50 For Tibet: Celebrating one mountain culture to preserve another

On Friday, August 16, 2013, in Recent, by Steve Gardiner
Team HighPoint

Team HighPoint at the summit of Kebnekaise, the highest point in Sweden.

John Jancik wanted to help people. He found a need in the plight of the Tibetan people and created a solution through the 50 For Tibet Project, a venture that has raised more than $300,000 since 2006.

Jancik and his wife Terri Baker from Parker, Colorado, became interested in Tibet when they met internationally-acclaimed outdoor photographer Galen Rowell in 1995. They were planning a climbing expedition to northern Greenland and invited Rowell along. He accepted.

The so-called Top of the World Expedition to North Peary Land was a climbing success and it also cemented a close friendship between Jancik, Baker, and Rowell. When Rowell, his wife Barbara, and two others were killed in a small airplane crash in California in 2002, The International Campaign for Tibet created The Rowell Fund for Tibet, a means of providing individual grants to Tibetan writers, musicians, and artists. That’s when Jancik created 50 For Tibet to support the Rowell Fund.

50 For Tibet was a plan to reach the highest point in all 50 states as a fundraising mechanism for the Rowell Fund. The project worked under the slogan “Celebrating One Mountain Culture to Preserve Another.” Jancik and Baker, then owners of Echo Geophysical Corporation, a seismic data processing company in Denver, decided to use their company to sponsor the trips to reach the state highpoints, thus allowing 100 percent of all donations to go directly into The Rowell Fund for Tibet.

Jancik and Baker recruited Terri’s son, David Baker, a seismic data analyst from Denver, and me, a high school English teacher from Billings, Montana, to form Team HighPoint, the main hiking and climbing team. Dozens of other people have joined Team HighPoint on one or more of the team’s adventures and hundreds of people have supported the team through donations to The Rowell Fund.

Team HighPoint at the Summit of Mount Hood

Team HighPoint at the Summit of Mount Hood in Oregon with Tony Rowell, son of the late Galen and Barbara Rowell.

We kicked off the project on July 16, 2006, with an ascent of Mt. Whitney near Bishop, California, the home of Galen and Barbara Rowell. Over the next four years, Team HighPoint, with a variety of team members and friends, managed to reach the highpoints of 48 states, with only the summits of Wyoming and Alaska remaining. Jancik has been on all 48 of Team HighPoint’s domestic successes. David Baker, Terri Baker, and I have joined in as many as our work schedules and personal commitments have allowed.

Some of the highpoints are bumps on a landscape like Jerimoth Hill in Rhode Island or Britton Hill in Florida, but others such as Mt. Hood in Oregon, Borah Peak in Idaho, Mt. Rainier in Washington, and Granite Peak in Montana are serious mountaineering endeavors. The diversity of land forms we experienced throughout this phase of the project was exceeded only by the incredible people we met along the way.

By 2010, we wanted to keep the momentum going, but most of the states were completed. Jancik proposed that we expand the project to include international highpoints, so in June of that year, he and I climbed the highpoints of England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, and Northern Ireland. The following year, a group of eight visited Scandinavia where we highpointed Denmark, Sweden, Finland, and Norway. Last year, ten of us climbed Mt. Fuji, and this summer we reached highpoints in Spain, Portugal, and Gibraltar, and fell a bit short because of dangerous snow conditions on the highest mountain in the tiny nation of Andorra.

“The 50 For Tibet fundraising adventure has taken on a new dimension since we expanded our highpointing from the United States to international highpoints,” Jancik said. “The public seems immensely interested in overseas countries stories which ultimately helps focus their attention on The Rowell Fund For Tibet as well.”

Taking the highpointing adventures international seemed logical since the focus of the entire project is the human struggle in Tibet. The international journeys have forced team members into situations where we must examine other cultures and value systems. It has taken us outside our comfort zones in many cases, and prompted us to think even more seriously about the Tibetan people and the impact of The Rowell Fund for Tibet.

“While reaching the summits of domestic and international highpoints has been wonderful,” Jancik added, “the climbing is secondary to the message we are trying to convey that we deeply care about the Tibetans, their culture and their environment.”

Sharing that message with people we meet on the mountains, through our website and Facebook pages, and in emails and blogs, Team HighPoint has raised awareness of the mistreatment of the Tibetan people. Jancik noted, “This project has become even more important to me since its inception because of my increasing desire to further assist Tibetans in helping preserve the cultural aspects of their society.”

Throughout our work, we have kept in close contact with the staff of the International Campaign for Tibet and when the Dalai Lama visited the United States in 2006, then-ICT President John Ackerly arranged for us to meet him.

“Of course, my favorite memory of this project is actually meeting the Dalai Lama,” Jancik said. “His graciousness and attentive manner was incredibly impressive. It was quite an honor to have a private audience with him.”

We met with the Dalai Lama for several minutes in the hotel where he was staying in Denver. He spoke to us about finding a peaceful, but fair, solution to the Tibetan situation and encouraged us to always stay optimistic and positive about this issue and all aspects of our lives.

That meeting provided one form of encouragement for us to keep with the project. Another encouragement came through seeing what happened with the donations that were passed on to the Rowell Fund for Tibet. John and Terri are both board members of the Rowell Fund, so they keep close tabs on what is developing each year through the projects funded by the donations.

“The projects that The Rowell Fund for Tibet has supported over the last 10 years have been key to the ongoing efforts of Tibetan artists, writers, musicians, environmentalists and others,” Jancik explained. “Without the fund’s support, many wonderful projects would not have come to fruition.”

The project, though rewarding, has been a challenge. “Reaching highpoints is something that is a diverse undertaking where the travel can be as difficult as the actual highpointing itself. Organization and being prepared is essential to taking on highpoints scattered around the U.S. as well as in international settings,” Jancik said.

With 48 domestic highpoints and 13 international highpoints completed, Team HighPoint and friends have been busy, not only helping Tibetan people, but creating friendships and memories of their own. I’ll never forget hiking up Tuckerman’s Ravine on Mt. Washington, delicately crossing a narrow ice bridge over a deep crevasse on Mt. Rainier, or landing in a float plane on a cold lake in northern Finland to climb Halti.

Jancik recalled, “Of all 48 state highpoints we have successfully completed, my favorite two have been Mount Hood in Oregon and Mount Katahdin in Maine. The ascent of Mount Hood was especially memorable because Galen’s son Tony was part of our team for that climb.”

50 For Tibet was initially set up as a one-year project. Reaching 50 state highpoints in one year proved more difficult than planned, but that also extended the influence of the project and added to the number of grant recipients who received money from The Rowell Fund. Though we have had a successful project, members of Team HighPoint are like mountain climbers everywhere, always optimistic and looking forward to future projects and challenges. Over the span of seven years, we have been able to spread awareness of the Tibetan problem and help many people. However, there are more plans to make, more highpoints to attain, and more Tibetan people to help through the work of 50 For Tibet and The Rowell Fund for Tibet.

2 Responses to “50 For Tibet: Celebrating one mountain culture to preserve another”

  1. lobby tengyie says:

    I just huffed it up to the top of Jeremiah Hill (814 feet) in this humidity and the swamp yankees of RI never even heard of Rowell, never mind even give me a buck! I ended up getting drunk on Del’s frozen lemonade and vodka with the local mountain culture and tripped on a branch on the way down and hit the ground where I picked up a tick and got Lyme disease.

    I figure they should have done about 42 for Tibet

    licking my wounds in providence

  2. Marilyn says:

    Enjoyed the article very much. I support ICT with small donations, so I am
    Glad to know about any and all efforts to support the Tibetan people.
    Here’s to lifting consciousness!

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