Pakistan: ExWeb interview with Claude Nadon - a different expedition leader

Posted: Dec 16, 2005 07:58 pm EST

( Canadian Claude (Claude-André) Nadon is an accomplished climber: He has summited Cho Oyu in Tibet and Cerro Standhart in Patagonia. In 2003 he attempted the Broad Peak-K2 double-header, and turned around 600 meters shy from the summit of Everest.

Currently in Pakistan Claude's goal is not to reach a summit, but to deliver over 8,000 shelter kits to isolated mountain communities in Northern Pakistan, right on the infamous Line of Control.

For the last month and half, Claude has been manager of the Winter Race project for IOM (International Organization for Migrations) in quake-struck Muzzaffarabad. As it turned out, the logistics involved in distributing aid goods were not so different from the daily work of a large expedition leader on a 8000er.

We focused on one valley, called Neelum (right on the infamous Line of Control), which had been cut off completely due to major landslides on the road, Claude told ExplorersWeb. Our operations were mostly helicopter-dependant, making it quite a logistical nightmare. I evaluate that we sent approximately 450 tons of equipment to the mountains, using all kinds of helicopters. The shelter kits were made up of plastic sheeting (tarpaulins), blankets, tools and, whenever possible, corrugated iron.

A different kind of winter expedition

Claude's work with IOM will soon be over, but he wont leave Pakistan. I might come back with UNOPS for a winterization project - clearing snow off all secondary roads, and provide assistance to the most remote mountain communities in Kashmir's quake-affected areas.

We asked Claude for some insight in the current situation. His aid work take mirrors the experience of an expedition leader:

ExplorersWeb: How bad is Muzzafarabad?

Claude:At the moment, we still have teams up in the mountains delivering shelter kits. We are still finding pockets of small communities not having received any shelter relief, but in the Neelum valley, we estimate that most of them have been reached.

ExplorersWeb: How are you managing the distribution of assistance?

Claude:Our whole operation has been helicopter-based. It will be a big problem when snow starts falling, because not only will the helicopters be grounded, the roads will be blocked not to mention the avalanches. That is one of the main reasons why we proposed a winterization project to UNOPS, with whom we have previously worked in Afghanistan, and whose staff is most experienced in this type of work.

ExplorersWeb: How many people is in the OIM team - where do they come from? Are they all volunteers, hired local workers...?

Claude:Other than me, the team is comprised primarily of Jean-Philippe Bourgeois, (who worked for the Banff Film Festival for a very long time), and who has been in Afghanistan since 2001.

Then, depending on the contract, we hire staff, mostly Canadians and one British (Ian Gough, currently living in Chamonix). We have up to 8 teams, each consisting of one international plus one local guide that spend most of their time in the mountains. Jean-Philippes role was to be the scout who would get all the important information, like suitable landing zones for helicopters, the exact number of beneficiaries, etc...He would report to me, and I would dispatch a team and start sending material in helicopters.

ExplorersWeb: What's your take on the international and climbing communities' respone?

Claude: About the International community, I cant really tell... We have been working 7 days a week and 15 hours a day, so we are a bit disconnected with the world outside. Concerning the climbing community, the info I am getting is mostly coming from your website, and to be honest, I was quite happy to see that you are still putting a lot of emphasis on this forgotten disaster, and that climbers are responding as much as they can...

The local climbing community is quite active, too. When we arrived, we contacted Nazir Sabir Expeditions, to hire a mountain or trekking guide. We have been working with Rehmat Ali who knows these mountains extremely well, and because they have all this experience in organizing expeditions, they are real experts in logistics. Thus they are helping us a lot. Nazir Sabir is also getting a lot of clothing from his contacts in Japan and since hes president of Pakistan Alpine Club, he is providing us with as many guides as we need.

Definitely, we are really happy to work with these local mountaineers - it makes a big difference. Climbers are used to respond to ever-changing environment, so I truly believe they make perfect logisticians...

ExplorersWeb: Is there hope for the inhabitants of the remote quake-affected areas? Is cold the biggest problem ahead?

There is hope, I dont think we should be alarmist, because everybody working on the ground are doing their best. But it will be an ongoing effort during all of winter: We need to make sure that the aid is being efficiently distributed and reaching every single household. We have proposed UNOPS to have a mobile team that will hike during the winter around all villages, to check if distributed goods are appropriate and, in case anything is needed, to coordinate with other UN agencies involved to obtain it.

Cold will definitely be a major problem both for inhabitants of affected areas and for the people delivering aid expected large amounts of snow will be a big issue.

ExplorersWeb: You've been in Afghanistan previously. How was your work there and how are you using the experience acquired there in this situation?

Claude: In Afghanistan, our team has been clearing snow from all major passes and roads, including the Salang Tunnel which links the south to the north of Afghanistan, since 2001. We also headed the operational side of the Afghan presidential elections. Last year, I was project manager for snow clearing in all of Afghanistan. We cleared over 50 major avalanches, and in many cases, there were more then 20 ft of snow on a 5km stretch.

To do these operations, we all lived and worked in the mountains, sleeping wherever it was possible: In our trucks, in mosques, etc. We used snowmobiles to reach the unreachable, heavy machinery to clear the roads, and hired over 5000 people for cash for work programs.

Through that job, our team achieved good experience in complex logistics applied to post-conflict or disaster-struck areas. In addition, since some of our team members are alpinists, we work very well in these mountain areas. Basically we provide the UN an expertise in helping out the most remote mountain communities. In Pakistan, we were hired for this purpose.

In addition to his relief work, Quebec-based Claude Nadon is a seasoned climber. He summited Cho Oyu a attempted Everest (turned around 600 meters shy from the summit). In 2001 he attempted Cerro Torre (Patagonia) via the Ferrari route - months later he achieved the first winter climb of 'Tomahawk 'on Cerro Standhart. In 2003 he attempted Broad Peak and K2, as member of a team led by Alfred Schreilechner.

Claude is also a mountain film maker: An Everest from Within earned several prices. In 2004 he directed K2 Ascending Journal, about his attempt on Chogori that summer.

After half a century of worldwide operational experience, IOM (International Organization for Migrations) has become the leading international organization working with migrants and governments to provide humane responses to migration challenges.

Established in 1951 as an intergovernmental organization to resettle European displaced persons, refugees and migrants, IOM has now grown to encompass a variety of migration management activities throughout the world.

While not part of the United Nations system, IOM maintains close working relations with UN bodies and operational agencies. IOM has as partners a wide range of international and non-governmental organizations.

About the UNOPS (United Nations Office for Project Services): As a self-financing service entity of the United Nations system, they manage funds on behalf of clients but do not own funds or seek funding. They are a general contractor with expertise and experience in operations management, contracting and procurement. They have gained considerable experience in specific product lines - but they have no normative or policy functions or a technical sector mandate as such.

Clients design their programs- UNOPS help their clients to determine the most effective operational path to achieve result. They help their clients to achieve results on time, budget and mindful of building local capacity. They are demand-driven and we compete for work as they have no captive market.

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Volunteers loading supplies from a chopper in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir - as part of the Winter Race project. Image by Claude Nadon courtesy of Mountain Equipment Coop.
Over in Pakistan, a two-man team led by Canadian climber Claude-André Nadon (Cho Oyu and Cerro Torre summits, BP, K2 Everest attempts) was working 7 days a week and 15 hours a day to coordinate deliveries of over 8,000 shelter kits to isolated mountain communities in Northern Pakistan, right on the infamous Line of Control in quake-struck Muzzaffarabad.

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