstone houses and nearly 350,000 city citizens is full of bulldozers, excavators and cranes. Spectacular arenas and hotel buildings have emerged, trees and meadows have given way to roads, tunnels, railway, corridor transport lines right through the middle of nature fields:

 A traffic corridor through the middle of the nature.

A four-lane expressway connects the main venues in Sochi on the Black Sea with the almost 50 kilometers away Krasnaya Polyana, the alpine competitions site, it runs along the Mzymta river, a traffic corridor going through the middle of the nature.
The Kremlin critic Boris Nemtsov calculated that one kilometers of this connecting road costs about 200 million euro- the high level of corruption made the road so expensive. It is estimated that infrastructure projects are more than half of the total cost incurred. According to the environmentalists, the 2014 Winter Olympics is mainly going at the expense of nature.
Since the beginning of the constructions the Olympic sites in Sochi have been flooded several times by the Mzymta river. Just this year the newly built road to Krasnaya Polyana sank already twice under the water.
In the district of Sochi, just off the river mouth in the Black Sea, resides Alla Kola, a 21-year-old female. She has been found in one of the newly built hotels working as a receptionist and thus belongs to that small part of the population that will benefit from the Olympics.

 The Mzymta river was straightened specially for the Olympic Games

 

Picture: Vitus Saloshanka

Picture: Vitus Saloshanka

Last fall flooding is particularly remembered by Alla : “The water was up to my knees as I walked to the bus stop from my house.”
The symbolic meaning of the name Mzymta in the Ubykh language of the once residents here, is “wild”. The «wild» Mzymta had been straightened for the Winter Olympics. Environmentalists criticize that in addition to the destruction of the natural course of the river, the planning was not cautious enough. Heavy rain, as they often happen in the region around Sotchi, were not well taken into account. The flow burst now with great speed into the valley where drainage facilities are lacking.
In addition, Alla also remembered the dense foam crowns which were washed ashore by waves on the sea’s beach during spring two years ago. Though she did not know at that time that the foam on the water was fathered by pollution triggered by the “most expensive street in Russia”, as the Kremlin critic Boris Nemtsov call it. Indeed during the road construction work a container collecting contaminated drilling water did overflow.
In fact the burden of waste water has increased dramatically since the start of construction and will further increase with the expected 120,000 visitors (up to 240 000 are expected). Most house sewage in Sochi do not flow in managed sewers, but directly to the Black Sea. The Olympic billions have changed nothing in this situation.

2,000 families forcibly relocated

For the Sochi inhabitants the Olympics has no positive impact in their social situation. To the contrary: According to the human rights organization Human Rights Watch, some 2,000 families have been forcibly relocated because their homes were replaced by new roads and stadiums. Not all of them have even received compensation payments from the state yet. They now live in abandoned Soviet holiday homes.
In the valley between the Black Sea and Krasnaya Polyana is the small village of Achschtyr. Since it was announced in October 2013 by media reports that two illegal quarries near the village were also used as landfills, journalist groups regularly visit the small village under the guidance of local conservationists. From a hill you can look down into the valley where the Mzymta flows around the bridge piers of the newly built road and railway tracks.

The quarries are located right in the natural and water reserves. How much of the soil is poisoned by the dumped waste, is difficult for the environmentalists to estimate. Both quarries are guarded around the clock by security services. Nevertheless, the organizing team Sochi 2014 continues to speak of the greenest games of all time and holds it firmly to dispose of waste in an environmentally compatible.
Environmentalists have long criticized the lack of a sustainability view of the entire Sochi 2014 project. A condition of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) was the provision of 42,000 hotel rooms which have sprung from the soil throughout Sochi and Krasnaya Polyana.

“Sochi is a city that one has robbed its face.”

Olga Petrovnavon, an environmentalist hotel operators predicts a large wave of bankruptcies, even if they take out its own investments from the assessment. For a city like Sotchi with not even 350,000 inhabitants, the newly created infrastructures are oversized.
Olga Petrovnavon, a member of the Environmental Watch of Northern Caucasus was born in Sochi. The 37-year-old sees the billion investment as a shot in the wind: “Sochi is a city that one has stolen the face.” For the posters saying “It’s your Olympics,” she only has a tired smile.
“Our Olympics?… The only ones who will benefit from it are corrupt businessmen and government, sticking the taxpayers’ money in their pockets”. Olga Petrovnavon is not alone with this opinion, According to a survey by the independent Levada Institute last summer, 65% of Russians believe that the money spent in Sotchi by the government will be wasted”.
President Putin, meanwhile is plagued by other worries, as the mood in the country toward the Olympics becomes very wary. Shortly before year’s end 34 people were killed by North Caucasian terrorists in a bomb attacks in Volgograd. The message to Putin was a serious warning for the Sochi games.

A military base airport

With huge police and army contingents Putin wants to master the situation. The airport in Sochi is not only developed for tourists but also as a military base during the games. Fearing aircraft attacks in the mountains next to the slopes and ski lifts Ground-Air protection guns have been positioned into the slopes of the Caucasus.
But it is an impossible task to protect the entire country during the Olympic Games against attacks. With the venue in Sochi, Putin could hardly move closer to the source of Northern Caucasus danger. From the center of the Olympics on the Black Sea coast there are just 15 kilometers to the Abkhazia border. The fear that Chechen terrorists could propagate via this route to Sochi is so great that the boarder will be completely closed during the Olympics.

“A normal life during the Olympics will be impossible.” Helene Magdeewa, resident of Sochi

Given the enormous security measures, many Sochi residents worry: “For me during the Olympics there is only one thing to do: “Get out of here! A normal life during the Olympics will be impossible”, Helene Magadeewa complained. While Helene is considering where she wants to travel, those responsible for the games are still frantically searching for uses of the new building after the Olympics.
Some games of the 2018 World Cup are to be held in Sotchi, even parts of the 2016 Ice Hockey World Championships. A recreational park hope to attract visitors all year round. But that’s not all: Currently in Sotchi Russia produced the most modern car racetrack by the sea. In the fall of 2014 the Grand Prix of Russia will be held for the first time. With this, the promises of silence and fresh air as in the former resort of Sotchi would come to an end.

…../…..

A series of law violations seen by the WWF

The WWF was very doubtful before the restoration announced by Olympstroï, but then it also criticizes the poor quality of the environmental impact studies that were made. For example a combined rail-road study was cordoned off in a fortnight by less than ten people. In November 2009, three government experts specialized in flora, fauna and protected areas commissioned to examine the project were even opposed to it, to no avail, after more than a year of work without a permit. This is not the only liberty taken with the law, but the Russian government is very sensitive to any critic as felt by the local association Environmental Watch on Northern Caucasus that was to compile legislative changes and violations in a “black book” which has not been published…. For example, the law on protected areas was changed in 2006 to make possible the mass sports activities in national parks. This also happened in 2009 to the Forest Code to authorize the logging of rare trees and shrubs species within the frame of the Olympic construction work. Biodiversity Consultant to UNEP , UNESCO and the Russian authorities , Hervé Lethier stresses meanwhile IOC inconsistencies regarding their position on sustainable development for the Sochi games: ” the organization of such an event, which lasts for two weeks, produces long-term effects which profoundly change the natural context. ” Even considering the implementation of the 80 UNEP recommended measures by the Russian government, some damage will simply be irreversible. (BM)

 

Additional information:

Human Rights Watch on Sochi

Sochi Olympics, A Green bet missed (In French)

The Dark side of the Sochi Winter Olympics

WWF’s position on Sochi 2014

Outside report

CNN fast facts

Hasty Olympics Construction Could Devastate Sochi

Sochi Watch

Zero Waste management commitment not met for Sochi

Sochi Olympics Poses Great Threat to Nature—HRW, Greenpeace (video)


The Wind Tunnel Building in Mont Lachat expected to be demolished soon

Posted on January 13th, 2014

The first meeting of the steering committee for the demolition of this offending sight ruin located at the Col du Mont Lachat, along theTMB railways (Tramway du Mont-Blanc) southbound to the Nid d’Aigle (Eagle’s Nest) was held in the Saint Gervais Town hall on January 7, 2014, under the chairmanship of its Mayor: Jean-Marc Peillex.
Participants to this important meeting included the sub-prefect; representatives of the public authorities (Haute-Savoie department, region, town of Saint-Gervais), environmental associations such as proMONT-BLANC, WWF and Mountain Wilderness represented by its Mont-Blanc area delegate: Eric Lasserre.
Mont Lachat recadréeThis aircraft engines testing facility existed since 1937, it ended its operations in 1969 and was sold to the city of Saint-Gervais in 1975. In its current state, the building is heavily damaged and do not present any architectural or historical potential. Mountain Wilderness and proMONT-BLANC had it already identified in their inventory of obsolete installations to dismantle since January 2000.
This very heavy project is expected to start soon for an estimated duration of three years. About 2,260 m3 of concrete and various materials must be treated, some of it, inert, will be buried on site to fill the excavation resulting from demolition. The remaining will be evacuated by train. The site should ultimately return to its original alpine lawn status.
The future of the project is subject to the approval of the Ministry of Environment, which has to deliver the permit to demolish, subsequent to the advice provided by the Sites District Committee that will meet on January 28th. There is little doubt that this decision will be a positive one, but a green light is essential. Funding is expected to come for more than 50% from the Haute-Savoie department and other sources such as the State, the region, the Compagnie du Mont-Blanc , the WWF NGO and possibly private funds.
A call to local volunteers will be made by Mountain Wilderness for a cleaning action in the “Mont Lachat” neighborhood to take care of all the barbed wires and other fencing residual. An operation of which we will provide regular updates. (EL, BM)


Taking a ride on the wild side

Posted on December 22nd, 2013

heliskiing-in-chamonixAnother wrong turn of heliskiing.

Are British Airways business practices ethical?

balogo

 

 

This is a question that one of the friends of Mountain Wilderness is asking us after discovering, to its astonishment, an article in the in-flight Highlife magazine of this airline (see the photo below, the text of the article can also be found here: http://highlife.ba.com/Destinations/Eight-of-the-best-cold-adventures.html

BA Heliski photo b

The French Law forbids the use of helicopters or airplanes anywhere in the mountains  for leisure purposes such as dropping skiers. But has a loophole as it does not say anything about recovering skiers at a bottom of a mountain or in a designated area.

Unfortunately there is a greedy faction of the ski industry, including mountain guides and tour operators, who are keen to offer high adrenaline experiences at the borderline of the law to satisfy a set of customers only concerned by their selfish pleasure without any other consideration. It is though possible to experiment heliskiing practices in Switzerland and Italy, where this activity is authorized, with departures from various places such as Val d’Isère, La Rosière, Chamonix etc… located along the French border. Packages including heliskiing trips flying over the border can be found in multiple places such as the Internet and tourism ads.

But it is not that common to see a high profile commercial company such as BA to openly encourage its customers to circumvent the spirit of the law and be environment unfriendly. Is this a proper code of conduct? In our high flying fast moving society, visitors of the Alps coming from abroad, are not always aware of the possible consequences of their actions especially when they are prompted to an activity by the company they trust. Isn’t it a moral duty for such company to provide guidance in line with customs and regulations of their potential destinations? Mountain Wilderness believes it is their responsibility to assure that proper and ethical information is supplied to the  end users of these invasive means.

If the French want to protect the natural heritage of their mountains it is not only because they are concerned that excessive use of helicopters in remote high alpine regions will exacerbate man’s encroachment on an already beaten wilderness; create excessive noise pollution, increasingly disturbing the quiet life down in the valleys; but also because this has a disastrous, harmful, impact on the wild fauna already tremendously stressed and weakened by the harsh alpine climate and long winters. This reality goes beyond borders… and impacts chamois, big horns and grouses finally leaving them without a safe place.

Mountain wilderness is strongly against heliskiing, its national chapters have all undertaken actions to obtain bans of such practices across the alps. During the last few years Mountain Wilderness Italy and Switzerland have reported several victories in their pursuit of summits freed of motorized vehicles whereas In France our action continues for an extended protection of the mountains against such human excesses.

BA has been made aware of the negative impact of their article, they have responded positively by promising to remove this content from their online version as a gesture of goodwill but could not publish amendment in their paper version.

But in the end the real problem lies with those organizations and people who do not care for the damages they cause to the wilderness. All together we must relentlessly act to reduce their impacts.

We encourage you to denounce such unethical behaviors and welcome all the support that people concerned with the well being of our free mountain spaces can provide in our daily struggle for the protection of the wilderness.

Mountain Wilderness thanks the anonymous people who have taken the lead with BA on this issue.

(BM)

 


From the conquest of the Night to the defeat of the Day

Posted on November 4th, 2013

A perspective from Carlo Alberto Pinelli (President of MW Italy ) regarding the evolution of the huts construction and mountaineering in the Alps.

Course in Passu 2013 183In its “Voyages dans les Alpes”, Horace Benedict de Saussure wrote that his early attempts to reach the summit of Mont Blanc would have been more successful if the guides he had recruited in Chamonix had not always insisted on completing the ascent in a single day, between dawn and dusk. “The local people do not believe”, he wrote”, that one can attempt to spend a whole night in the open on the ice without serious consequences”.
When we try to imagine the difficulties, the fears, the psychological blocks that limited the exploits of the founding fathers of vertical tourism, we often think of the unsuitable materials and clothing, the fear of the unknown, their too rudimentary knowledge of the mountaineering skills needed to overcome the steep icy slopes or snow bridges over crevasses, and so forth. And we fail to take properly into account what was for many years one of the most serious obstacles with which our predecessors had to contend. To step victorious onto a summit called for more than merely being able to overcome the technical difficulties and the unknown incidents that the chosen path presented: one or more nights in the open, at inhospitable heights and places, where no sensible person had hitherto thought it possible to fall asleep without automatically waking in the Hereafter. In other words, the success of mountaineering in its infancy depended largely on conquering the night. A conquest that – like many others – concealed the germs of many of the serious contradictions and degenerations to come.
It is likely that even before de Saussure’s time other tenacious crystal-seekers and hunters of ibex and chamois had been surprised by bad weather or mist and forced to bivouac beneath a rocky overhang without succumbing to death or madness. But history has forgotten their misadventures and assigned the merit of breaking the taboo to the young
and eccentric hunter Jacques Balmat of Chamonix. During an attempt by guides from the valley to reach the summit of Mont Blanc Balmat was abandoned by his companions and after becoming lost was brought to a halt by the dusk and an enormous crevasse. He endured an interminable and uncomfortable stormy night which, though certainly not a pleasant experience, was not sufficiently traumatic to persuade him to abandon the “race to the top”. It was he, in fact, who in the following year, together with the fearless doctor Michel Paccard, first reached the summit, after another night in the open, on that fateful 8th August 1786 which is today considered, rightly or wrongly, as the official birthday of alpinism. Benedict de Saussure, who had, so to speak, “sponsored” the venture, also reached the summit the following year, accompanied by eighteen guides, a personal valet and a case of Champagne. To facilitate the achievement de Saussure had previously ordered to build along the route two rudimentary stone huts. The second of these, on the Grands Mulets, resisted for a few winters – though its precise location is no longer known – and can rightly be considered the prototype for all high-altitude Alpine shelters. However, the time was not yet ripe for such constructions and it was not until 1853, when the ascent of Mont Blanc was becoming fashionable for the more adventurous tourists, that the guides of Chamonix decided to build a proper wooden and stone hut on the Grands Mulets.

Cabane-refuge des Grands Mulets  Source: Paul C. Maurice

Cabane-refuge des Grands Mulets
Source: Paul C. Maurice

As one might imagine, it was a fetid hovel with not the faintest trace of comfort. No sleeping berths or boards to sleep on; visitors had to bed down as best they could on piles of straw reduced to a foul-smelling litter. Strange as it may seem to us, accustomed as we are to much worse devastation, that early timid attempt to “anthropise” the Alpine wilderness was widely contested and denounced as an act of profanation.
“Similar buildings”, wrote an English alpinist of the time, “thanks to which mere curiosity can comfortably attain and admire grandiose scenery, betray their objective. Beware! When comfort takes two paces towards the picturesque, the picturesque retreats by as many paces.”
It is enough to replace the antiquated term “picturesque” with the more modern “natural landscape” to realize how surprisingly modern is this phrase. I confess I should not mind shaking the hand of that unheeded prophet: his sensitivity may have appeared and even still appear excessive, but his inner eyes had surely seen far into the future.
From the middle of the nineteenth century on these still extremely spartan huts spread throughout the Alps, and by the beginning of the twentieth century the Italian Alpine Club alone owned almost one hundred. It must nonetheless be recalled that these constructions remained unobtrusive, rudimentary and often not without a certain charm. If their silhouettes inevitably detracted from the superhuman majesty of their surroundings, they also helped to endow that same superhuman majesty with something intelligible against which to measure it: in other words, the immediate contrast allowed a more intense interpretation. In my opinion nobody has described with greater sensitivity than Samivel the precious function of cultural and emotional intermediation offered to alpinists by the isolated huts of the old days.
“…And that endless abyss-laden night revolved around the tiny tin shell where the men were resting. Inside was a tamed space, still trembling with human gestures, full of familiar, reassuring and well-defined objects: the rustic profile of a bench, the reddish glow of the ashes in the stove, the scratchy sound of the blankets on the boards. No more than friendly hearts. A kind of special tenderness of things made to be used by humans, faithful as dogs, emerging for once from the interminable torpor in which they were condemned to vegetate for nine tenths of the year and happy finally to be useful, to fulfill their role, to be a table, a bench, a casserole, a blanket. No longer incomprehensible objects lost in that stony chaos (…) Because the hut sailed, like an ark laden with warmth and life, among the long waves of silence and death.” ( Samivel: L’Amateur d’Abimes )
Today’s huts have been transformed into small hotels that are as comfortable as they are congested; and if we compare the atmosphere that prevails in most of them with the magical ambience described by Samivel,
the abyss is impressive. Almost everywhere, the “fragile ark” has been swept away to make room for overly solid “ocean liners” within which guests find far too many of the comforts they left behind on the plains; including, obviously, overcrowding. But it is not enough to place all the blame on the enormous increase in visitors to the mountains, as this tends to accept what has happened as an ineluctable destiny and absolves all the various alpine clubs, local tourist organizations, travel agencies, guides’ associations, etc. of all responsibility for indiscriminate policies to encourage all forms of mountaineering. It is certainly no longer possible to point to the exact moment when respect for the environment, for discretion and simplicity, was abandoned in favour of the approach that has led to the present excesses of bulkiness and comfort. The refuge that best exemplifies the more questionable aspects of the “conquest of the night” at high altitudes is without doubt the Regina Margherita hut on Monte Rosa.

Margherita hut

The Margherita hut

In the first place because it was the first hut to be built on the very top of a major mountain; then because the summit was mined and flattened in order to build it; and finally because the ostentatious and inappropriate renovation completed about thirty years ago was one of the most pitiful examples of the cultural backwardness of large sectors of the Italian Alpine Club.
Today I am not alone among “romantic” alpinists in thinking that the day of reckoning has come for mountain huts and that the whole global problem urgently needs to be reviewed. If these huts are allowed to continue to proliferate out of hand, the conquest of the night will soon become the defeat of the day. By which I mean a debasement of the authenticity that high altitudes can still offer to those who approach them directly, with no superfluous props and “crutches”.
On this subject, the 1987 “Thesis of Biella”, which concluded the Convention that spawned the international Mountain Wilderness movement, stated that:
“The theoretically understandable desire to persuade as many people as possible to take up mountaineering by making it more approachable,
has often triggered processes of harmful anthropisation. In order to meet increasing demand new huts have been opened, existing huts have progressively been extended, “vie ferrate” and other incentives for consumers have sprung up. But this policy contains serious errors of judgment. It ignores the values of the wilderness – and of its characteristic solitude – as the vital cornerstones of quality in alpinism. We believe that the planning and capacity of huts should not seek to meet the potential demand of visitors, but should rather be geared to the number of people that the natural environment – rendered more easily enjoyable precisely by these huts – can sustain without becoming meaningless.”
Today another insidious step is being taken towards corrupting the inner experience of the mountains. It is insidious precisely because it seems positive. I have often wondered why I feel uneasy when I see photos of huts and bivouacs built from avant-garde plans signed by veritable architects. I am thinking of the new Gonella hut by the Miage glacier, of the “space-age” bivouac dedicated to Gervasutti at the foot of the east face of the Grandes Jorasses, of the brand new shining Gouter “colosseum” on the classic French route to Mont Blanc.

The Gouter Hut on the Mt-Blanc normal way

The Gouter Hut on the Mt-Blanc normal way

Here it is not only the larger size that perplexes me (although I remain faithful in my – perhaps utopian – conviction that when a hut becomes too small to satisfy the growing flows of visitors, the solution is not to enlarge it but rather to close it, in order to safeguard the quality of the surrounding mountain environment): it is also the quality of the architectural intrusion in itself. These huts which are the fruit of sophisticated designs and planning, disturb me exactly because I consider them “beautiful”. What do I mean? I mean that I cannot avoid to find their beauty completely out of place, because its visual message is aggressive, self-congratulatory, framed in the taste of a specific moment in time. A kind of beauty that, by its very nature – because of its very nature – jars with the primordial, timeless appeal of the surrounding wilderness. I am not disowning my comments on Samivel’s touching words, but the modest austere huts of yesteryear derived their meaning as a “bridge” between human beings,( the children of their time), and the timeless majesty of the mountains precisely because they were no more
than architecturally insignificant life rafts: emergency holes, devoid of any visual stylistic evidence that might parade the age in which they were built. The architectural devices that mark the huts and bivouacs to which I refer instead send out a dual message that is both mystifying and arrogant (albeit only mildly so, for the time being): firstly, human beings can “embellish” the mountain wilderness just as they wish and, secondly, they are therefore entitled to impose on that wilderness the indelible signs of their own history, born in the world of the plains. Thus the spatial taming caused by the outsized huts is compounded by a parallel and no less harmful taming of the last “timeless” natural dimension we were fortunate enough to inherit.
Carlo Alberto

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