• isabelazawistowska

A conversation with Patty Altherr

Updated: Aug 30

Patty Altherr is the force of nature who has just completed a successful fundraiser for Ascend. At 59 years of age, she climbed four peaks in two weeks in Switzerland. During that time, she raised over $5,000 for our program! For context, $110 per month pays for one of our girls' training and education activities each month; $2,640 pays for the entire two years of training and education.


What makes this fundraiser extra special is Patty's long standing-connection to Afghanistan and our mission: Patty worked for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) helping reunite Afghan families on the Pakistan border between 1990-1991.


With a team of six, Patty climbed Pollux (4092m) and Castor (4223m) - also known as the twin peaks above Zermatt, which is a municipality in the district of Visp in the German-speaking section of the canton of Valais in Switzerland.


A couple of weeks later, she climbed a summit called Feechopf (3888m) with a different team and decided not to continue any further due to an impending thunderstorm. Instead, they pursued an extensive trail called the Europaweg, leading from Grächen to Zermatt. The next morning on July 30th at 3 am they started the ascent to the Dom (4545m). The Dom is the second highest peak in Switzerland. It's a long ascent of approximately 1600 meters, requiring six to seven hours mostly on the glacier with crampons.


Below, we ask Patty a few questions regarding her work in Afghanistan and how her mission in the Swiss mountains went.



What was the impetus behind climbing four peaks in two weeks?

I was planning to raise funds for Ascend last winter during a patrol ski race I was going to attend with my cousin and friend. It's called "Patrouille des Glaciers" and takes place every two years. We trained hard and then came "Covid" resulting in the race being cancelled. Frustrated that all this training was in vain, we decided to plan two peaks. With another team of ladies, we had already planned to do two other peaks toward the end of July. That's how I came up with the idea to launch a fundraising challenge.


I'm also part of a leadership program designed for women called "One of Many" and one of the many things we learn is to launch projects that inspire us and others. We learn and use tools that allow growth and development without depleting our energy and take on responsibilities in our communities or fields of interest.

What I cherish the most is the team spirit, the togetherness. The moment you reach the top and hug each other: we did it and we did it together!

What was it like to summit these mountain peaks?

Every summit was different. It is difficult to compare them all because they all have their own beauty. What I cherish most is the team spirit, the togetherness. The moment you reach the top and hug each other: we did it and we did it together! It's magic and the moment you reach the hut safe and sound with gratitude towards the guides and the team and yourself. The concentration specially on the ridges and the constant letting go of what's in your mind, tiredness, fears. Mindfulness on the glaciers observing the signs for crevasses.


A magic moment for me was ascending in the night with the frontal light. Every person is a little luminous island in the dark sea of ice and rocks.

My son asked me at the beginning: what if you only get $100? My answer was that every penny was a win. I've got more then 5000 wins.

How have you succeeded with the fundraiser so far?

I've never done such a thing before. I was amazed to see how many people followed my story and am really grateful for their generosity. I actually consider each donor as a team member.


Initially I was planning to raise 1000 Swiss Francs, but it ended up being more than 5000. My son asked me at the beginning: what if you only get $100? My answer was that every penny was a win. I've got more then 5000 wins.

I was always frustrated not to be able to get in touch with Afghan women and not being able to do more for them. But "gender" wasn't a conversation back then. It's changing slowly.


What is your connection to Afghanistan?

I've worked with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in the Afghan context in 1990 and 1991, based in Peshawar. My job was with a team to trace missing people in this conflict and recreate family links among the scattered civilians, prisoners of war and political detainees in Kabul.


I visited Afghan women in Pakistani jails for example. We were also searching for Russian POW (prisoners of war). ICRC was working on both sides in this conflict and I was regularly flying to Kabul to coordinare our work with the team there. Back then women were rather free in Kabul, wearing skirts and make up. Where as in Peshawar they were either locked up in the houses in camps or visible only with their burkas. We had a very high suicide rate for Afghan women in Peshawar - they were literally thrown back into dark ages by the Mujahedins just by becoming refugees.


I was always frustrated not to be able to get in touch with Afghan women and not being able to do more for them. But "gender" wasn't a conversation back then. It's changing slowly.

My vision is a world were women and men live in authentic partnership, free from domination, were abundance, respect and care for the planet and humility will be the new paradigm.


What is your hope for women and girls in Afghanistan and around the world?

My hope is that change will occur and will come from inside the communities not with our western "know how". It's a process and it needs time, generations. But I'm convinced that with the values we use in the world of mountaineering we can bring confidence and self-esteem that will allow women in Afghanistan and else where in the world to take on the necessary responsibility for their own and their kids future. It's mothers mostly who raise girls and boys, hence they have it in their hands to transform. Let's give them the appropriate and useful tools and time for that.


My vision is a world where women and men live in authentic partnership, free from domination, were abundance, respect and care for the planet and humanity will be the new paradigm.


Ascend is beyond grateful for all of our donors who have continued to support us through these challenging times. We are amazed by the impact that individuals can have on our program. If you are interested in starting a fundraiser for Ascend, platforms like Facebook fundraisers make it easy to do so! Let us know if you have plans to start a fundraiser on behalf of our program. We are more than happy to walk you through the process and spread the word.


Sincerely,


The Ascend Team




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© 2020 by Ascend,

a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization based in the United States.

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