Tuesday, July 30, 2013

"Iran could not have picked better representatives for the country" | Interview with Scott Powrie

Scott Powrie is an American climber, who attempted Broad Peak via normal route, this summer. His two team-mates, John and Brian, had to quit the expedition due to Brian’s injury, whereas Ron and Scott made a summit bid on 14th July. Unfortunately, he suffered a minor fall just above C3 and decided to turn back.

Having shared logistics and Base Camp facilities with Iranian Team, Scott lived some memorable moments with Iranian climbers. I am grateful to him for sharing his experience and memories with us.

Scott's photos from the expedition can be viewed here. His blog post about time spent with Iranian climbers, Bittersweet Homecoming, can be read in English and Persian.

Link: Interviews about Iranian Climbers Part-1/2: Interview with John Quillen

Bus ride to Skardu. Source

Q: Scott, it has been quite a dramatic climbing season. How will you describe your overall experience?

Scott: The season was like a teeter totter, lots of ups and downs. It started out with lots of highs. I was lucky enough to meet many high profile climbers who had years of experience like Tunc Findic, Mike Horn and Bruce Foreman. They all had good tips and interesting stories to tell. I was able to walk next to, and on, the greatest and tallest mountains in the world, following in the footsteps of history’s greatest explores. That may have been the all-time high of the trip.

For me, climbing in Pakistan was fulfilling a lifelong dream that had been constructed by years of reading books and articles on climbing. I also gained great experience in the tools and techniques of climbing in the big mountains: acclimatizing, stocking camps, weather, and strategy for when to climb.

The downside was the reality of how dangerous being in these mountains can be. I met great climbing friends that I thought I would climb with and be in contact with for the rest of my life. Sadly, as fast as we became friends these massive mountains took them away from me. The tragedy of Nanga Parbat also put everyone on alert from the outset. You didn't know whether the shootings were an isolated incident or a larger plan that was unfolding.

Overall, I would say I learned a lot about the reality of climbing in the Big Mountains and that they need to be taken with a higher level of respect. You are far from help in almost every way and need to have your “stuff” buckled down tight.

Q: How did you get along Iranian Team?

Scott: I first met them in the lobby of the hotel in Islamabad shortly after I arrived in Pakistan. Right away, it was smiles and "How are you?". Aidin spoke the most English so he fielded the questions most of time but, as I found later after the shyness wore off, all three spoke and could understand some English. There was a very nice and easy going vibe between all of us. At first, it was just the 4 Iranians. They were waiting for Ramin who was flying in from Canada in a few days. Ramin was also super nice and spoke perfect English. The guys were not tight lipped about their plans; they came out and told us they were trying a new route and that they had been there in 2009.

They put off a very relaxed feel, like they were not on a strict schedule and we didn't need to conform to their plans. In general, I felt very comfortable around them and our teams seemed to co-exist very well. Base Camp was also that way; we all shared the mess tent, showers, and everything else without any issues. Meals were always spent laughing and sharing the stories of the past days climbing. I never heard anyone argue or disagree about anything, it was pretty impressive. I would have imagined some flare ups about hot water or tent locations but none of that happened.

Ramin and Mujtaba during a hike near Skardu; Source

Q: Please tell us a little about the time you spent with the Iranian climbers.

Scott: Between the 4 days in Islamabad, 2 day bus ride to Skardu, 6 day trek to base camp and the countless weather days or rest days at base, we had lots of time to get to know each other…. A LOT OF TIME. One thing no one told me about when I was training for this climb was the down time. Whether it was for weather days or just rest days, there was a lot of it.

The Iranians were veterans so they were ready for this. They told me in '09 they had waited 15 days for a storm to pass. They had brought lots of games and, in general, were upbeat about all our down days. I was not so used to it, so I was somewhat up and down emotionally. But the guys were always trying to get me to play one of the games they had, share some of the food they brought from Iran or just talk, which would bring me back up again.

The exchange in English to Farsi was paying off for everyone, especially Mojtaba. After a few weeks I noticed I could say more in Farsi and Mojtaba was more engaging in English. I also had an i-Pad that became very popular. After dinner some of us would begin chanting…"movie, movie, movie"…We pretty much watched every movie I had. It didn't matter what it was about, anything to pass the time. During rest days when the weather was good, we would all take turns in the wash tent and cleaning our clothes, standard maintenance stuff. Afshin even gave John a haircut which was pretty funny…. I have the photo.

John getting a trim by Afshin; Source

I had a sat phone so at night I usually got a weather update from the US that I would share at dinner. That usually sparked a conversation on strategy which we were all pretty transparent about. Not really any secrets as to who was doing what and when, we all pretty much wanted the same thing (the summit) and were willing to help each other to get there.

Q: Did you have any discussion with Iranians related to route of ascent and descent strategy?

Scott: When we got to Base Camp the Iranians showed me their new route, starting from what they had done in '09, and what they intended to do this year. The route was extremely difficult. It incorporated rock climbing, mixed climbing, and the final parts were under a large serac that they needed to get around quickly, early in the morning to be safe.

Since they had already done most of the new route, they went up the normal route until just below Camp 3. This is where they set up their own camp 3 and where they would break off from the normal route. They would then traverse right from their camp 3 and pick up where they had left off. They would then continue to the summit and from there they would descend via the normal route.

Later in the trip as we all were finishing up with acclimatization, the Iranians split into two teams. Aidin, Mojtaba, and Pouya were going to push the new route to the summit and Ramin and Afshin were going to be backup and then do the normal route to the summit. In the end the idea was to meet on the summit together and go down as a team. Their plan was as solid and safe as you can get when doing a new route like this.

One issue that came out later, was that their new route took much longer to summit than the regular route; due to the fact that it was so much more difficult and steeper than the regular route.

Q: Scott, apparently you and Iranian team reached C3 on similar days during summit push. Did you get a chance to say hello to them?

Scott: Aidin, Mojtaba, Pouya and Ramin left a day ahead of me to go to their camp 3 and prepare for their summit push. Afshin was leaving the next morning to meet up with Ramin and they were then together going to continue to the regular camp 3 and prepare for their summit push. My partner and I left later that same day as Afshin as we had to wait for the helicopters to come in and pickup John and Brian.

We later connected with Ramin and Afshin at camp 3. It had been a long hot day and we were all tired. Ramin spoke with my climbing partner and said he was really exhausted from the climb but I didn't get a chance to talk with either that day. Our plan was to leave that night at midnight for the summit. Our tent was away from theirs so we didn't exchange any words about the next day’s plans.

Scott climbing towards C3; Source

Q: Although search operations haven’t been called off, unfortunately chances of Aidin, Pouya and Mojtaba’s survival are quite slim (edit: search operation is over now). Any message you want to convey to their friends and followers?

Scott: I have climbed around the world and met climbers from all over the world. Most of the time people are nice enough but there is an invisible line that divides you from them. Most of the time climbers just want to climb with their own team and not get too involved with what you are doing. You can definitely feel that separation.

We started this climb with 3 Americans, 1 Canadian, 5 Iranians, 1 Mongolian, and a Liaison Officer from the Pakistani Military. If you were an outsider looking at us on paper you might have said that we would not have gotten along, maybe because of the political differences in our governments, our religions or our different cultures- pick one and you might have been right. In our case everything that made us different went out the window on our bus ride from Islamabad to Skardu and we became one team. We were all just climbers that loved climbing and had a common goal, Broad Peak. We talked about every subject that should have been off limits and no one got upset, everyone got a chance to explain their side and we all learned a lot about each other and our cultures.

Iran could not have picked better representatives for the country. These men were strong climbers, intelligent and not afraid. They were also understanding, compassionate and giving. In reality, I did not know them for very long. I am so affected by their loss because of how strong an impression they left on me. They were remarkable people that I will remember for the rest of my life and feel privileged for being able to spend time with them. Thank You for allowing me to know them.

Q: Thank you Scott for being with us. Any future plans?

Scott: Climbing is part of who I am I can never stop. I will be happy to get back to Malaysia and climb back at my local crags with my wife. Looking to next year, possibly Mt. Cook in New Zealand or back to Alaska for mixed climbing on a larger peak possibly Foraker or Denali. Later in the year I might consider a trip back to the Karakorum but will need to take some time to think about it and see how things develop.

Thank you Raheel, for having such a comprehensive and up-to-date website. Without your info I would have been in the dark as to what was happening in the mountains of Pakistan.

Scott Powrie, 35, grew up in San Diego, California where he always pursued an active lifestyle- from playing sports to participating in triathlons to surfing and snowboarding on the weekends. It wasn't until later that he got hooked on rock climbing and mountaineering but they were natural conduits for his energy and love of the outdoors. Scott's first mountains were alpine style summits in the Sierra Nevadas and Olympic ranges before he started ice-climbing in Colorado and Alaska. Scott is currently working in Malaysia from where he is able to travel and climb everywhere from Thailand and Nepal to New Zealand and Morocco. He blogs at highaltitudescott.blogspot.com.

View towards Concordia. Photo taken from Broad Peak C3; Source