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Alpinism achieves UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage recognition

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 Chamonix, 12 December 2019 - Statue of Jaques Balmat showing Horace Benedict de Sassure the route up to the summit of Mont Blanc.
Chamonix, 12 December 2019 - Statue of Jaques Balmat showing Horace Benedict de Sassure the route up to the summit of Mont Blanc.   -   Copyright  Katy Dartford
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The latest addition to UNESCO's list of Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) is Alpinism.

"Alpinism is a traditional, physical practice characterised by a shared culture made up of knowledge of the high-mountain environment, the history of the practice and associated values, and specific skills," according to the UN.

UNESCO's inter-ministerial General Assembly declared the inclusion at its meeting in Bogota on Wednesday.

Olivier Greber, is president of the Compagnie des Guides de Chamonix, the oldest mountain guide association in world (1821).

"This was a big project," he says. "We worked with Courmayeur (Italy), and Orsières, Switzerland too."

Greber said it was also about remembering the past.

"Savoie was before part of Italy, and even the first rules for the guides were set out by the prince of Sardinia."

"Having this recognised is recognising the value of mountain climbing. The values of effort and liberty," he says before wryly admitting "it won't change much".

Katy Dartford
Brevent mountain as seen from Chamonix, 12 December 2019Katy Dartford

The UIAA is the international federation for climbing and mountaineering. A statement by one of their members, Claude Eckhardt, lists the definitions that the newly-announced recognition brings to the activity:

"Alpinism is recognised by the UNESCO as an art :

  • of climbing mountain summits and faces by one’s own physical, technical and intellectual strengths;
  • of challenging one’s own capabilities and expertise while negotiating natural, non-artificial obstacles;
  • of evaluating and assuming measured risks;
  • of self-managing, self-responsibility and solidarity; and
  • of respecting other people and natural sites."