The voice of the mountains

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 Torres del Paine. Photo: Pelin AsfurogluTorres del Paine. Photo: Pelin Asfuroglu


By Camilo Hornauer

Translation by Brent Harlow



In Chile, we have the good fortune to live under the peaks of the longest mountain range on the planet. The Andean range is best known for its majesty and for the tourist attractions it generates, with its ski resorts and beautiful natural landscapes. But these are only of secondary importance, for the Andes conceal a more profound and vital beauty, which those of us who love these mountains have the responsibility to protect and bring to light.
The idea of the mountains as guardians still exists in the oral traditions of the peoples of the Andes, and is a legacy that comes to us from all its ancient cultures. In the twenty-first century, the concept of a mountain-guardian may seem like something taken from a story by Tolkien, but curiously, science now shows—daily and with empirical data—that the mountains are a necessary source for our most important and vital resource: water.
This is the voice of the mountains, which we wish to echo. It involves a secret so deep and so simple, that it is almost inaudible to human beings, who bustle around like ants at the feet of these silent giants. We are so obsessed with our own affairs that we drink from the mountain springs without bothering to concern ourselves with its natural cycles. And this ignorance is what causes us, stupidly, to upset the delicate balance which these mountains help to maintain.
Mount San Lorenzo, Aysen. Photo: Jimmy ValdesMount San Lorenzo, Aysen. Photo: Jimmy Valdes
It is important to stop and think of the human and spiritual dimension of our relationship with these mountains. While for some, the range is nothing more than a wall, a border or limit separating the country from its neighbor Argentina—a mere geographical accident—it undoubtedly connotes a social space not only for the inhabitants of the mountains, but also for the growing community of people who come to visit them. Unfortunately, this space is not immune to negative and even irreversible effects on its fragile ecosystems.
The Andean mountain range is the spinal column of the Chilean national territory. It is fundamental that we establish a “national policy for mountains” as well as create a National Mountain Institute with official powers extending over the entirety of the Andean range. Parallel, there should be an educational program on the conscientious use and access to mountain spaces with at the same time incentives for the conservation of high Andean ecosystems together with a registry of national goods from the mountain territories, including available information on concessions made on them. In this way, we can make it so that, in a not too distant future, the mountains are recognized as belonging to our national identity, leading to their conservation, care, and sustainable use for the social, economic, and environmental wellbeing of the population.
The question of access is another complicated issue. Chile has incredible mountain spaces, like the Maipo volcano in the central region, which is accessible only through Argentina. In the Santiago metropolitan region, a group of private estates form an interior border, blocking access to public areas of singular beauty and natural wealth. There exist some legal tools, such as right of way and conservation easements (derecho real de conservación), but political decisiveness is needed for them to be used. As mountaineers, we believe that these territories—many of which are held in private hands—should be deemed goods for public use by Chilean law, like the sea and the right to access it from national beaches.
 Mount San Lorenzo, Aysen. Photo: Jimmy ValdesMount San Lorenzo, Aysen. Photo: Jimmy Valdes
Plantae Foundation is a civil society organization based in Valdivia which has, among its objectives, the conservation, access, and responsible use of mountain spaces. We work with individuals and communities to protect these fragile ecosystems and support the responsible, respectful, safe, and inclusive use of and access to these territories. Together with organizations like Acceso Panam, the magazine Escalando, and the producer of environmental content MVMT, we worked to develop the eight key points of the “Voice of the Mountains” campaign. We later brought them before the Chilean senate’s Commission on Extreme Zones. Recently, with key support from Austral University of Valdivia, we organized a seminar in Chile’s national congress. There, we were able to bring together and obtain commitments from the Ministry of National Property and Senator Antonio Horvath, president of the senate’s Commission on Extreme Zones, whose help we are enormously grateful to have received. Thanks to this event, the Ministry of National Property has promised to draft a register of public lands in the mountain regions. Senator Horvath also voiced his support for the creation of the much-needed National Mountains Institute.
At our foundation, we believe it is necessary to include a definition of conscientious access and use. It is increasingly common to see climbing groups organizing “leave no trace” campaigns, or coming together to “clean up” climbing sites, which until very recently were pristine, but have become overburdened, in many cases, with unscrupulous and careless visitors. These laudable actions will never reverse this negative trend unless we go to the root of the problem: our education and our values.
The example and the teachings of people like Rod Walker, an environmental educator with a passion for the mountains, truly inspire us to believe in and work for open-air, values-based education. Its importance and values are clear to anyone who recognizes that our natural resources, our leisure activities, and our outdoor life all contribute to the maximum wellbeing of our people, and the mountains are an important resource for recreation activities. Any society focused on wellbeing will carefully consider this, and take it very seriously.
These are our first steps and directions taken as a foundation. We hope to continue making progress, working on new initiatives and joining with new communities along the way, as we travel this long road leading to the mountain top. 
The author, Camilo Hornauer, is president of the Plantae Foundation.

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