Climber Dastan Kasmamytov talks about proposing atop Denali… & planting a rainbow flag on Vladimir Putin Peak

Climber Dastan Kasmamytov talks about proposing atop Denali… & planting a rainbow flag on Vladimir Putin Peak

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Dastan Kasmamytov kissing Christian Vettermann.

When Dastan Kasmamytov wanted to propose to his boyfriend, one spot came to mind: The top of Denali, the highest mountain peak in North America.

With the temperature sitting well below 0F (the average seasonal temp is around -30F), Dastan got down on one knee, and asked Christian Vettermann to marry him. They embraced each other through their many layers, and even managed a brief kiss.

“I don’t know how many mountains we’re going to ascend together,” said Dastan. “I wanted to do it as soon as possible, before something maybe happens. I felt like this was the right moment.

“It’s also symbolic, because both of us love mountains.”

For Dastan, mountains represent all of the freedom and possibility in the world. The founder of Pink Summits, he’s on a mission to provide LGBTQ+ visibility by climbing the highest mountains in each continent.

While scaling Mount Everest or Denali may be dangerous (it is!), Dastan says the experience of ascending up snowy peaks suspended thousands of feet in the air is nothing compared to being an out gay person in his home country of Kyrgyzstan. The Central Asia country is vehemently anti-LGBTQ+, passing the same homophobic laws as Vladimir Putin.

When Dastan came out, he spoke out against the brutality that LGBTQ+ people face in Kyrgyzstan. But his bravery resulted in an official threat on his life. Religious authorities issued a fatwa, prompting Dastan to flee.

Now living in Berlin, Dastan has returned to Kyrgyzstan several times… but only in the mountains. That’s where he feels most safe.

Enjoying a well deserved vacay in Hawaii, Queerty recently caught up with Dastan to talk about his unforgettable proposal, craziest expeditions and planting a Pride flag at the top of Vladimir Putin Peak. Here’s what he had to say…

QUEERTY: Why choose to provide LGBTQ+ visibility through climbing?

DASTAN KASMAMYTOV: In Kyrgyzstan and other homophobic countries, there is a lot of awareness coming about LGBT rights. There are articles and things like that, but they are quite negative. It’s mostly about us being portrayed as victims of violence and discrimination, which is true. I’ve faced physical violence and discrimination myself.

But I wanted to tell positive stories being connected to our communities. This is how sports, or in our case adventure sports and mountaineering, help to show the diversity of our communities.

It’s very metaphorical. You climb the top of the mountain, and then plant the Pride flag…

We want to “queer” every camp along the way! We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback, with people thanking us for representing the LGBT community and bringing the flag everywhere. But most importantly, it’s to show that despite all of the physical and psychological challenges, we can climb. I also wanted to show the story that mountaineering is dangerous. It’s very risky. But it’s actually more risky to be an LGBTQ activist.

There aren’t many people in the mountains, and if there are, people in the mountains are concerned about their own safety. The message is not Pride on the mountains, so to say, but what happens afterwards. The discussions afterwards, how it influences countries like Kyrgyzstan.

Have you been back to Kyrgyzstan since the fatwa was issued?

Yes, several times. With Peak Summit, we had an expedition on one of the mountains in Kyrgyzstan with rainbow flags and all of that. We also went to the Peak of Putin. We wanted to plant our rainbow flags there. I’m quite often in Kyrgyzstan, and I’m going back there. We also organized community Pride hikes there. This is an event, because unfortunately, it’s not easy to be gay and there aren’t any community events at all for gay people. This is a small Pride. There are no Pride events in Kyrgyzstan, and this is an alternative Pride for locals.

You’ve climbed seven of the highest summits in the world. What was the most challenging?

Denali so far! On Denali, we did it alpine style, so we needed to do everything ourselves. We didn’t use the help of so-called expedition organizations or partners. We did it independently. Of course, that means we needed to carry everything. We each had 120 pounds, carrying it all the way. Also, the weather occasions. The technicality of the route. Denali was definitely one of the hardest routes so far.

I read it can be -30F! How do you survive, never mind climb, when it’s that cold?

During the night, I was sleeping in my down jacket and down sleeping bag. I was like an onion! There were also three of us supporting each other, helping each other with simple things: cooking, making food for each other, preparing water out of ice. Picking someone up when they feel psychologically unwell or physically unwell. It helps.

Here’s the real question: how did you and Christian kiss at the top without your tongues getting frozen?

I don’t think we really kissed!… Did we kiss? No, we did! But very briefly. It’s quite cold out there.

How did you meet?

We met on Tinder!  saw the mountain pictures on his profile, because he was mountaineering and climbing. Then he saw me, and I was like, “I’m looking for people who are going to climb along with us.” We had some friendly meetings at first, and then it developed further.

Why do you like to do when you’re not climbing cold summits?

Chris loves coffee, and warm places… like Hawaii! We do a lot of outdoors activities. Almost every weekend, we go outdoors and hike or climb. Last year, we also started paragliding down the mountains. It’s very different to fly!

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