The Mont Blanc shadow at dawn © Andrea Cararo

The Mont Blanc shadow at dawn © Andrea Cararo

I grew up with the mountains. International Mountain Day matters to me
7 Dec 2020

This year International Mountain Day celebrates biodiversity. As a mountaineer and environmental expert, Andrea Cararo tells UN Today why this day matters to him and why it should to all of us.

Since I was a kid, I have always been a nature and outdoor enthusiast. I loved spending winter holidays with my parents in the Dolomites, a mountain range located in the North-East of Italy included by UNESCO in the “Word Heritage List”, where I learned how to ski and had the chance to admire some of the most beautiful mountain landscapes, with vertical limestone walls and sheer cliffs surrounded by narrow and long valleys. I remember feeling thrilled by the idea that those giant peaks, hundreds of millions of years ago, were covered in the depths of the oceans, as evidenced by the fossils of shells and corals found in the rocks.

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees.” 

John Muir, The Mountains of California (1894)

A young UN professional in Geneva

Today, as a young UN professional working in the environmental field of pollution, chemicals and waste management in the Planet Division of the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), I feel privileged to live and work in Geneva, on the shores of the Lac Leman and with inspiring mountain ranges and forests at hand. The beauty of mountains’ terrain lies in the fact that offers a “365-days” experience of different sports and/or leisure activities. Each season can be appreciated and lived for what it has to offer: from snow sports in winter, to beautiful autumn landscapes, summer hikes, rock climbing and mountain biking.

From downtown Geneva, and from most of the Northern Alps range, if you raise your head you will most likely see the majesty of Mont Blanc Massif and its surrounding peaks. This impressive white peak, with an altitude of 4,810m, stands out from the French Alps of Haute-Savoie, right at the border with Italy. The Mont Blanc (or Monte Bianco) is still considered the highest peak in Europe – while some others recognized Mont Elbrus (5.642m) in Russia to be the highest.

Descending from the Mont Blanc summit © Andrea Cararo

Since the early history of alpinism, the relationship with mountains has always been characterised by challenges. When I started mountaineering, I enjoyed the sensation of greatness of the mountain and its steep rock walls and narrow ridges, feeling connected with nature and living the moment. When you are up there walking, climbing, sweating and sometimes battling with natural elements – snow, winds, cold, altitude sickness – you suddenly realize how everything become relative: as if by magic, you let go of negative states of mind and finally create a space where you can live the present without unnecessary thoughts and concerns.

Climbing the Mont Blanc summit

A couple of years ago, I finally had the opportunity to step on the Mont Blanc summit with a dear friend, and former colleague of mine. We embarked in our 3 days-adventure with a local French alpine guide. The first day we climbed up to the Refuge Tête Rousse (3,167m), where we spent the day acclimatizing to the altitude. During the night, at 2 am and with headlamps, we were already out scrambling up the steep Couloir du Goûter – unfortunately notorious among guides and alpinists for the frequent rockfalls. After reaching the last guarded hut at 3,835m, we left most of the heavy gears in the refuge to have lighter backpacks for the final push to the summit – still almost 1,000m elevation ahead.

While walking with crampons and roped to each other on incredible steep ice slopes, our efforts were rewarded with beautiful colours of dawn emerging from the darkness of the night and the sun hitting the face of the mountain projecting a pyramidal shadow on the valley below. It is hard to describe the feelings of the last steps, on the last snow ridge before the summit. Completely exhausted and overwhelmed by different emotions, you feel close to your roped party companions as witnesses of one the best experiences in your life. While looking at the stunning landscape of sharp peaks and valleys as far as your eyes can see, you realize that the Mountain – the silent “gentle giant” – has been kind and generous to you by sharing its beauty.

As we celebrate International Mountain Day, let’s also not forget the threats they face: climate change, unsustainable farming practices, commercial mining, logging and poaching they all have a devastating impact on mountain biodiversity.

The Mont Blanc shadow at dawn © Andrea Cararo

“Somewhere between the bottom of the climb and the summit is the answer to the mystery why we climb” 

Greg Child

End note

The International Mountain Day has its roots in 1992, when the adoption of Chapter 13 of Agenda 21 “Managing Fragile Ecosystems: Sustainable Mountain Development” at the United Nations (UN) Conference on Environment and Development put a milestone in the history of mountain development. The increasing attention to the importance of mountains led the UN General Assembly to declare 2002 the UN International Year of Mountains. On this occasion, the UN General Assembly has designated, starting from 2003, 11th of December as “International Mountain Day”. This observance, which is celebrated annually, aims to draw attention and triggering action on issues relating to sustainable mountain development.

Why we celebrate mountains?

  • 22% of the planet’s land area is occupied by mountains.
  • 70-80% of world’s freshwaters are provided by mountains.
  • 50% of biodiversity hotspots are found in mountains.
  • Mountains are home to more than 85% of the world’s species of amphibians, birds, and mammals.


* Andrea Cararo is Project Coordinator at the Chemicals and Waste Management Programme in UNITAR (United Nations Institute for Training and Research).
Read more articles about GLOBAL AFFAIRS