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