Mountaineering itself is a celebration of nature, but when practiced by tens of thousands climbers every summer it will inevitable cause progressive damage to the local environment. Summer alpinism is slightly controlled by the system of huts, cable cars and helicopter rescue that provides the means for the modern way of mountaineering, but it does not ensure that the environmental impact of the visitors is minimal. It is very much in the self-interest of alpinists to save our shrinking glaciers and ensure that regulation of mountaineering stays minimal in the Alps.
The Alps have become a magnet for tourism, attracting 100 million visitors a year. For the 13 million residents of the Alps stretching over 7 countries tourism has been an economic boom. It also has contributed to congestion, pollution by motorized travel, and over-development in many areas. For the glaciers and the extremely sensitive high alpine ecosystem the number of human visitors has become a major threat over the last few decades. It is our responsibility and duty to lessen the severity of our impact on the alpine environment if we want to keep on enjoying the massive playground of the European Alps.
The developed system of mountain huts greatly helps to accommodate climbers on their way to the summits in the heavily trafficked areas of the Alps, such as the Mont Blanc mountain range and the Saas and Zermatt regions of the Swiss Alps. Only a few number of visitors choose to bivouac or camp on the glaciers, in doing so they take on an even greater responsibility to leave no trace after their stay. Either way there are many things we can and have to do to minimize the impact of our visit and preserve the glaciers and the alpine flora in these popular areas.
Sustainable Mountaineering Behavior
This list can be made much longer, especially if including more aspects of travel and tourism. Feel free to comment and add suggestion below!
1. Reduce car mileage by using public transport, trains, and shared transfers. Come for a longer visit instead of many short ones (it is also better for your acclimatization).
2. Preserve the rare alpine flora and stop the erosion problems by staying on the present trails.
3. Leave no trace. Do not mark routes in any way, use maps or a GPS. And bring down all your rubbish to the valley, including food, even if there are bins in the huts!
4. Never soil the glacier with human waste. To protect water from contamination, speed up decomposition and avoid disgust to others try to avoid defecating on snow at all (use the toilets in the huts). In case of emergency; search for rocks (on dry ground poop has a chance to decompose). If no broken rock available, dig a proper pit and bury it.
5. Keep your party size small in areas with wild animals; this reduces noise and social interaction.
6. Be responsible when choosing your routes, climbing days and partners, so to stay out of trouble and unnecessary flying for the helicopters.
Mountaineering practice will never go back to what it was in the beginning, when a few pioneers had the hills to themselves. Neither can we stop natural and cultural changes. But we can try to actively contribute to the preservation of the high Alps by minimizing our direct impact and making enlightened choices.
As a guiding company we still believe that bringing people to the mountains is a good thing, because experiencing the mountains creates an awareness and understanding for the alpine environment and a wish to take care of these beautiful places. Being introduced to mountaineering together with a qualified mountain guide is a good way to learn from someone passionate about the places he lives and works.
Mountain Spirit Guides naturally transfer environmental education and information to clients and team members, as well as manifest good mountaineering ethics.