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Today is International Mountain Day http://www.un.org/en/events/mountainday/

We don’t have any mountains in Surrey. The highest point is Leith Hill near Dorking http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leith_Hill at between 293-295m above sea level which is the second highest point in South East England after Walbury Hill http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walbury_Hill, East Berkshire at 297m asl. Gibbet Hill at Hindhead http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gibbet_Hill is the second highest point in Surrey at 272 m and followers of this blog will know this hill and its surrounding area has particularly fond memories for me.

To add some perspective I recently visited my friend Dr Wayne Dawson, a Research Associate at the University of Konstanz in Germany . Konstanz is itself 405m above sea level http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Konstanz. From here we ascended into the Alpstein in Switzerland and reached the Schafler which is 1900m above sea level.

This was my first trip to this region of Europe and I was suitably awestruck both by the River Rhine and its beautiful wetland habitats such as the RAMSAR site at Wollmatinger Ried http://www.nabu-wollmatingerried.de/info.html#englisch, the historic town of Konstanz and of course the Alps which from my host town emerged from the November mist but once in my visit.

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 It was only on our trip into the Alpstein when I managed to escape above the clouds and found myself basking like a desperate slow-worm in beautiful autumn sunshine. We hiked in tee-shirts up to the Shafler and gazed in awe at the snow-capped crags and pinnacles of nearby Santis (2508m asl). 

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During a  lunch break on our ascent, I fed Alpine Choughs from my hand.

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Alpine chough video: http://youtu.be/ACAVn0_QgUE.

On our descent, Wayne spotted a red squirrel bounding through the snow and we watched it disappear amongst the fir trees. Nearby, I saw some ungulate tracks and a little further on we were treated to the sight of a wild Chamois, a goat-antelope species native to southern European mountains, as it did its best to coolly avoid us and other walkers out that day.

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Chamois video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L2BaF2II5ag

My world would be less without Mountains, and I do not depend on them for my life and livelihood. I am lucky enough to have ascended Mount Kilimanjaro (5896m asl) and to regularly receive Facebook updates from our guide Casper whose livelihood depends on ascending the mountain on a  weekly basis. I made sure the group I chose to take me up Kili were paid a living wage and treated well. Its work of organisations like the International Porters Protection Group http://ippg.net who work to prevent the exploitation of locals and make sure mountain tourism provides a better livelihood for people in these remote areas.

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