2010 Climber Exchange with the Alpine Club of Iran
[This entry, penned by Southern Appalachian Section Chair David Thoenen, was originally posted in September 2010, shortly after the conclusion of the Iran Climber Exchange. We’ve reposted it today as an introduction to the reciprocal part of the Iran Exchange. Several American Alpine Club Members are headed to Iran next week. We’ll be posting their thoughts and images as they arrive from across the Atlantic. Stay tuned to Inclined and Facebook for updates.]
Three a.m., September 3. Two white vans roll past bugling elk and Jim Donini’s camper. They stop in the parking lot of the AAC Grand Teton Climbers Ranch. Nine Alpine Club of Iran delegates have traveled over fifty (essentially non-stop) hours from Tehran to Jackson Hole. The Iranian climbers with their two Iranian-American escorts peel themselves out of their seats and exit the vans. AAC hosts Donini, David Thoenen, and Bo White greet their guests and help them lug their duffels to the Ortenburger cabin. After two years of joint planning, the AAC/ACI Climbers Exchange is underway.
What transpires over the following ten days is pure alpine magic, proof positive of the brotherhood of the rope. By September 12, departure day for our Iranian guests, any notion of borders or differences has evaporated. Strong ties of commonality and friendship emerged early in the event and had grown stronger as the days, miles hiked and pitches climbed passed by. In the end, we, Iranian and American, have established a dramatic sense of community and a unanimous commitment to continuing and enhancing the partnership between the AAC and the ACI.
The ACI contingent was rich in alpine experience, ranging from the Himalaya and Karakoram summits of Hassan Najarian (six 8000 meter summits) and Sohand Aghdaie (first Iranian team to summit Nanga Parbat) to others whose summits include Mts. Blanc, Kilamanjaro, and Damavand. The AAC host climbers included many of the members of the AAC delegation scheduled to travel to Iran in May 2011 as well as other enthusiastic volunteer climbers, cooks, bottle washers and photographers. In all, over twenty of our members traveled to the Tetons to assist with hosting activities.
After a few short hours of sleep, the program started with a superb brunch prepared by Front Range Section Chair Chris Pruchnic, followed by an orientation cruise of the park for easy hiking, picnicking, and cross cultural bonding. By day two the climbing kicked in on Symmetry Spire, with host climbers Donini, White, Jack Tackle, Tom Bowker and Greg Crouch tying in with their ACI partners.
After several additional days of acclimatization hiking and a long day of bison watching in Yellowstone, the entire ACI contingent headed up to the Lower Saddle. The next morning three Iranian climbers, ACI president Abbas Mohammadi, Aghdaie, and Najarian, summitted the Grand Teton with their AAC partners.
Evenings were busy with awesome dinners, thanks to Mary Ann Dornfeld, Clark Gerhardt, and Angela Donini, complemented by slide shows (by Donini, Najarian, Ahmad Barjasteh and Majid Sabetzadeh) and videos (“180 Degrees South” presented by Yvon Chouinard and “Iranians on Nanga Parbat ” presented by Aghdaie).
A strategic priority for the ACI is the development of programs for conservation of Iran’s impressive alpine environments. The AAC coordinated a series of meetings on this issue between ACI leadership and Grand Teton Park managers. One outcome of these meetings is a agreement in principal to organize an exchange of National Park Service managers with their Iranian counterparts.
The finale of the exchange was a fantastic party in honor of the ACI hosted by Exum Guide Jeff Witt and his wife Tracy at their Jackson home.
All involved in the exchange would like to thank our Climbers’ Ranch host, John Clegg, for his gracious management of our needs over the ten days of our stay.
- David Thoenen, AAC/ACI Exchange Lead
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