Looking forward to upcoming Pakistan Humanitarian Outreach/ Climbing Expedition

05 Lohar BelaClint Estes and I are heading to the Kondus Valley in far northeast Pakistan August 23-September 27 for a humanitarian outreach/ climbing expedition.  We received the Zach Martin Breaking Barriers grant from the American Alpine Club.
Below is an excerpt from an article in our local newpaper, the Ouray Plaindealer by David Mullings
“Two officers of the Ouray Mountain Rescue Team, Matt Hepp and Clint Estes, have scored what they say could shape up to be a once-in-a-lifetime climbing trip to a remote area in north Pakistan.
The upcoming expedition involves more than just potential mountaineering tales worthy of the American Alpine Journal.
In addition to numerous first-ascent climbing opportunities in a long-closed militarized region, Hepp and Estes will be performing humanitarian work in local villages in the earthquake-riddled mountains of the Great Karakarom range.
Once there, they plan to build a simple, earthquake resistant demonstration home to help villagers learn to cope the next time the earth’s crust shakes up their world.
“Building model post-earthquake hasty shelters is a very applicable and sustainable project for the Kondus Valley villages,” said Hepp, a structural engineer by trade, and captain of the 30-member Ouray team. “Give a Balti woman a nylon tent and shelter her for a winter. Teach her to build a simple, cost-effective home and shelter her for a lifetime.”
Estes, who is in charge of the team’s new rescue facility and owns a contracting business, describes the structures as necessarily simple — sandbags capable of riding out new tremors, capped with a simple metal roof — made from locally available material.
In the aftermath of some past earthquakes, Estes said, tents provided the immediate shelter, but that in some cases fires lit for heat and cooking had disastrous, even fatal consequences.
“There’s a definite need for safer shelters, but we want the local people to want us there to help them,” he said. “If we just show up and say ‘we’re here,’ it probably won’t work.”
Hepp and Estes are following a lead of Jim Nowak’s Ridgway-based dZi Foundation, which once executed a post-earthquake housing project in neighboring Afghanistan. Estes said Nowak counseled them to keep their work simple, because the remoteness and lack of supplies, materials and resources can foil more ambitious efforts.
The pair hopes that village governments will offer some financial support for materials, so as to become invested in the project.
To that financial end, the climbers this May landed a small, $1,500 award from American Alpine Club. They received the club’s Zack Martin Breaking Barriers Grant, and equipment sponsorship from AAC industry partner Black Diamond. Other companies chipping in include Mountain Hardward, Evolve, Julbo, GoLite, and Brunton.
Hepp and Estes are holding a private slide show next week where they will be selling t-shirts in support of the trip, and said they wouldn’t turn down donations to support the housing project. Info: clintestes@hotmail.com or matthepp@ridgway.us.
Now, about the climbing.
“We got really lucky,” said Estes, referring to landing a rare climbing permit from the Pakistani government to enter and climb in the remote Kondus Valley, near borders of which have been in dispute with India for decades.
The permit is the third ever issued in the region, the only other permission granted in 2000.
Hepp and Estes will be accompanied throughout their travels by a liason officer named Zafar Iqbal, who they said has been extremely helpful in setting up trip logistics. The Ouray team will fly into Islamabad on Aug. 25, then drive by Jeep with Iqbal for about 12 hours to the main town in the valley, Khaplu.
They’ve budgeted about three of their five weeks in Pakistan as a climbing window. The objective: little or never-climbed 6,500 meter granite slabs. That’s better than 21,000 feet, a Sneffels and a half.
“According to rumors and a few tantalizing photographs of the region, there appears to a lot of low-hanging fruit in the form of unclimbed granite spires, some of which are even visible on Google Earth,” said Hepp.
“It’s a shangri-la of giant granite towers,” adds Estes.
Hepp has ventured to Nepal twice before, and Estes has been the Himalayas once previously.
Estes crushed a finger in a recent construction accident, but said it should be sufficiently healed before the Pakistan climbing starts. It’s obvious a damaged digit won’t deter the Ouray rescue boys from a singular sojourn that promises to combine humanitarianism with high-altitude adventure and achievement.”
We have raised over $1500 in donations from friends and supporters in Ouray County and beyond.  These funds will go toward the purchase of post-earthquake hasty shelter materials for the villages of Korkondus, Karmading, Lachat, and Chogogrong.  The bags are packed, visas and special permits are in hand.  Clint leaves for Cairo (Mt. Sanai acclimatization) in a few days and I leave the country August 23.  I’ve spoken with several other expeditions that have recently returned from Pakistan.  They report having a great time, even though Pakistan is in the middle of conflicts wiht the Taliban on the west side of the country.
We plan to include further updates of our progress on this blog.  Stay tuned…pakistan-flag_0

One response to “Looking forward to upcoming Pakistan Humanitarian Outreach/ Climbing Expedition”

  1. Lindsay

    The entirety of Ouray county is sending all their positive energy directly to the brigade commander – he should feel a shock of good will in about 2 days (positive energy travels at about the same speed at Etiad airways) and greet you all with open arms. Inshallah.

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Matthew D. Hepp, P.E.
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