Sustainable Summits 2016, 1st day, 8th Aug

Many people arrived the evening before the conference and after registration enjoyed a social hour or two at the Dept of Conservation [DOC] Visitor Centre where we were welcomed by organiser John Cocks and Mike Davies the manager of Mt Cook National Park

Aoraki Mt Cook road
Aoraki Mt Cook as seen from the road to the conference venue

The conference kicked off on Monday 8th Aug. with a whakatau / welcome given by Justin Tipa, with support by Takerei Norton, Ngai Tahu, and Sustainable Summits conference Leaders at the Ed Hillary Center in the Hermitage Hotel

Sustainable Summits 2016, The Hermitage Aoraki Mt Cook
Reception of the conference venue, the Hermitage Aoraki Mt Cook

Background [Please scroll down to see the slide show – many thanks to Ross Cullen for supplying the words]:

The first Sustainable Summit Conference was held in Colorado in 2010 as Exit Strategies with a focus on, yes, human waste. The Conference was organised by the American Alpine Club and the American National Park Service under the leadership of Denali Mountaineering Ranger Roger Robinson and Ellen Lapham of the American Alpine Club.  The event was well received and was attended by about 90 interested participants from throughout the US and several other countries.

With enthusiasm and commitment by participants and the organisers, another event was held, again in Colorado, in July 2014. The conference was called Sustainable Summits and was held over three days, during which presentations and discussions addressed the broader social, environmental and economic contexts of recreating in the alpine realm. Nearly 100 scientists, climbers, business experts, social entrepreneurs, recreation consultants, land managers and guides from 13 countries and all seven continents attended.

New Zealand was represented at these conferences, with delegates from the Department of Conservation and the New Zealand Alpine Club.  With support from both these organisations, the two New Zealand representatives at the 2014 conference, John Cocks and Dave Bamford, offered to help organise a similar conference in New Zealand in 2016.

Sustainable Summits 2016, Mt Sefton, Aoraki Mt Cook National Park
Mt Sefton on the left with Footstool to the right, as seen from the conference venue. Aoraki Mt Cook National Park

Support has been gratefully provided, particularly by the lead organisations of: the New Zealand Alpine Club, the Department of Conservation, the Federated Mountain Clubs of New Zealand, Ngāi Tahu the tangata whenua of the Southern Alps / Kā Tiritiri o te Moana, the Petzl Foundation, and the American Alpine Club. Both the AAC and Petzl have been involved in the previous two conferences. Other organisations have come on board, including Aoraki Solutions, Adventure Consultants, TRC Tourism, and Earth Sea Sky – thanks to all.

Sustainable Summits 2016 sponsers

The Sustainable Summits conference organisation is made up of passionate people, supported by their dedicated organisations and gives the chance to renew old friendships and create new ones, then return home with renewed vigour to assist in sustaining wonderful mountain environments and to continue recreating amongst them.

It is hoped there will be future conferences in other countries, and it was announced at the end of this 2016 conference that the next, in two years time, will be in Chaminox France, with a focus on mountain issues pertinent at that location and globally.

The approach will continue to be one that encourages other countries to seriously look at hosting future conferences.
Ngā Mihi
Dave Bamford and John Cocks

After the official opening by Senior Government representative DOC Director General the event got underway starting with Ngāi Tahu and sacred New Zealand Mountains
Justin Tipa and Takerei Norton, Ngāi Tahu

Session 1

  • Antarctica to the Southern Alps – an approach to sustainability by Lou Sanson – DOC Director General and previously CEO Antarctica NZ
  • New Zealand Mountains Falling Down by geologist Simon Cox
  • Panel Discussion Q&A
    Speakers and from the floor

Session 2

  • Field Visit – Local Natural Hazards (2 options) and Hermitage recycling
    Don Bogie, Simon Cox, Shirley Slatter and Ray Bellringer

Session 3

  • Mountain Sustainability Issues facing Mont Blanc
    Olivier Moret and Pascal Mao
  • Retreating New Zealand Glaciers
    Brian Anderson
  • Panel Discussion Q&A
    Speakers and from the floor

Then after a social hour and dinner a panel discussion on ‘Commerce in the Mountains’ by Suze Kelly, Peter Rupitsch, Dawa Steven Sherpa, Robin McNeill, Erik Bradshaw and Geoff Gabites. Moderator Hugh Logan

Slides of the various presentations/events in chronological order – click on any one to see a slide show [these images are a free download, they’re 750 px wide and thus good for FaceBook, however they are not right-clickbale, so if you email I’ll temporarily disable this so they can be easily dragged or copied..

Sustainable Summits PODCAST DAY 1 ~ courtesy of Carla Braun-Elwert. Filmmaker, editor and artist


FaceBook posts >>

Aoraki Mt Cook village, Glencoe Stream
Glencoe Stream, Aoraki Mt Cook village

Sustainable Summits 2016, 2nd day, 9 Aug

Please scroll down to see the slide show [many thanks to Ross Cullen for supply the words]

Session 4

  • The Everest Environmental Story
    Dawa Steven Sherpa
  • The Denali Story – The Clean Climb Program
    Roger Robinson + video by Geoff Hill [shown later
  • Panel ‘Keeping the Mountains Clean’
    Dawa Steven Sherpa, Roger Robinson, Pascal Mao, Moderator: Stuart Gray

Session 5

  • Sustainable Practice – A guiding company’s role
    Guy Cotter
  • Environmental impacts – waste
    John Cocks and Tom Hopkins
  • Norm activation theory and human waste education in Recreational Setting Kristine Route
  • Iwi perspectives on human waste management Paul Carr, Dave Milner and Bubs Smith
  • Speakers and from the floor

Session 6

  • Field visit: Repeat of the previous day

Session 7

  • Sustainable accommodation
    Karen Rollins
  • Huts – New Zealand context (Mid Tasman fly-in hut)
    Derek Chinn
  • Q&A
    Speakers and from the floor

Slides of the various presentations/events in chronological order – click on any one to see a slide show [these images are a free download, they’re 750 px wide and thus good for FaceBook, however they are not right-clickbale, so if you email I’ll temporarily disable this so they can be easily dragged or copied..

Sustainable Summits PODCAST DAY 2 ~ courtesy of Carla Braun-Elwert. Filmmaker, editor and artist


FaceBook posts >>

Sustainable Summits 2016, 3rd day, 10th Aug

Please scroll down to see the slide show [many thanks to Ross Cullen for supply the words]

  • People in the Austrian Alps
    Peter Rupistch
  • Global climbing pressures and management options
    Dave Bamford
  • Panel Discussion Q&A
    Janet Mackay, Roger Robinson, Lisa Choegyal, Moderator Sam Newton

Session 9

  • Mt Kinabalu, addressing social pressures
    Jamili Nais
  • Wilderness values in the mountains
    Rob Brown
  • Access to the Alps – a case study
    Erik Bradshaw
  • Q&A Speakers and from the floor

Session 10

  • Aoraki / Mount Cook National Park Plan
    Mike Davies
  • Tongariro Alpine Crossing
    Harry Keys
  • 10 min case studies
    • Leave No Trace
    • Role of volunteers
    • Khumbu Climbing Centre
  • Richard Wesley
    Robin McNeill
    Nima Namgyal Sherpa

Session 11

  • Summing up – What can we do?
    Where to from SS 2016?
    Chair Hugh Logan
    Roger Robinson

…then in the early evening:
NZAC President’s drinks at Unwin Lodge followed by the conference dinner at The Hermitage

Slides of the various presentations/events in chronological order – click on any one to see a slide show [these images are a free download, they’re 750 px wide and thus good for FaceBook, however they are not right-clickbale, so if you email I’ll temporarily disable this so they can be easily dragged or copied..

Sustainable Summits PODCAST DAY 3 ~ courtesy of Carla Braun-Elwert. Filmmaker, editor and artist


FaceBook posts >>

Sustainable Summits 2016, 4th day, 11th Aug

Thursday 11th August 2016, as the conference wound down.

Optional field trips – attended by a few participants included:

Exploring the conference themes through the Hooker Valley, Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park, led by:
Ray Bellringer DOC.


Skiing the Tasman Glacier.

Many thanks to the organisers The New Zealand Alpine Club, and to Ross Cullen who supplied the words for these four posts about the conference, and Carla Braun-Elwert. Filmmaker, editor and artist  for the podcasts


Donald Lousley

Ed Hillary [statue] looking at Aoraki Mt Cook

FaceBook posts of the conference >>

Sustainable Summits Conference 2016 | Summation by Hugh Logan

Summing up – What can we do? by Hugh Logan, former Director General of the New Zealand Department of Conservation

The conference is the third in a series where people passionate about sustainable management of mountain areas have gathered to discuss social, environmental and economic issues affecting mountain areas from the perspective of sustainability.

In summing up, first, what we covered; in a sense applicable internationally?

Fox GlacierSpiritual aspects of mountain areas and what they mean for local people (in the different many ways “local people” define themselves around the world)



ranuncBiophysical change and natural hazard




Boots in the NZ mountainsHuman impact and how to avoid, remedy and mitigate it



Management cogsGovernance and management issues




It falls to me to draw out from the discussion what I see as some themes, some things that can be taken forward in the future, and something that we may have danced around too lightly.

I want to say these are my views. Each of you will of course have your own conclusions from this conference

First – Awareness of spiritual values

I have been struck by how far many have come in recognising spiritual values of local people; what was once unspoken, ignored, or forgotten is now more common-place and openly recognised; not just in New Zealand but increasingly in other parts of the world.

Second – Managing and reducing the human footprint

Awareness that the human footprint in mountain lands has been growing. In response, education about these impacts has been having a positive effect in some places (but not all). Furthermore, behaviours of people who are educated and knowledgeable are changing for the better – but this is not universal, there is an elephant in the room which I will talk about later.
The work on sustainability and continuing to work on reducing human impacts must be carried forward. It was striking that the principle of carry in-carry out to remote parts of the globe is becoming the norm, at least for rubbish. As this conference has heard, there is a challenge in managing human waste, particularly in abiotic zones (especially glaciers and abiotic mountain zones, and where numbers of people overwhelm natural processes in biotic zones). The carry out policies implemented in some parts of the world seem to be effective but some challenges regarding carbon footprint and management of these wastes once they are carried out remain to be addressed effectively and efficiently.

Third – Awareness of biophysical change and hazards

We know so much more now about the speed that mountain lands are changing. Whereas once they were regarded as never-changing, it is now clear that they change climatically and in biophysical shape dramatically and sometimes catastrophically. One thing is certain – things will not stay the same. We have to manage for change, probably at a faster rate than we believe. This requires far greater speed and flexibility in responding to potential changes, affecting where people live, how mountain lands are accessed and where structures, buildings and activities are located.

Fourth – Mobilising the power of local communities and businesses

Local communities, volunteers, and commercial enterprise can play a significant role looking after places, changing behaviours of mountain land users, and generally helping sustain mountain lands environmentally. There can sometimes be an innate conservatism in these groups, which is both a positive thing in maintaining unique cultures and a constrain to adopting new practises where existing activities are harmful to the natural environment. Hence, the role of the environmental activist, whether inside the communities or companies, or from outside, are important. But when business and communities commit themselves to a strong environment ethic, the results are impressive

Fifth – The importance of leadership

Government agencies

Traditionally this is the role of mountain land management agencies –usually park services. This role has more recently been devalued or decried – but if you look at presentations we have seen in the conference such an attitude is very mistaken and in fact destructive. Many very important sustainability initiative are undertaken and lead by the management agencies. The risks for mountain land management agencies lie in the political expediencies and trade-offs that inevitably attach to government agencies, and in an overbearing attitude of “we know best”. But where mountain lands are being well managed it is common to find an effective government agency, either as a direct operator in their own right, or empowering others by support, education and setting high standards, while avoiding the curse of corruption.

Local people
The role of local people in leadership – the people who can bring local knowledge, wisdom and values to look after places. Risks can sometimes lie in sometime not recognising wider forces for charge or internal tensions between protecting places and the power of the dollar. In New Zealand we have distinguished between the Tangata Whenua, Maori people with rights interests and associations, and local people. Such a distinction is not necessarily the norm in other parts of the world. In New Zealand we must remember that local peoples’ knowledge and attachments to mountain lands are critically important in how those lands are managed.

Commercial enterprises
The role of commercial enterprises in setting standards for quality experiences, in educating clients and supporting environmental sustainability is very important for a small but potentially influential group of mountain users. The risk is the rush to the bottom, lowest common denominator or non-protectionism and loss of the owner – operator with their feed on the ground.
A last example of ‘leadership’ lies in activism. Erik Bradshaw spoke passionately about this to the conference. To elaborate on his words, “If no one complains or campaigns, the forces of darkness will prevail”.

What I would like to cover now is some things I feel we danced around too lightly and which would deserve more attention at future conferences.

There are three things

First: I think we have dealt too lightly with the issue of mass tourism and its effects on mountain lands. With increasing wealth in China, India and many populous countries, mountain areas, their cultures, and their communities will come under increasing pressure. China itself is experiencing this in its mountain lands in the south west, and we in New Zealand are about to experience it – we are unprepared and unwilling to take corrective action until has already had an effect. Future conference could usefully dwell on this issue and how to formulate anticipatory actions, rather than just reacting in a de facto manner

Second: The conference has focused on hiking and alpine sports recreation and tourism, but what about hunting and harvest? And what about managing invasive species? These are big issues in New Zealand. They are big issued elsewhere. But they tend to be dealt with in separate forums. If sound stewardship of mountains is our objective, then we need to think in a more integrative way.

The issue of stewardship of mountain lands about environmental protection, economics / commerce, legal protection – enforcements – but it’s also about another feature – Equity.
The mountain lands of in New Zealand at least are common heritage of all New Zealanders. In societies where there are increasing levels of inequality (and I would argue, perhaps controversially, that this is a first world problem, not a developing world problem) that it is ignored a peril. Look at the phenomena of Brexit, or even Trump. So much of this conference has been about wealthy peoples’ issues. Even here in New Zealand, how many people can afford to come and stay in this Park, and how many families can afford the hut fees of Great Walks? I would like to see the figures but I wonder in our country and even in places like the US whether affordable domestic use of is in decline – other than at very local, minor protected places.

I would like to conclude with a proverb which I think underlines both what has drawn participants to this conference and which underlines all the themes of the conference;

“The eyes of the future are looking back at us and praying that we can see beyond our own time.” Terry Tempest Williams (with thanks to indefatigable mountain traveller Colin Monteath)

Sustainable Summits Conference 2016
Southern Light by Southern Light