This 11 December is International Mountain Day. Almost one billion people live in mountain areas, and over half of our population depends on mountains for water, food and clean energy.
Yet mountains are under threat from climate change, land degradation, over exploitation and natural disasters. These have potentially far-reaching and devastating consequences, both for mountain communities and the rest of the world.
We spoke with Crista Valentino, Co-Founder and Director of CoalitionWILD. The coalition, made up of members under 35 years-old, is a global initiative connecting and equipping young people to transform the planet through youth-driven solutions. As an avid mountain climber, we asked Valentino why mountain climbing is critical to her work in supporting young entrepreneurs to tap their full potential and shape an exciting future for our world.
Do you see evidence of mountains under pressure? Why are they important?
I live in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, USA the gateway to Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks known for their beauty, wildlife, scenery, and challenging mountain terrain. I see more people climbing mountains every time I go but as our population grows, so does our responsibility to protect the places we love the most. We must strike a balance: to inhabit mountain spaces, appreciate the beautiful vistas they afford and the challenges they pose while protecting and managing them for others to enjoy firsthand.
What does climbing a mountain teach you and why do you do it?
I didn’t always love adventuring in the mountains quite the opposite. The prospect was completely foreign to me. But since I stepped foot on my first trail nine years ago, I haven’t looked back. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the flurry of everyday life, always moving onto the next task on the to-do list. For me, being in the mountains calms my mind and brings clarity. As my gasps for oxygen become greater, the chaos in my head becomes quieter. As my focus turns towards taking one more step forward, it turns away from the clatter in my brain. Being in the mountains is like a moving meditation. Climbing allows me to shatter the perspective of what I can achieve, how far I can go and what I can endure. It has also given me a new definition of friendship and trust, knowing that the partners I choose to be with have my life in their hands, and theirs in mine.
What elements of mountain climbing help you in your everyday work?
The bigger the objective I have set myself, the smaller the steps I must take to reach my goal. The harder the experience becomes, the closer my checkpoints are to each other. In my everyday work, this perspective helps me to keep moving forward by making progress one step at a time. Crossing off tasks on a to-do list allows me to feel a sense of accomplishment that carries over into the next task and keeps me motivated, while keeping sight of the larger vision and making it seem attainable.
Working with entrepreneurs, what lessons have you learned from mountain climbing that could be applied in business?
One of my favorite lessons is that if the idea doesn’t scare you, it’s not big enough. I have realized that the only thing that is holding me back, whether from a mountain pursuit or a work project, is myself. Being in the mountains shows me that I can achieve, endure, and experience more than I ever might have considered possible. Say yes to opportunities that are outside your comfort zone, set goals that feel slightly unattainable, and envision the impact you want to achieve from the start. It’s amazing what we can accomplish if we give ourselves the chance.
What advice would you give towards that first step up a mountain?
The hardest thing to do is start. In rock climbing we joke that the most difficult move is getting off the ground. Find people who are better than you and be an avid learner. My partners endure a never-ending list of ‘why’ questions from me constantly. Having adventure companions whom you trust and can learn from will keep you motivated and grow your competence and confidence. The same applies in business too.
CoalitionWILD supports the Young Champions of the Earth prize winners. Want a chance to win support to achieve your big environmental idea? Stay tuned—applications open in January.