This is the message on the occasion of International Mountain Day from Michel Baronian, passionate mountaineer and UN employee in Geneva, passionate about mountaineering for more than 40 years.
Although he has stopped keeping track, Michel estimates that he has climbed Mont Blanc – the highest mountain in Western Europe at 4,807 meters – more than 100 times.
Reach the heights
He has also climbed peaks over 8,000 meters, such as Annapurna in Nepal, without using supplemental oxygen.
“When I’m up there, it’s a moment of happiness. The mountain is my church. I’m going to find myself. I find a lot of serenity and happiness there, ”says Mr. Baronian, whose dream is to one day climb Mount Everest.
Mountain tourism represents around 15 to 20% of world tourism. The host country of UN Geneva, Switzerland, has more than 200 ski areas and is home to Monte Rosa, Dom and Matterhorn, which dominate the landscape above 4000 meters.
While Switzerland and other mountain countries are celebrating International Mountain Day on December 11, under the theme of sustainable mountain tourism, keeping the world’s mountains clean is increasingly becoming a major concern for environmentalists and tourist boards.
Sustainable tourism a priority
Mr Baronian has seen his share of trash in the high altitude climbs he has faced. He attributes this to mistaken attitudes towards pollution and inexperienced climbers. To add to the problem, helicopters, which cannot land above 6,000 meters, often cannot reach very high.–altitude camps for cleaning.
“When people are exhausted, they give up everything and go down to save their lives,” says Baronian, who hauled trash he found on the high peaks. “I didn’t realize I was leaving it behind.”
He suggests that climbers should take a photo of their camps before and after use, to prove that they cleaned up after themselves, in the same way that people should document their ascent to high peaks with a photo.
“It may be utopian, but the question really needs to be raised and considered by the entire mountaineering community,” he says.
Respect for local culture
Philipp Niederberger, director of the Swiss Tourism Federation (STF), agrees that good waste management and the disposal of landscape waste are important aspects of sustainable mountain tourism today.
“Sustainability is a demanding subject for the tourism sector; for this reason, we are setting up a national competence center for sustainability in tourism, ”he says.
For those new to mountaineering and tourism in the Alps, tour operators, tourist offices as well as mountain guides have an important task in raising awareness and showing people how to behave sustainably in the mountains.
“Respect for the local culture is also an important aspect of sustainable tourism,” says Niederberger.
Escape of fresh air amid COVID
During the COVID-19 pandemic, more people than usual fled to the Swiss mountains to deal with ongoing restrictions and reconnect with nature.
“Mountain tourism at the national level has become an increasingly popular modality for tourism, because it is safer and outdoors,” explains RosaLaura Romeo, program officer at the Organization’s Mountain Partnership Secretariat. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
“The health of the mountains has a direct impact on our life wherever we live,” explains Ms. Roméo, “because mountains are the water towers of the world. We all benefit from the mountain, even if we are not aware of it.
At an event in Geneva on tackling plastic pollution on Friday, Lesya Nikolayeva, an environmental expert, said that a host of volunteer initiatives were part of the solution. The Clean-Up Tour, an initiative of the Summit Foundation to clean up mountains, was active in Switzerland, she said, and thanks to it, volunteers had already collected more than 150 tonnes of waste since its inception in 2001. – proof that plastic pollution can be combated locally.