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Iranian Exchange Climbers Head to Mt. Elbert

Posted on: August 9th, 2012 by Luke Bauer

Iran Climbers Exchange Members Head Up the Mt. Elbert TrailBy Front Range Member Melissa Alcorn

The first phase of the cultural exchange between the AAC and the Alpine Club of Iran had highlighted rock climbing and hiking at Rocky Mountain National Park with operations based out of the hostel at the Colorado Mountain School in Estes Park. The bunk beds, showers, and ample kitchen and dining space were a fantastic facility to allow the group to solidify around a plan for the next stage of our program. The women from Iran wanted to stand on the top of Colorado and the American team got to work to make it happen.

After a day of planning and implementing a massive camp shopping list, the entire crew loaded up and established base camp at Lakeview Campground at the end of the Mt. Elbert South Trail. That’s when something pretty awesome happened. They’d told us that the mountains are liberating for them and that their songs honor that. But it was striking how we all settled into a much more carefree and joyful existence. They borrowed my speaker and played Iranian music from one of their iPods for an impromptu dance session in the woods. We all spun and clapped and laughed. Then, at an appropriate hour for having to be up at 3 am, each settled into a sleeping bag.

Iran Exchange Climbers on the Summit of Mt. ElbertNo one complained when alarms went off early in the cool morning, or when we set off from the campsite rather than shuttle people the couple of miles to the actual trailhead. We let them set our pace, slower than any of us American hosts would’ve gone. But they were aware of the timeline, having seen the daily thunderstorms in the Front Range, and they knew what they needed as a team. So we fell into their steps. Daylight broke, layers were put away, and the tree-line dropped beneath us—their pace remained exactly the same. The tundra was brittle and void of alpine flowers, the color scheme bland but for the vibrant palette of layers worn by the Iranian members of our expedition. They sang as they walked, much to the amusement of other trail users that morning some of whom were gasping for breath and unsure how anyone could have lung capacity to sing while walking. At almost exactly four hours after having left camp the Iranian women joined hands and crested the summit of Mt. Elbert. They eagerly unfurled Alpine Club banners and the Iranian flag on the top of Colorado. We all joined hands in a circle as they sang one more song. Two women had taken a slower pace after a steep section of trail. They heard the celebration on the summit and sent a text to us that they were still on the way. We waited on top for them; the sky was cooperating with our plans and sparing us of the drama of a storm. The celebration, joy, and photo shoot started over when the entire team was on the top.

The descent was leisurely. Most went at whatever pace felt right. You could sense that the exchange was now in wrap-up mode and that the women were all mulling over the experiences. That night we had a campfire and introduced them to the fine art of choosing and prepping a stick to roast marshmallows for S’mores (aka “candy sandwiches”). There was more singing, but dancing took too much energy. In the morning half of us would go climbing near Leadville and the other half would ride bikes from Frisco to Dillon and back. By all reports everyone had a great day. And that night the hosts were chased from the kitchen so the Iranian women could prepare dinner. The meal was a fantastic array of flavors and colors, which everyone enjoyed. After dinner we watched a DVD production of climbing in Iran featuring many of the women in the living room that night. It was a special moment of collective triumph.

Iran Exchange Climbers at the American Mountaineering CenterOur last day together went quickly. We returned to Eldorado Canyon, where we’d started our journey together ten days prior. Those that wanted to climb did so, and the others hiked and took pictures. It was a good end to our adventures. The closing cook-out at Neptune Mountaineering that evening was a success with members of the community, both climbing and Iranian American, coming out to meet the women and hear the stories of what had transpired in America, plus gather more details of the climbing culture in Iran. And when the last question was asked, the hugs and final pictures started. It’s hard to say goodbye to an experience like this, let alone the women you’ve bonded with as sisters. But we take what we learned from each other and move forward, and we know there will be other times and places to continue our journeys together.

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