Why Mountains Matter
Mountains are many things to many people – an ancient cultural and spiritual beacon, a daring destination for adventure travel, the site of gruelling personal challenge, a source of livelihood, food and water, or maybe just a beautiful view from a balcony at your accommodation in a dream destination.
If you’ve ever found yourself standing awestruck at the base of a mountain and moved by the majesty of these giants, there are very good reasons why. Across the globe, mountains play a major role in determining global and regional climates while acting as the source of most rivers. They also act as cradles, barriers and bridges for species and are crucial for the survival and sustainability of many human societies.
Mountain ranges and their surrounding areas are not only invaluable sites of biodiversity; they are also important cultural and spiritual locations and the homes of indigenous communities across the world. These areas should be treated with the utmost care and respect.
Below, we take a deeper look into five impressive mountain ranges and their surrounding areas and highlight why they are so important.
Mount Fitz Roy / Cerro Chaltén, South America
Located in Los Glaciares National Park and on the border between Argentina and Chile, the magnificent Mount Fitz Roy or Cerro Chaltén derives its name “Chaltén” from the Aonikenk word for “smoking mountain”. This is because of the way clouds tend to form near the top of this majestic mountain, giving it an impression of “smoking”.
Designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1981, Los Glaciares National Park is located in the Southwest of Santa Cruz province in the Argentine part of Patagonia.
The diverse landscape and ecosystem are extraordinary thanks to its gradient altitude of more than 3,000 metres. The main ecosystems are Subantarctic or Magellanic forests containing various species of Southern Beech which are types of trees and shrubs native to the Southern Hemisphere.
Here you will also find the puma and the Andean cat (Guiña), as well as the Huemul, a rare native deer species of the Southern Andes. Birdwatchers will delight in spotting Andean condor and choique or Darwin’s rhea — a South American relative of the ostrich.
Rwenzori Mountains, Africa
Located in the Rwenzori National Park on the border between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Rwenzori mountains are thought to be the “Mountains of the Moon” described by ancient geographer Ptolemy. They are also the site of Africa’s third-highest mountain.
Because of their altitudinal range, the nearly constant temperatures, humidity and high insolation, the Rwenzori mountains support the richest montane flora in Africa. The montane forests are also home to threatened species such as the African forest elephant, eastern chimpanzee and l’Hoest’s monkey.
These astounding mountains are home to myriad vegetation from tropical rainforest and alpine meadows to snow. The Rwenzori Mountains are the highest and most permanent sources of the River Nile and constitute a vital water catchment while supplying local communities with vital resources. The park has rich and unusual flora, including the giant heather tree.
Mount Rainier/Tahoma, North America
Mount Rainier National Park, part of the Cascade Range of the Pacific Northwest in the USA, forms part of the traditional lands of the indigenous Cowlitz, Muckleshoot, Nisqually, Puyallup, Squaxin Island and Yakama people. Mount Rainier itself, also known as Tahoma by the Salishan people, is a large and conically-shaped active volcano made up of a layer of hardened lava, volcanic ash and tephra.
The imposing mountain range is famed for its dramatic wildflower meadows and blooms and its ecosystem is extremely diverse thanks to the varied climate at different elevations. It is a picturesque home to over 1,000 species of plants and fungi, 65 species of mammals, 5 species of reptile, 182 species of bird, 14 amphibian species, 14 species of native fish and innumerable invertebrates.
Other wildlife includes Cascade red foxes, cougars, bears, mountain lions, mountain goats, marmots and elk.
The park also protects the headwaters of five major watersheds that originate on the mountain’s glaciers and are an important source of water for the Puget Sound region.
Picos de Europa, Europe
The Picos de Europa Biosphere Reserve in Spain has natural ecosystems with habitats such as low coastal Atlantic forest, abundant beech forests and oak woods. The Picos de Europa mountain range sits between Asturias, Cantabria and Castilla and Leon and has to be one of Europe’s most dramatic mountain scenery. It has been designated a Natura 2000 site — the EU’s network of protected areas significant to valuable and threatened species.
Here you’ll find Cantabrian brown bears, the Iberian wolf and Cantabrian chamois along with a diverse butterfly population. In 2020 and for the first time in 75 years, a bearded vulture was born in the region. A joint project between the regional government of Aragón and the Foundation for the Conservation of the Bearded Vulture (FCQ), supported by the Spanish government, has been working to restore this species to one of its former habitats and the birth of this chick is a significant step toward species recovery in the region and its survival in Spain.
Mount Malindang Natural Park, Asia
Mount Malindang Natural Park straddles the provinces of Misamis Occidental, Zamboanga del Norte and Zamboanga del Sur in the Philippines. This park offers striking natural beauty and rugged landscapes. About 20,000 hectares of the park are occupied by about 4,000 families who are mostly indigenous people of the Subanen Tribe.
This rich biological and physical resource is of major ecological and economic value. It is an important watershed, providing potable water for domestic, agricultural and other uses to more than one million inhabitants of the region.
Here you will find rare and endangered species like the Philippine eagle, flying lemur, tarsier, hornbills, Philippine Deer, wild pig and long-tailed macaque. It is also home to other less threatened species like palm civets and civet cats.
Mountains are towering giants of natural beauty, biodiversity and cultural significance. They stand imposingly in our landscapes as sources of life that provide a home for many communities and they deserve to be celebrated and conserved.
Remember, when you visit a mountain range it is your responsibility to leave no trace. Be respectful of local communities, choose sustainable tour operators and always reduce, reuse and recycle.
Written and researched by Andrea Gallagher and Lethabo-Thabo Royds, World Travel & Tourism Council