Climbers For Peace

Climbers for Peace was the brainchild of Fred Ptucha, a US Navy veteran. Upon the conclusion of the Vietnam War he pursued a path of peace activism. After the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989 Fred organized veterans from the Vietnam War and Soviet Afghanistan War to develop what would become Runners for Peace in conjunction with the Moscow International Peace Marathon. During this time it was a huge undertaking as never before had people from former enemy nations come together in the spirit of good will, friendship, peace and mutual understanding to undertake a serious and challenging project as this.

Bob Guglielmino was also a survivor of the Vietnam War who had similar feelings. In 1988 he became involved with Athletes United for Peace and traveled to Russia a number of times. In 1994 he attended Veterans for Peace rally and got acquainted with Fred there. They quickly realized their common bond and together started to attend many various peace marches that were going on in California at that time.

Steve Knaze, Harrison Hood, Duane DeWitt and a handful of Sonoma County, California adventure seekers decided to become involved in Climbers for Peace. Steve was not involved in the Vietnam War but had participated in many anti-war demonstrations and protect marches in Washington, DC and other east coast cities. He was loosely connected to the Youth International Party (Yippies) and the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) which were a revolutionary offshoot of the peace movements in America during the late 1960’s and 70’s. Steve had an ambition to climb the highest mountains on all of the seven continents as he was a budding mountaineer. He and Fred found a common bond as they were both born and raised in Western Pennsylvania with Eastern European bloodlines. Fred’s ancestry was Ukrainian and Steve’s being from Slovakia. Mentioning his previous activities and expressing his desire for another peace project, Fred was accenting something interesting associated with mountain climbing. In their common bond of Slavonic heritage Steve mentioned the highest mountain in Europe which was Mt. Elbrus in the Russian Caucasus region. Fred loved the idea and Climbers for Peace was born.

The first steps in undertaking this project were formulated in their respective homes. Being at a loss of where to start such a complex, difficult project and how to organize the Ukrainian and Russian participants, Bob proposed an off-the-wall idea of sending a personal president email. One can imagine that these types of emails rarely get read but theirs got through to then President Bill Clinton. It seems the forces to be were with them, as former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma and former Russian Federation President Boris Yeltsin were contacted through the White House and highly enthused with this proposal. The Ukrainian Federation of Alpinism was contacted and many of Ukraine’s premiere and elite mountain climbers participated. The Russians had a nominal contingent of mountain guides from the Mt. Elbrus region in support. Igor Djavrov of Sochi, Russia helped considerably in getting this project off the ground. Additionally they were lucky enough to discover in their own backyard a warmhearted Russian woman, Marina Kopinec who became their translator. Surprisingly, she was born in the region of southern Russia where they were to travel. After a year and a half of intense planning they left from San Francisco in 1997 heading for the Republic of Kabardino-Balkaria, an autonomous region within the Russian Federation. Upon meeting their foreign counterparts it became obvious that there was a language barrier that made communication on a personal level difficult, although within a few days a common bond developed between them. It was clear by observing the group hugs and lively conversations that people from different nations and cultures could actually communicate and flourish together despite a limited common language. It was a beautiful sight! They conquered Mt. Elbrus together and they fell in love with each other. Furthermore, they decided that their new friendships and adventures would not end on that tall, cold mountain. The following year a contingency of Ukrainians came to the United States to participate in Climbers for Peace II and the rest has become history. What was to be a one time event still lives on to this day.