Forging Friendships on Roads Less Traveled
May 31, 2016 10:41PM
● By Sheila Julson
Some people experience adventure tourism only through the lens of television shows such as Globe Trekker, but Robert Grote has lived it, having visited 55 countries—some over 20 times. Through his expedition company, Peak Elevation Expeditions, Grote helps others enjoy genuine, off-the-beaten-path adventures while helping raise living conditions for people in the countries he visits.
Grote’s zest for travel developed at a young age. Originally from New Jersey, his family traveled extensively, camping and backpacking in the U.S. and abroad. “By the time I finished high school, I had been to over a dozen countries and had visited 48 of the 50 states,” he reflects.
During adulthood, Grote’s wanderlust intensified. He added rock climbing, skiing and mountaineering to his adventures. After college, he worked for 14 years for European craft beer companies. The five weeks of vacation—or holiday—offered by the European companies allowed Grote time to travel to Nepal and to South American countries to trek and climb.
In 2005, Grote opened an outdoor gear store and guiding service in Lancaster, but guiding prevailed. “Retail is a real bear,” he laughs, “and it got to the point where we had to close the shop while we were out guiding. I prefer to be in the mountains rather than to sit in a retail shop.”
The guiding service morphed into Peak Elevation Expeditions, where today Grote is a majority partner, along with Ang Karma Sherpa, A.J. Verkouw, Brendan Cusick and newest partner Mark Allen, whom Grote says brings guiding permits for domestic expeditions to Washington, Oregon, Wyoming, California, Utah and Colorado.
Their guides have extensive backgrounds in mountaineering and guiding. Their goal, Grote says, is not to give people a sanitized experience of sightseeing by day and retreating to a high-end resort at night. All trips are off the typical tourist routes. They specialize in restricted and remote areas of the countries, and cultural education is a key component. “Our motto is ‘building friendships through transformational adventures’, so our idea is to get clients into people’s homes, eating their homemade food, drinking their homemade alcohol and visiting small, quiet monasteries in the mountainsides. People return feeling that they’ve really experienced the country and its people.”
Most tours are through Nepal, where Grote has forged friendships with locals that open their homes to visitors. The company has a home office in Kathmandu and employs guides from the Sherpa ethnic group, based near the Himalayas.
Grote also offers expeditions through India, Tibet, South American countries, parts of Europe and the U.S. Tour group sizes are limited to seven clients, primarily for safety, he notes—and smaller, intimate groups are not intrusive when staying in Nepalese homes.
All Peak Elevations Expeditions’ guides are first responder certified and have completed guiding courses. Some hold certification through the prestigious International Federation of Mountain Guides and the American Mountain Guide Association. “Anyone can travel the world,” Grote remarks, “but guides know the country you’re traveling through and the routes. They know how to react to dangers such as altitude sickness or a serious incident or accident. They understand mountain weather, and subjective and objective mountain hazards.” Their guides are Leave No Trace trainers, promoting outdoor ethics and the “pack in, pack out” policy of leaving no trash in areas where tourists visit.
Grote firmly believes in giving back to areas where they work. Portions of client fees are donated to organizations benefiting education and children. In Peru, they work with street kids through the Niños project and in Nepal, they give to Shree Mangal Dvip school.
After a devastating earthquake struck Nepal in April 2015, Peak Elevation Expeditions orchestrated relief trips in June, November and March, bringing supplies and funds to help rebuild affected areas. Grote, along with friend Kate Wallace, founded Beyond the Mountains, a nonprofit dedicated to education for developing communities. “We wanted to have a larger impact than just donating to organizations,” Grote explains. “Beyond the Mountains works directly to support teacher salaries and build better educational infrastructure within Nepal.”
While it seems that Grote has done it all, personal travel experiences inspire him to introduce more unique and diversified trips for his clients. On the horizon are biking tours through Laos and a cultural biking trip through Vietnam.
Peak Elevation Expeditions is located at 120 N. Pine St., in Lancaster. For more information, call 717-917-1359 or visit PeakExpeditions.net.
Sheila Julson is a Milwaukee-based freelance writer and contributor to Natural Awakenings magazines throughout the country.