Climber’s Manifesto #4 – ‘Respect the culture and way of life of the residents of the mountains and valleys I visit’

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#4 ‘Respect the culture and way of life of the residents of the mountains and valleys I visit’

Giving back

A quote from the legendary mountaineer Doug Scott reads: “My success on Everest was largely down to the local people who’d helped me reach the mountain”. Scott then reveals “with a considerable sense of anger” he had come to realise that many of the Nepalese porters supporting expeditions and treks “weren’t actually being paid.”

Reflecting on this, Scott set up Community Action Treks, a scheme which allowed porters to receive a fair wage and be guaranteed reasonable working conditions. This proved to be so successful that the cooperative’s profits could be re-cycled back into the local mountain communities. Later on, Community Action Nepal was set up in 1994, a project backed by many mountain enthusiasts from weekend climbers to legendary pioneers. It allowed grass roots projects in Nepal to flourish.

Recently Reinhold Messner also spoke in defence of Nepalese sherpas. “I hope that everyone can have the chance to climb these mountains (referring to Everest), but what is going on here has little to do with real mountaineering. It is tourism – sure it’s hard work and it’s a bit dangerous – but the responsibility for the safety of the climb is being pushed onto the locals. This is all about showing off what you have done, and nothing to do with your experience of nature.”

Such respect and concern for the work of local communities, and a desire to give back, is common among climbers. Like Scott, Sir Edmund Hillary worked tirelessly to help improve the lives of mountain residents in Nepal through educational and community projects.

The operator is committed to improving the lives of mountain communities by embracing the local passion for horse riding. At the same they have taken extensive steps to be involved in the protection of the endangered snow leopard and its prey in the mountains north of Yashilkul Lake.

“Pamir Horse Travel have shown how effective and meaningful consultation and involvement with local people can in fact be realised,” explained Dr. Carolina Adler, a member of the UIAA Mountain Protection Commission on presenting the Award. “They have enacted upon their will to not only improve their tourism offer in the mountain regions of Tajikistan, but also achieve a long lasting relationship with the local communities through the development of horse travel and tourism.”

“This is a great way to not only showcase the local culture, but also sustainably align their operations with the values the locals hold dear, both economic and other more intrinsic cultural values,” added Dr. Adler.

Another project aimed at improving the lives of residents in the Pamir Mountains is Little Earth – a voluntary ‘green’ organisation which has developed an energy project to contribute to sustainable development of mountain communities in the upper part of Bartang river valley. The project’s objectives are aimed at increasing local communities’ awareness on sustainable energy, improving the quality of life of local communities through the introduction of energy efficiency alternatives and renewable energy technologies and reducing pressure on local landscapes and ecosystems through better energy resources management.

This is significant as rural inhabitants of Tajikistan are particularly vulnerable to energy poverty. Extreme weather conditions isolate mountain areas for several months of the year, poorly maintained infrastructure and increasing unpredictability of the climate cause many energy problems for remote mountain villages. Lack of essential resources leads to environmental degradation and escalates conflicts for available firewood and biomass. Furthermore, lack of access to such services as power supply affects vital activities and communities’ ability and capacity for further development.

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Supporting local initiatives

Mountain communities are often found in the most extreme and sensitive areas of the world. Their residents are frequently among the world’s poorest and exposed to the ravages of natural disasters and climate change as well as suffering at the hands of economic developments which bring them no, or little, benefit.

The UIAA has long championed protecting the way of life of mountain residents. Projects aimed at improving the lives of mountain communities form a backbone of the UIAA Mountain Protection Award. As recently as 2014, Pamir Horse Adventure, a Tajikistan-based community tour operator, promoting conservation and tourism developments in the Pamir Mountains claimed the Award. The people who work and run Pamir Horse Adventure are locals, and every year new community members are trained to lead and work in tours.

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Cultural respect

Respect is not only due for the local environment but, as this rule promotes, for the way of life of local residents. One of the UIAA’s core declarations on mountain protection – The Argeos Charter – focuses on preserving the traditional cultures and mountain communities. The charter reads: “It is important to prevent social and economic development from destroying local traditions, so that typical languages, clothes, and handicrafts are found within mountain environments and local cultures are sustained.” It encourages the promotion of local traditions, handicrafts, culture and equal opportunities and warns against the negative aspects of economic development.

Respect for mountain communities must be prevalent on many levels from preserving local culture and traditions, to encouraging environmental sustainability and biodiversity, to supporting the individuals involved in supporting expeditions.

To close, the UIAA Mountain Ethic declaration, adopted in 2009, provides some wise words for climbers, mountaineers and trekkers:

‘When we are guests in foreign countries, we should always conduct ourselves politely and with restraint. We should show consideration to the local people and their culture – they are our hosts. We should respect local climbing ethics and style and never drill holes or place bolts where there is a traditional ethic against it or where no locally established ethics exists. We will respect holy mountains and other sacred places and always look for ways to benefit and assist local economies and people. An understanding of foreign cultures is part of a complete climbing experience.’