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Iran Exchange Climbers Return!

Posted on: July 5th, 2011 by Luke Bauer

Southern Appalachian Section Chair David Thoenen just emailed us his complete trip report from the Iran leg of the 2010 – 2011 American Alpine Club / Alpine Club of Iran Climber Exchange. We’ve been posting updates as the AAC team in Iran was able to contact us, but the full report follows (Scroll to the bottom for the Photo Gallery):

Be sure to tune in on Thursday, July 7 for an National Public Radio interview with David Thoenen. He’ll be on NPR’s The Story which you can listen to on your radio or later via podcast (AAC portion starts at 30:30).

On June 17, in a downtown Tehran hotel, the 2010-2011 American Alpine Club / Alpine Club of Iran Climber Exchange formally concluded with short, heart-felt speeches and an exchange of gifts. After three years of planning, two terrific weeks in the Tetons hosting the ACI delegation, and thirteen days of travel and climbing in Iran, it was time for the AAC delegation to pack up their gear and go home. But we left with the knowledge that discussions were already underway regarding next steps, that both parties to the exchange were in complete and enthusiastic agreement that the close working relationship between the AAC and the ACI would continue with additional joint events in the years to come.

The AAC delegation would like to extend our most sincere thanks to the Alpine Club of Iran for a fantastic job of hosting our visit.   Every member of the AAC team was simply overwhelmed by the warmth of Iranian hospitality and impressed by the ACI’s careful planning and execution of what was a complex event delivered in a difficult environment. Each and every AAC visitor departed Tehran with enormous respect and affection for our friends in the ACI and the people of Iran. ACI president Abbas Sabetian and past president Abbas Mohammedi were superb hosts. The many, many members of the ACI that climbed and socialized with our delegation served as sterling examples of Persian hospitality.   Sahand Aghdaei and Mr. Nikoo of our host travel agency, Spilet Alborz, were there to resolve all logistical and administrative problems before they escalated into major issues. Many thanks to all of our Iranian friends.

Trip Report: 2010 – 2011 American Alpine Club / Alpine Club of Iran Climber Exchange

—Iran—

Lydia Pyne at work at Sangsar Sol

After a string of arrival flights landed in the wee, wee hours of the morning of June 5, we dealt with minor immigration hassles, cleared customs, rendezvoused with an amazingly wide awake contingent of ACI hosts, drove to our downtown Tehran hotel, napped for a few short hours, and then gathered for the first time as a group for a late lunch. By early evening, we were hiking up into the foothills of the mountains north of Tehran. Our destination: Darband, a prime bouldering site popular with young Iranian climbers. While our jet-lagged napping resulted in arriving at the site too late in the day to enjoy the company of local boulderers, we were able to get in a couple of hours of solid pump before heading back downhill to the first of many traditional Persian dinners.

The following day we split up into two groups. Jim Donini, Mark Wilford, Chris Weidner, Branndon Bargo, Mary Ann Dornfeld, Jennifer Fleming, Greg Crouch, and Stephen Alvarez headed to  Alam Kuh. Alam Kuh, the highest peak of the Takht-e Suleyman Massif, is located in the Alborz mountain range in the north of Iran between Tehran and the Caspian sea. At 4,850 meters high, it is the second highest peak in Iran. The steep, 800 meter granite north face provides some of the most difficult mountaineering routes in the country.

Lydia Pyne, Marilyn Geninatti, Tim Terpstra, Tom Bowker, and David Thoenen traveled east to Mount Damavand, at 5,671 the highest peak in Iran and the highest volcano in Asia.

Both groups were accompanied by large contingents of ACI host climbers.

Uncooperative weather plaged the Alam Kuh team. However, on June 11, Mark and Mohammed Bahrevar climbed the German Ridge in full winter conditions to the Alam Kuh summit, while Jim led a second group up a neighboring peak. On June 13, Jenn and Chris managed to sneak in a first ascent on  Alam Kuh’s North Patakht Wall (Cafe Mohammad, 130 meters, 5.10c).

The Alam Kuh contingent stopped at Pol-e-Khab on their return to Tehran for a day of rock climbing at a popular local crag.

The five members of the Damavand team were joined on the mountain by sixteen members of the ACI.  After a day of lower elevation acclimatization hiking in a splendid alpine environment, a forecast for incoming storm conditions forced the team to move forward their climbing plan by a day and cancel a planned rest day at Damavand’s Bargah Sevom Hut at 4250 meters. Despite being short changed on acclimatization time, Tim and Marilyn left the hut early on the morning of June 9 and, accompanied by six members of the ACI, summited Damavand at mid day in high winds and low visibility.

On June 12, the Damavand crew moved further east to the province of Semnan. On the first day in Semnan, Lydia and Tom put up a new route on the south facing wall of Sangsar Sol (Remembering Chris, 5.8). The next day the team hiked north of Shahmirzad, exploring the rim of an isolated canyon ringed by miles of beautiful unclimbed rock, a region worthy of a return visit and a host of potential first ascents.

June 14 saw the itineraries of the two groups merge once again in Tehran for a bus ride south and two days of touring Esfahan’s rich cultural resources. While there, the delegation shared housing at a Ministry of Education hostel with a wonderful group of children visiting Esfahan from their orphanage in Bam, the site of an earthquake which killed 26,000 of its inhabitants in 2003. Volleyball diplomacy ensured that the first Americans that the children had ever seen left them with a good impression.

The formal exchange program ended in Tehran on the afternoon of June 17 with a late afternoon meeting and exchange of gifts. One very important outcome of the meeting was a commitment by both parties to continue our special relationship with joint events in 2012 and 2013.

The degree of involvement of the membership of the ACI throughout the exchange was impressive.   We want to recognize these individuals and thank them for their companionship on our climbs.

Abbas Sabetian (current ACI president and participant in the Tetons event), Abbas Mohammadi (past ACI president and participant in the Tetons event), Erfan Fekry (ACI secretary), Parvaneh Kazemi (just returned from ascent of Manaslu), Jamal Moeini, Majid Maddah, Ali Asghar Saeedian (participant in the Tetons event), Dariush Taheri (participant in the Tetons event), Rahim Gharadaghi, Babak Doctorzadeh, Abolgharsem Eshaghi, Hossein Joudak, Omid Ehsami, Pouya Barzagar, Moslem Dadashnia, Nima Imani, Maziar Otoukesh, Abdolhamid Avani, Amir Hossein Yousefian, Dalil Safaei, Hasan Yazdani, Latifeh Boghrat, Majid Sabetzadeh (participant in the Tetons event), Mohamad Bahrevar, Mohamad Norouzi, Majid Ahmadi, Hosein Ebadati, Shima Shadman, Saeed Mahmudi, Mahsa Hokamzadeh, Hasan Gerami, and Abas Mohamadi.

Our special thanks goes to Ahmad Barjasteh, an ACI participant in the Tetons event, who was unable to take off the time to climb with us, yet still drove six hours (one way!) to meet with us in Tehran for tea and to present each of our AAC team members with a personal gift.

Following the end of the formal exchange event, several members of the AAC contingent stayed on in Iran for additional private climbing and cultural touring.  Stephen, Greg, Branndon, Mark, and Mary Ann summited Damavand. Stephen and Greg were also successful in establishing with Iranian partners a new route on a striking buttress east of the Sangsar Wall (Nahal’s Buttress, 9 pitches, 5.7).

By all measures the 2010-2011 American Alpine Club / Alpine Club of Iran Climber Exchange was a tremendous success. In September 2010, our Iranian visitors to the Tetons were blown away by the hospitality of the AAC, the friendliness of the American people, and the awesome beauty of the American mountains. The same may be said of the AAC delegation’s reaction to Iran, the Iranians and the Iranian alpine environment. The initiative proved beyond any shadow of doubt that the powerful sense of community that we feel as climbers can not be blocked by political barriers.

I would be remiss not to thank our own club for the tremendous support given to the project from it’s inception right up to the time that we flew out to Tehran. Jim Donini contributed encouragement, enthusiasm, leadership and financial support for the project from the first sketchy, brainstorming to the final dinner in Tehran. David Riggs presided over the project’s launch and provided outstanding ongoing support at the Board of Directors. Steve Swenson, Phil Powers, Penn Burris, Janet Miller and the staff in Golden greased the skids and helped keep it moving in the right direction. Jack Tackle’s  support meant a great deal throughout the initiative. Over twenty AAC members showed up in the Tetons last September to help host our ACI visitors. Two-hundred and fifty members (250!!) demonstrated their belief in the exchange by requesting delegation applications. Others emailed strong supporting messages. Our thanks to all!

We chose a quotation by William Blake to serve as the motto for the exchange and proved it to be true.

“Great things are done when men and mountains meet.”

The degree of friendship, respect and trust that the participants in the exchange established and will continue to enhance is profound. We, American and Iranian, look to the future of our clubs’ relationship with optimism and a keen sense of excitement. It has only just begun.

Inshallah.

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