Monday, July 29, 2013

Iranian Climbers were Quality Human Beings | Interview with John Quillen

American climber John Quillen was part of FTA Broad Peak Expedition, this year, who shared logistics and Base Camp facilities with Iranian New Route Team. John had to quit the expedition in second week of July, when his friend Brian Richard Moran suffered a leg injury while descending from the mountain.
John spared some time to share his thoughts and memories from the moments spent with Iranian climbers.

Link: Interviews about Iranian Climbers Part-2/2: Interview with Scott Powrie

Iranian flag at Base Camp; Source

Q: It has been quite a dramatic climbing season. How will you describe your overall experience?
John: Our expedition was plagued with problems from the beginning so I would have to describe the trip as “ill-fated”. Of course the Pakistani people were very kind and the Karakoram did not disappoint in terms of breath taking scenery.

Q: How is Brian doing, now?
John: He is at home recovering following extensive surgery and a two day hospital stint. There is still significant pain but he is expected to make a full recovery.

Q: How did you guys get along Iranian Team?
John: Scott shared a poignant story about the Iranians that underscores what team players they were. While in Islamabad Brian had visa issues and my main bag didn't make it. It meant we had to stay another day or meet the team later. When we asked Aidin about this issue he did not hesitate to say, “No problem!” They would wait along with us even though they had the option of proceeding to Skardu without us. Pouya didn't speak any English but I never saw the guy not smiling or laughing. Mojtaba spoke enough English to indicate his agreement. They were the best team mates you could have. If I were to think of one word it is unselfish.

Q: Please tell us a little about the time you spent with the Iranian climbers.
John: As you know on expeditions there is a great deal of down time and we had plenty of weather, waiting days, especially while trying to evacuate Brian on the helicopter. The Iranians brought a great deal of food from Tehran and every day they would produce some new variant of pickled items, fruit or nuts that they would first hand to us before their team.

We shared our cultures and I asked days worth of questions about their life in Tehran. Mojtaba spoke of his upcoming marriage and we teased him considerably about it. His good nature was such that he joined us in our ribbing back and forth. I remember one particular time when I asked him about the leather pouch hanging from his neck which contained a miniature copy of the Koran. He happily opened the book and handed it to me to peruse while proudly conveying that his fiancee had made the purse for him. He was a devout Muslim and prayed several times per day.

Aidin was kind of the ringleader of the three. His English was better than most of the group although we never had any trouble communicating with any of them. Some things are just universal. Any time we would board a bus, begin a hike or commence with a meal, those guys always deferred to us out of pure politeness. And they would insist that we go or be served first. I would grumble and groan and Aidin's standard response was, “It's alright, you go!” There was simply no way to argue with his award winning and genuine smile.

Regarding Pouya, as mentioned, his English was minimal so all discussions with him were done through Aidin or Ramin's translation. However, I will always remember the day he came running up to me outside of Urdukas early in the morning to hand deliver my sun cap that I had left in the dining tent. It was important that he get that to me before the blistering sun inevitably beat down. He was always doing little things for others in that vein and always giggling. I teased him about giggling so much but was really envious. Since I was sick a large portion of the trip, I envied his joviality.

Q: Did you have any discussion with Iranians related to route of ascent and descent strategy?
John: With that kind of time it is inevitable that the conversation turns to the “new route”. We were all well aware that they were going to turn right at camp 3 and try to intersect the standard route on descent. They spent so much time discussing it, in Farsi, that we knew they had been meticulously planning this for years. To see these guys climb with such celerity and confidence, I never had any concerns initially about their plan.

I distinctly remember our last interaction. They were gearing up for their summit push and said goodbye to us as the helicopter was approaching to evacuate Brian. Each one of them came up and hugged me and I implored them to be careful. (They are young enough to be my sons). Aidin laughed and said, “yeah, yeah.” Pouya just giggled and Mojtaba was his usual, confident self, giving me a high 5 as he disappeared.

Q: Although search operations haven’t been called off, unfortunately chances of Aidin, Pouya and Mojtaba’s survival are quite slim (note: the operation is over now). Any message you want to convey to their friends and followers?
John: If there were a better ambassador for Iran or mountaineering in general, I've never met them. The families of these young men can be proud for what they represent on every level. You would never know that our two countries have ever had any issues whatsoever. It’s almost as if we could get more ambassadors like those three out in the world then everyone would see that rhetoric in the media does not represent the actual sentiment of true inhabitants. They will forever embed in me a warmth for the people of their country because I was shown nothing but true friendship, honor and respect by these fine individual.

Q: Thank you John for being with us. What are your future plans?
John: I intend to continue climbing but may pick another mountain range until things settle down in Pakistan. I love Pakistan, the people and their mountains, but it caused too much anguish for my friends and family to return there anytime soon.

From Knoxville, Tennessee USA, 47 years old John Quillen is a drug counselor by profession. Website: www.southernhighlanders.com

Before going up the mountain for first time; Source