Prayer flags blowing in the wind

Each Memorial Day weekend, artists and activists, filmmakers and photographers come to Telluride for Mountainfilm. At our core, we are about exploring, preserving and sustaining environments, cultures and conversations, so this unique gathering is part film festival and part ideas festival with leading edge thinkers – and doers – getting together to change the world.
Leading up to this year’s festival we wanted to focus on conversations worth sustaining and we’ve asked some of Mountainfilm’s special guests to help us out. Throughout the coming weeks we’ll be posting our conversations with them. We hope that they engage and inspire you.

If you want to participate in this discussion, just submit your questions via our Facebook page or our Twitter account.


rick ridgeway portraitOne of the world’s most accomplished mountaineers and explorers, an author, filmmaker and photographer, Rick Ridgeway is known for being on the first team of Americans to summit K2 and the first from any country to do it without supplemental oxygen. He was on the second American team to climb Everest. But in recent years, he has taken on his most daunting challenge — saving our Earth’s wildness.

A conservationist to the core, Ridgeway has become an indispensable ally of Earth’s most iconic endangered species and wild places. He has trekked from the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro to the Indian Ocean amongst lions and elephants, to raise awareness to how humans have transformed our wild world, and hauled a 300-pound rickshaw across the 16,000-foot rugged Tibetan wilderness to protect the chiru, a Tibetan antelope being killed off by poachers. Ridgeway

In the last several years, Ridgeway has brought this battle home to America’s last remaining wild places and the iconic animals in danger of disappearing. Part of the Patagonia family since the beginning, Ridgeway partnered with the clothing company to launch the Freedom to Roam campaign, an initiative based on the idea that wild animals need hundreds of miles of interconnected, undisturbed wild habitat to survive. In the United States, where sprawl and concrete has gobbled wilderness at a terrifying pace, this attempt to protect migratory corridors for North America’s grizzlies, caribou and wild salmon is an awesome feat.

The epic journeys of these incredible animals are reminiscent of Ridgeway’s own adventures. And in the face of a challenge this huge, it takes a bold, passionate and determined leader to succeed — a leader exactly like Rick Ridgeway.

What factors first fueled your thirst for adventure?

I grew up in the orange groves Southern California in the 50’s and 60’s, and when I saw the place paved over with housing developments, I fled to the mountains above the LA basin. I used to ditch school and go up there on my Honda 50 motor scooter and hike around: it was where I found solace. Then I started going up there in the winter, and pretty soon had to buy myself an ice ax and boots and crampons and a copy of Freedom of the Hills, with its instruction section on how to use the tools. So I taught myself: I couldn’t find anyone else with my interest or passion for the mountains and mountaineering— that didn’t happen until I was out of high school.

Adventure and environmentalism have steadily converged over the past few decades and you have been at the vanguard of that movement. What factors drove you to go beyond mountaineering and exploration to take on a leading role in sustainability initiatives?

Seeing the places I loved change before my eyes. My favorite route of all my climbs used to be the Ice Window and Diamond on Mt. Kenya. Then it fell off. Global Warming. The first time I hiked into Fitrzroy in Patagonia what is now the city of Chalten was a sheep pasture. But it had survey stakes laid out in large grid of streets and development.

How do you think this year’s Mountainfilm theme of “extinction crisis” plays into a larger discussion about contemporary society and our future?

The extinction crisis is the biggest crisis on the horizon. What most people don’t know is how it started 50,000 years ago, first when we humans moved into Australia, followed the Americas, the Pacific Islands: in the wake of our expansion biodiversity has inversely collapsed. People need to know what the Western US was like before we got here 13,000 years ago. That’s the real baseline to measure from.

What does the loss of biodiversity mean for the world’s human population?

I don’t think we’ll go extinct. We’re too wily. We’re just like cockroaches and starlings and coyotes. But who wants to live on a planet with just the weed species for companions?

What, if anything, can the average citizen do to either curb the current pace of species extinction or help mitigate the effects of it?

Support habitat protection, and support the creation of wildlife corridors so in the face of the dual threat from habitat fragmentation from human development, now compounded by the threat of habitat shift from global warming, critters can move with their habitats literally shifting from under their feet.

With a lot of talk going on currently about the many dangers facing the world, or parts of it, what are the conversations most worth sustaining?

Habitat, habitat, habitat, and landscape connectivity to go with it.

With the knowledge that you have of the perils facing us, and our world, how do you stay motivated and optimistic?

I remember what George Schaller told me when I asked him the same question. “The secret is not to get up in the morning and stretch your arms and say ‘Today I’m going to save the world’. The secret is to get up and stretch and say ‘Today I’m going to save some small, discrete part of it’.”

Given the scope of your achievements in mountaineering and the long list of your accomplishments in diverse fields, taking risks would not seem to be among your fears. What fears do you have?

Living on what David Quamman calls a Planet of Weeds.

How, if at all, do you see showcase events such as the Mountainfilm festival playing a role in effecting positive change?

Awareness of everything I’ve mentioned above.