Peak to Peak Collaboration

By:Karen de Bartolome Issue: Collaborative Leadership Section: Collaboration Close Up

Pavilion Project for Mental Health

Chinese Mountaineers Last spring, three climbers from Boulder, Colorado scaled a 22,000+ foot Himalayan peak—Mt. Edgar—in Sichuan Province, China. They never made it back to the U.S. But this year, as part of the International Visitor Leadership Program hosted in Denver by the Institute Of International Education, their would-be rescuers did.

Seven members of the Sichuan Mountaineering Association, the same group that had recovered the bodies of the climbers who died in the avalanche last year, were invited by the U.S. State Department to come to the U.S. to meet the climbers’ families and to exchange knowledge and techniques with mountain rescue clubs based in Boulder and Summit Counties.

While in Colorado, the representatives from Sichuan Mountaineering Association met with the Summit County Rescue Group and the Rocky Mountain Rescue Group in Boulder, one of the oldest and most expert mountain rescue organizations in the country. In China, demand for mountain activities is growing as the economy improves and gives citizens more leisure and disposable income to pursue their interests. Like in the U.S., people get into trouble by being unprepared for the high country. The Sichuan Mountaineering Association was eager to collaborate with partners in the U.S. to learn about the use of avalanche dogs, specialty equipment and training.

The Summit County rescuers conducted joint exercises with their Chinese visitors to learn new techniques, including how they used military dogs to rescue victims from the devastating May, 2009, earthquake that killed 68,000 people. The Summit County Rescue Group took the visitors mountain climbing, held a joint simulation of search and rescue operations, and arranged for one of the visitors to meet with a canine search and rescue specialist. The Chinese visitors were warmly welcomed by the numerous volunteers who work for Summit County Rescue Group.

While in Boulder, the volunteers who staff the Rocky Mountain Rescue Group provided an overview of the organization and demonstrated their custom-engineered rescue equipment. They also did a technical rock climb with the group and arranged for them to meet with the sheriff’s department. The visitors were also the guests of honor at a barbeque that included many of the friends and family of the deceased climbers. Several of these family members had flown in from out of town to be at the barbeque and welcome the Chinese visitors. The visitors were extremely touched that funding for their air travel from China had been provided by the families from the money remaining from the rescue donations.

According to State Department official Chris Mrozowski, this is the first time the U.S. government has invited “actual first responders” from a foreign country to meet with their American counterparts, reported the Summit Daily News. “It's been a tremendously successful visit,” he commented. “Hopefully we'll get these guys (from Summit) out to China at some point.”