by By Duane DeWitt, May 1997
Nine hearty Sonoma County residents are traveling to Russia on July 25 to join with Russian, Ukrainian, and 6 other American mountain climbers to climb Mt. Elbrus the tallest mountain in Europe. The climb of the l8,800 foot mountain is the centerpiece of an expedition by a team of 15 Americans traveling under the sponsorship of the Sonoma County chapter of Veterans for Peace. The expedition is an international peace mission called Climbers for Peace that is also supported by the Santa Rosa Sister City project which has Cherkassy, Ukraine as a sister city.
These intrepid citizens are undertaking a once in a lifetime adventure to travel to the Caucasus Mountains in southern Russia near the Black Sea, where they will meet up with a team of Russian and Ukrainian climbers to prepare for the ascent of Mt. Elbrus. They will spend a week in the area acclimating to the altitude with local hikes before they conquer the mountain.
Beginning with the vision of Santa Rosa stockbroker and Veterans for Peace member Fred Ptucha the expedition was planned using connections made with citizens of Cherkassy through the Sister City program. Ptucha was instrumental in the formation the Sister City program between Santa Rosa and Cherkassy which is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year. Ptucha, who is an amateur climber, is teaming with Harrison Hood a professional climber and guide with Hood Mountain Adventures in Sebastopol, to lead the small group of American amateur climbers to the top of Mt. Elbrus in a non-technical climb.
When the climb is completed the climbers will journey to Kiev the capital of Ukraine where they hope to meet with President Leonid Kuchma to discuss their efforts to promote international peace. Ukraine is the recipient Or the third largest amount of US foreign aid money on an annual basis. Just last month the Russians and Ukrainians finally signed a peace agreement allowing for a resolution of long-standing grievances brought on by the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990. Now the cooperative efforts for peace and international disarmament are bringing the l5 determined Americans to a grand undertaking that has been in the planning stages for over a year.
Three women, including Marita Torbick, an employment counselor, and Laura Ptucha, a Forest Service Fire Fighter and college student, are participating in the climb along with American men from the ages of 16 to 73. Also along for the trip will be Marina Kopinec a Russian woman now living in Kelseyville. She is from the Elbrus region and she will be acting as an interpreter and guide for the group. Torbick has been spending countless hours preparing the travel arrangements for the expedition. She says, "the trip has been a year in the making with Fred and a core group of people." Torbick said, "When I heard about it I was so taken by it. I trained 6 weeks to climb Shasta to get ready for this climb. "
Bob Guglielmino, a case worker at the Sonoma Developmental Center, has been working on building international relations with Russians and Ukrainians for over seven years. He has participated in previous cooperative sports events in Russia. Now he feels that this trip will be a powerful experience for everyone because, "The ordeal of climbing a mountain bonds you." He went on to say that the effort, "Will be building new bridges, economic, cultural and philosophical. The new paradigm is one of peace and not war."
Harrison Hood says he is in awe of the enthusiasm of the members of the group because, "They are undertaking a challenge far away from home in a totally foreign place."
He says of the trip, "It has been a longtime goal for me, it is a continental high point goal. I want to climb the high points of the seven continents." He climbed Mt. Kilamanjaro the 19,340 ft. mountain in Africa last year and he has climbed 23,000 ft. Mt. Aconcogua in Argentina.
Another highly experienced climber in the group is Steve Knaze who is also in pursuit of the elusive "7 Summits". With his ancestors from the Slovak Republic, the Santa Rosa businessman is hoping to share his expertise with the Russians and Ukrainians. "I am excited to be a part of this expedition for many reasons but mostly because of my Slavonic blood, I feel a special kinship with these people. We are sort of cousins you could say." Commenting on the sport of alpinism Knaze says, "There is nothing quite as awesome, or any feeling quite as satisfying, as sitting on the top of a large mountain and appreciating the views of God's green earth. This is an extremely difficult and dangerous sport, so to accomplish and survive any climb is a blessing. I realize that out of the millions of people on earth, only a few very special people are willing and able to partake in such adventures. For this I am very grateful." Knaze has already climbed some of the highest mountains on Earth including Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa - 5896 meters/19,343 feet, Mount Aconcagua on the Argentinean/Chilean border in South America - 6960 meters/22,834 feet and North America�s Mount McKinley in the Alaska Range - 6194 meters/20,321 feet but he did not quite reach the top. Eventually he wants to try Mount Everest, Mount Kosciusko in Australia and the Vinson Mastiff in Antarctica.
Most of the Americans are actively training for the climb like Torbick and Ptucha have, by climbing American mountains such as Mt. Shasta or Mt. Rainier in Washington. Perhaps one of the most daunting aspects of the trip has been the effort to pay for the expedition. Not only are the Americans paying their own way they are also helping to pay for the Ukrainians and the Russians to participate. Guglielmino says, "We get a remarkable reception from Ukraine and Russia. The door is open. They are so generous."
Perhaps one of the most daunting aspects of the trip has been the effort to pay for the expedition. Not only are the Americans paying their own way they are also helping to pay for the Ukrainians and the Russians to participate. Guglielmino says, "We get a remarkable reception from Ukraine and Russia. The door is open. They are so generous."
However, they are also so poor now with the economic turmoil in the states of the former Soviet Union that money is needed. Climbers for Peace needs financial support. Donations to Veterans for Peace, a national, licensed non-profit organization will be tax deductible.