Mountain Climbing Diplomacy

Arts and Sciences

Fred Ptucha, A65, has summited many mountains around the world to promote peace. But his latest climb tested his commitment to international good will more than any before it.“We’ve never had the countries so at odds,” Ptucha said, describing his July trip to climb Mount Damavand in Iran as tensions simmered between that country and the United States. “This whole thing came close to collapsing half a dozen times.”
When Ptucha started planning the trip in late 2015, the political mood was hopeful. The Iran nuclear deal had just been announced and the country seemed like the perfect destination for Ptucha’s group, Climbers for Peace, to advance its mission of cross-cultural friendship and cooperation.
Ptucha co-founded Climbers for Peace in 1997, putting together an international group to summit Mount Elbrus in Russia. He thought it would be a one-time event, but the camaraderie was so great that he invited some Ukrainian participants to climb Mount Shasta in California the next year. Climbers for Peace has now organized nearly a dozen expeditions.
Ptucha, a retired financial advisor based in Santa Rosa, California, served as a Navy lieutenant during four tours of duty in Vietnam, for which he was awarded the Bronze Star. He said his activism is partly fueled by guilt over not having the courage to speak out during that war.
The idea to go to Iran came to him and some friends while they were hiking in the Alps. They set their sights on Mount Damavand, which holds a special place in Persian literature and is the highest volcanic mountain in Asia at 18,406 feet.
Just getting there was a challenge. The U.S. State Department warns American travelers not to go to Iran because of the “very high risk” of arbitrary arrest and detention. “It was tough to recruit people,” Ptucha said. Even after the group had received …

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