My name’s Uta Ibrahimi, a professional mountaineer and self-confessed nature lover from Kosova - the newest country in the south-east of Europe and home to the magical Sharr mountain range.
My love for the mountains was not an easy path: I had no background in mountaineering. I would go for a walk with family, but a proper hike I did not even did it until I was 28, and was faced with layers of challenges - from financial, emotional, but also gender-stereotypes which I had to break - and I continue to do that to this day. However, I think that my efforts have contributed to more women joining the ranks of mountaineers/guides, who are willing to continue to break any glass ceiling - with their ice axes!
Alright, so when it comes to me, you can say that I’m a nature lover and a fierce human-rights activist (woman empowerment) first and foremost, and as a mountaineer second. Surprisingly, these two worlds can be combined in great harmony and amplify the message even more.
In well over 6 years, I have summited 7 of the 14 highest peaks in the world and am - becoming the only female in the Balkans to do so; Was the first female Albanian to summit Mt. Everest; was part of numerous mountaineering expeditions to the highest mountains - including the one sponsored by the National Geographic on Lhotse South Face on 2018; I’ve been involved in numerous projects that aim at protecting the environment - especially the my beloved Sharr mountain, which stretches across to the neighboring N.Macedonia and Albania; In the process, I’ve reached the summits of more than 100 peaks in the region, Europe, and Asia; As an avid trail-runner, I lead the team that organized the first cross-border ultra-trail race in the Balkans, High Scardus Ultra.
As a women's-rights and UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) ambassador, I’ve collaborated and produced children's books, made numerous speeches in schools, held numerous camps, hiked with groups of young girls and boys, and encouraged young girls to take on mountaineering. In all of these endeavors, I keep reiterating the same message: Girls can climb mountains and become mountaineers.
My love for the mountains started the day I took a hike in the neighboring mountains of my country Kosovo. At that time, I was working in a busy marketing agency, working long hours and dealing with a tsunami of stress - probably you already know what this feels like. In a snap-second, I decided to do something I've never done before: to take a hike in the mountains - and the mountains have shaped me ever since. These hikes, the nature, the heights, the feeling of freedom was my calling. Dita Mula, one of the pioneering mountaineers of my country, was my true inspiration, my spark that put me on this mountainous path to self-discovery, to whom I am grateful for as long as I shall live. It was clear that I had to leave everything behind and embark on this new journey - the journey of the mountains, wherever they take me.
“I never thought I could, but now I know I can, because you did it” - it was one of the many sentences that young girls tell me when I speak at their school or when they approach and want to take pictures with me. It brings immense joy to know that one day, these young girls will grow and try to achieve even more.
Well, my entry into the mountaineering world wasn’t as easy and cheerful as I had initially envisioned. Frankly, I knew that it was harder for a girl to do almost anything than it was for the men, but the harsh reality bit me quite hard. Of course, I wanted to be part of expeditions, set new records, explore new places, meet new people - but all these dreams seemed to have pulled some feathers from some people. Being female was the main cause, as I discovered later on. For any initiative, I was faced with an unprecedented barrage of obstacles - which many other female mountaineers probably faced as well. I was shunned from expeditions, had my financing cut, called and labeled as “hard-headed”, “ungrateful” - to which now I wear with pride, but was not sure then. Friends, family (some), and professionals in mountaineering simply did not think that a young woman is capable of such feats and dreams. It doesn’t matter the country from which one is, it is simply harder for girls and women, non-men genders, to do things they dream.
When I started mountaineering, I never knew that it could be a turning-point in my life. After the triumphant ascent of Mt. Everest, I returned home with a newfound purpose and a greater appreciation of life. Now, I want to share my experience with the younger generation, something which I dearly missed when I was an up-and-coming mountaineer with only my dreams.
The love that I receive from seeing youngsters - especially girls - that want to protect the mountains, reach new peaks, summit their fears, will be the push I need to complete my most daring task to date: Summiting all 14 eight-thousand peaks and becoming the first woman from my region to do so.
The future is bright and tough.