According to the United Nations “almost one billion people live in mountain areas, and over half the human population depends on mountains for water, food and clean energy. Yet mountains are under threat from climate change, land degradation, over exploitation and natural disasters, with potentially far-reaching and devastating consequences, both for mountain communities and the rest of the world.”
11 December marked International Mountain Day; a day to highlight how climate, hunger and migration are affecting highlands and to ensure that sustainable mountain development is integrated into global environmental agreements and agendas.
For the average rock-hopping human, it was also a day to celebrate what is rapidly becoming known as “Mountain Culture”. We climbed high, or planned our next epic mountain mission. We gathered our tribes, grabbed our packs and ventured upward. On International Mountain Day, a breeze through the Insta feeds of trail runners, hikers, climbers and anyone else prone to a bit of stone would have demonstrated the widespread love of our great rocks, and the deep appreciation we have for these threatened spaces.
Whilst many of you value mountains in a running and exploratory light, United Nations statistics indicate that mountains cover around 22 percent of the earth's land surface and are home to 13 percent of the world’s population. They provide sustenance and well-being for 915 million people, but also indirectly benefit billions more living downstream.
Ninety percent of the world’s mountain dwellers live in developing countries, where a vast majority live below the poverty line and 1 out of 3 faces the threat of food insecurity. Mountains provide 60-80 percent of the world's freshwater.
Mountains have a key role to play in providing renewable energy, especially through hydropower, solar power, wind power and biogas.
So they aren’t just there to provide a backdrop to our Instagram shots… Begs the question, what can we all do to ensure the preservation of our South African mountainous spaces?
- Join the Mountain Club of South Africa, because your membership will not only allow you specific access to exclusive mountainous and wilderness areas, you will also be able to network with like-minded rock lovers and learn more about mountain safety, discover new routes and be in a position to volunteer through their programmes.
- Become Volunteer Wildfire Fighter. If that sounds too hot to handle, set up a debit order that assists with their fundraising efforts. This crew of exceptional men and women put their lives at risk every fire season to protect the spaces that we love, and all the fauna and flora that relies on mountains to survive.
- Take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints. Hasn’t this saying been around for ages? So why are humans so reluctant to take heed? A casual walk up Lion’s Head after one of the popular full moon hikes is enough to confirm that we’re not all on board the anti-litter campaign. Trail runners tend to be the least problematic in terms of this kind of behaviour, so it is up to us to educate our fellow mountain users, and assist with clean-up operations whenever possible. South African activist Blake Dyason established Love Our Trails in an effort to create awareness and clean-up operations across the globe. Visit his site or follow them on Facebook for more on the next clean up in your area. Get involved.
- Educate yourself on common alien vegetation on or around the trails that you run, and remove the saplings before they cause harm. Whilst fynbos needs to burn (low and slow) in order to regenerate and remain sustainable, alien plant species such as Pines and Blue Gums burn hotter and far more rapidly than fynbos, leaving some fynbos species at risk of being wiped out when wildfire erupts. Alien species also impact negatively on the hydrology of an area and use up precious water supplies. They destabilise river banks, and are vigorous growers, out-competing indigenous species by occupying spaces their indigenous species would thrive. They also destroy the balance of habitats and therefore impact negatively on indigenous fauna. In some cases their seeds lie dormant for 70 -100 years resulting in continuous and dense re-growth. If you want to assist with alien clearing initiatives undertaken by SANParks, contact the People & Conservation Department on 021-712 0527.
Enjoy the mountains, treat them with the utmost respect, and never take the great rocks for granted. It was Jeffrey Rasley who said, “Chasing angels or fleeing demons, go to the mountains.”
Jonkershoek Mountain Challenge is on 19 May 2018
Helderberg Mountain Challenge is on 19 August 2018
Marloth Mountain Challenge is on 7 October 2018