COMMENTARY: From the Karakoram to Carson City

Twenty-seven years ago I failed to climb 26,000-foot Masherbrum Peak in the Karakoram mountains of northern Pakistan. After a long trek up the Karakoram Glacier, we got to the peak to find that our route was a zigzag path between avalanche debris and looming ice cliffs.

We waited below the peak, counting the number of avalanches that swept down each day, then attempted it. As we started up the mountain, a huge avalanche sent us scrambling for shelter. I cringed behind an ice tower. The air darkened and chunks of ice pelted my back. As I wondered how it would feel when the really big chunks started to hit the air lightened - the slide had passed.

Not yet ready to die, we abandoned our climb and walked over 17,600-foot Masherbrum La into remote Hushe Valley instead.

Hushe was a Shangri-La. I remember tea with the village headman on the veranda of the dilapidated village school. We watched pink-scarved girls return to the village with baskets of pink wildflowers.

Our every move was watched by 20 or 30 small boys - all of them barefoot, many dressed in only a ragged shirt.

Pakistan was the first country I'd visited outside the developed world. I wrote in my journal, "What a change, to be indifferent about a poor small nation in Asia, then to come here ... and suddenly understand and empathize with the poverty, the struggle for economic development, the uncertain international situation ..."

Eleven years later, another young American descended from the high Karakoram after another failed summit attempt on a Karakoram Peak. Like me, he was profoundly affected by the hospitable Balti people. Unlike me, he has devoted his life to helping the people of northern Pakistan, establishing an organization that builds and supports schools in remote villages, including the village of Hushe.

What makes one person go back to a privileged life, and one return again and again to an increasingly dangerous part of the world to help its people?

Carson City will be able to find that out when Greg Mortenson visits next year. On March 9, 2010, Greg will speak in Carson City about his book, "Three Cups of Tea; One Man's Mission to Fight Terrorism and Build Nations ... One School at a Time."

Starting in January, the Carson City Library is organizing a "Community Read" of "Three Cups of Tea." I can't urge you strongly enough to read Greg's book - he'll transport you to a part of the world wracked by poverty and war, yet still beautiful beyond measure.

• Anne Macquarie, a private sector urban planner, is a long time resident of Carson City.

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