Kashmir - TNF relief team debrief: The most challenging expedition of our lives

Posted: Dec 21, 2005 06:59 pm EST

(K2Climb.net) After almost a month out, the North Face relief team is heading home. The crew not only helped out - they showed the situation in a unique light. Their stunning images and drawings (!) gave a face to the quake affected Kashmir. If you go to the NF site (links section), you can print and frame the art. It's all live by the climbers, transmitted from a quake affected area usually off limits to westerners.

The climbing veterans described the experience as the most challenging expedition theyve ever taken part of. It could also be the most rewarding though. The following is the teams final report from Srinagar image captions are comments the climbers wrote down in previous days. Go to the expedition website for the full reports and images.

Giving it all

"The long trip out of Kashmir is in motion. Yesterday we traveled the 180 km of jeep track back over Sadana Pass and arrived safely in Srinagar. Along the way we visited Rang War a temporary shanty town of 80 families bracing for winter. With young crying children walking half naked through the snow it was apparent that the grim conditions there were the worst we had seen. Before leaving we literally gave them everything including the clothes off our backs..."

Recount of a busy trip

"Before signing off completely we want to give everyone a more comprehensive report as to the scope of what we accomplished and its importance for Kashmir Earthquake Relief. The mass quantities of TNF gear have just arrived in Kashmir thanks to the work of many giving volunteers. In the end, our essential purpose was to survey the villages that are in the worst shape and to create a reliable local work force to fairly distribute this valuable product in these remote villages. Our role was also vital in providing authorization for K.E.R to work in extremely sensitive areas. We operated from the position of unaligned help for those in need and visited areas even locals had been denied. The door is now open for KER to continue the long work that lies ahead. Here is the full run down of villages we visited personally during our strategic reconnaissance:

1.Kona Gabra: 200 families visited/issued foam and bukhari heaters
2.Dringla: 65 families visited/hand delivered school supplies
3.Jabri: 74 families visited over 3 separate trips, delivered clothing to 150 children and onsite medical support
4.Gundi Shat: 38 families visited
5.Tangdar Nard: 170 families visited/issued foam and bukhari heaters/provided medical support
6.Simari: 60 families visited
7.Kadhami: 80 families visited
8.Gundi Gujran: 200 families visited and issued foam and bukhari heaters
9.Rang War: 80 families visited and completed small TNF gear drop of our personal gear "

Willie, the fortune teller: You will be a Doctor

"The ramifications of what has taken place here are larger than we can imagine. Not only will tons upon tons of TNF gear be distributed but major medical and educational infrastructures will regain there foundations.

When Willie handed a young girl in Dringla a notebook and told her she would become a doctor, her mouth dropped as if her genuine fortune had just been read. We have a pointed determination to build a school in Dringla and provide the beautiful people of this far out place the gift of awareness. Pressing issues of pollution control, family planning, hygiene, and sustainable agriculture will be addressed and opportunities for greater growth in destroyed villages will overshadow the rumble and remorse left by the earthquake."

Toughest expedition of our lives

"Personally digesting these intense issues and working in very difficult conditions has run the team down physically and emotionally. It makes quite an impression on me as the youngest member of the team when veterans like Ace and Willie say this was the most challenging expedition they have ever been through. The scope of the destruction, poverty, pollution, and isolation all combined to make this relief effort a challenging undertaking. Hopefully the second round of antibiotics will finally kill the gurgling gut syndrome before our respective plane flights. In the end, as we go our separate way it is comforting to know that Usmaan and Dr. Zameer are carrying out the short and long term plans for survival, growth and development our team helped create for Kashmir. "

Unforgettable images

"Certain images will stick with us for many years to come. A mosque toppled from its foundations, children proudly displaying their new Chalkboard for their outdoor class room, a woman who gave us each a hand full of walnuts in a show of thanks for our efforts, little Tongdar the puppy scurrying up a remote icy road of death, the look of appreciation and happiness when we gave simple gifts like clothing and wood stoves, the beautiful religious chants that greeted us around every turn, the sense of awe that we were the first westerners to visit some of these remote villages, the sense of hope and resiliency that the Kashmiris embody in the face of such a huge tragedy, these and many other images are permanently etched in our minds."

"It is hard to believe, but our trip is finally over, and it is time to go back to our easy and comfortable western lives. For people in the Kashmir region of India and Pakistan, the struggle goes on. Much more assistance is needed, and a donation of clothing or money to K.E.R. is a great way to show solidarity with these fellow human beings on the other side of the globe who are suffering to rebuild their lives and their homes. While the team endured much hardship along the way, we are closer friends because of it and have shared some amazing experiences that words can only begin to describe."

Ronan and Cedar.

Since the October 8th, 7.6 earthquake, which caused circa 73,000 dead and left 3 million people homeless, the region has been struck by hundreds of aftershocks. However, none have been as strong as yesterdays. The 6.7 tremor was centered about 105km (65 miles) southeast of Faizabad in Afghanistan's Badakhshan province.

This area stretching across Pakistan into India and Afghanistan sees a lot of seismic activity - it is at the point where the tectonic plates of Asia and Indian subcontinent collide.

The North Face collected about 5 tons of gear while GlobalGiving connected the team to credible organizations on the ground in Kashmir who will help distribute the goods. Monetary donations are still much needed - and they will be matched 100%!

"Thanks to an anonymous donor, all donations to Kashmir relief and rebuilding projects will be matched 100% until January 6, 2005 or until the $10,000 fund runs out," reported TNF. "To encourage many people to give, we are capping the match amount to $500."

TNF has also set up a four member team of sponsored athletes led by Willie Benegas, that includes Renan Ozturk, Cedar Wright and Patrick Kenny, to travel to the Kashmir region in order to survey damage, assess avalanche danger to relief camps, and deliver gear to the hardest hit villages. Benegas, a member of The North Face athlete team for 7 years, has frequented this region since 1993.

Contact Global Giving at:

Contact KER (Kashmir Earthquake Relief) at:

#Mountaineering #Mountaineering

"It is hard to believe, but our trip is finally over, and it is time to go back to our easy and comfortable western lives. For people in the Kashmir region of India and Pakistan, the struggle goes on: Much more assistance is needed.While the team endured much hardship along the way, we are closer friends because of it and have shared some amazing experiences that words can only begin to describe." (Click to enlarge).
"Since we have arrived it has been difficult for us to walk even 10 feet outside camp before being surrounded by locals who know of our project and are needy of aid. On December 15 the team visited Kohna Gabra, another one of the most at risk villages. Nearly all the houses were destroyed. Willie and Dr. Zameer visited over 150 houses writing vouchers to families for foam and stoves." (Click to enlarge).
"As we trekked through the villages of Gundi Gujran, Gundi Shat, and Dringla which are peppered along the Bata Maji River, the endless toppled homes, some with people still buried under them, left a sad and empty feeling in the pit of my stomach. Thankfully the day was counterbalanced by the inspiring hope and resilience of everyone we met, especially the children. The image of thirty young students running across a field where their school once stood, proudly bringing their new chalkboard to ..
"Along the way we stopped in Batpora, where a beautiful Mosque had toppled over sideways. Nearby, four proud gentlemen were hand sawing new lumber for the endless rebuilding that lies ahead. When the earthquake began, most people thought that it was dooms day. The sound of falling rock and toppling houses must have been horrifying. Dust, panic, and screaming ensued." (Click to enlarge).
'Many people come taking pictures but no one comes to help us,' a woman exclaimed while we waded through the 100% destruction of Dringla. The wasteland of this small village is visually horrendous and the team has visited on multiple occasions to create stills and video interviews. It has been impossible for us to touch all the affected areas so we have chosen a few of the most destroyed to best convey our message of need back home. Regardless, this strong willed comment warranted o..
"The power of nature is absolute, and indifferent. Sadly this Quake has taken thousands of homes and lives, from people who had so very little to begin with. I would like to thank everyone who has made this and other much needed relief efforts possible - in times of need we must look beyond ourselves, and do our part however we can." (Click to enlarge).
"We survived our fourth two hour drive up the icy road of death that leads to within a few kilometers of Jabri, but not without us getting out to push a few times, and enduring one close call where I nearly jumped out of the jeep. A long descent on foot brought us into the remote village where we enjoyed a day of handing out clothing to the thankful and excited locals. Soon Jabri will be cut off to all outsiders until the winter snows melt." (Click to enlarge).
"The last few weeks have been a blur of jeep rides, broken buildings, diesel fumes, endless sad stories, endless winding roads, long frustrating waits, beautiful smiling children, stomach aches, laughter, poverty, proud and hopeful people, far stretching landscapes, exotic birds of all kinds, white bread, white rice, mischievous monkeys, hand shakes, never ending cups of tea, and the list goes on like a surreal dream. Thats how Srinigar, Thangdar, and the surrounding villages we visited will l..
"It is a bittersweet goodbye for all of us, as while we are looking forward to getting back to our lives at home, it is still tough to leave a place so genuinely in need of a helping hand. We hope that at the very least, we have brought more awareness to the ongoing struggle that is life for so many Kashmiris, and inspired others to get involved however they can, in bringing relief to this region." All live images over Contact 3.0 courtesy of The North Face (Click to enlarge).

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