Ein Meilenstein für Afghanische Frauen

A Milestone for Afghan Women

The first Afghan woman on the highest mountain of Afghanistan (Noshaq 7492 m)

Can you imagine traveling to a country at war and trying to climb a mountain? Not to mention a country where Taliban stand strong and where it is forbidden for girls to participate in any kind of sport activities. What about breaking all rules and bringing Afghan girls climbing, maneuvering through minefields to get to the mountain?

I was asked to try to guide the first four Afghan females to the top of the highest mountain of Afghanistan, Noshaq 7492m, together with IFMGA (International Federation of Mountain Guides Associations) mountain guide Emilie Drinkwater.

Our adventure started in Kabul where we met the amazing Ascend girls. Ascend is an organization that aim to empower women through mountaineering based leadership training (www.ascendathletics.org). We spent several days in Kabul checking equipment and packing. The day we were scheduled to fly out of Kabul, the airport was attacked. We rescheduled, but while in the air we got the news about fighting between the Taliban and local security forces in Zebak just 20km from Ishkashim where we were going to land. Rerouting in the air, giving us a 13-hour extra drive to reach Qhesi Deh.

On our three days walk into Base Camp (BC), we were assisted by local porters and their donkeys. Despite no common language, we had a great time with them, and they offered us big smiles, laughter and some local jokes (we think).
We started at the elevation of 2600m and walked 42 km into BC at 4600m. The first part went through old, unmarked minefields, so we stayed on the trail even when we needed to pee. We crossed rivers and landslides, open fields and old settlements. And the views of the mountains got better and better.

It started out bumpy, with attacks and minefields, but when we reached BC, the third day at noon we felt the freedom. We found remains after previous years’ expeditions; stone walls built to be used as kitchen and bathroom, which we happily moved into. We enjoyed our first day in BC; we had yoga, settled in and repaired the kitchen and bathroom. After a rest day in BC, we walked up to the foot of the mountain where we made a deposit.

The following day we planned to climb up to Camp 1 with equipment and make cache. We packed our backpacks with food, equipment and clothes that we needed higher up in the mountain. The pace was very slow, it got steeper and some of the girls struggled to use their crampons and stay on their feet. We roped up; I had one rope team and Emilie had the other. One of the girls in my rope team struggled big time and it was not safe to continue. Emilie and I had to make the difficult but necessary decision to turn her around. I short-roped her back to Crampon Point. We couldn't make it to Camp 1 (C1) that day due to slow pace, so we found a small cliff at 5000m where we cached our stuff.

The next day Emilie and I had to have a team meeting and tell everyone that pace and skills were not good enough to get everyone to the top. We had to give them an ultimatum; either all to Camp 2 or one to the top. They got the day to decide. The girls discussed, cried, argued, went for walks, chatted, laughed, hugged, were angry and disappointed, and cried more. In the evening they announced their decision; everyone would stand behind Hanifa and support her on the way to the top.

The next day we got up early and started our climb. Not far up the wall we were nearly hit by several rock falls. We reached Camp 1 and got our tent set up in an absolutely fantastic camp site with an incredible view. We enjoyed an amazing sunset until the first stars appeared. The next day we brought our empty backpacks, climbed down to the cache point at 5000m and picked up everything we had left there. Back in C1 we organized equipment. We enjoyed a fantastic sunset and woke up to a long day's work climbing with equipment to C2. We used 5 hours to climb up and hid everything carefully so no birds could eat the food. Then we return to C1, where we repacked before starting the descent to BC. The steep snow field had turned in to an ice field where we needed to set anchors and secure our descent. It got dark and we climbed the last few hours with headlamps.

Back in BC we studied the weather forecasts thoroughly and made a plan for the summit push.
 We had bucket showers, charged all electronics and reviewed weather reports. We sat off with heavy packs. We had everything we needed for 10 days up in the mountains. After one night in C1, we climbed up to C2 where we had a needed rest day. Hanifa didn’t feel good. She had very low O2 saturation and we were worried. The weather was great although the wind was increasing.
Next day Hanifa threw up and had too low O2 saturation, she showed symptoms of altitude sickness. Emilie and I decided to bring her down to C1. This meant that we were already "eating" our buffer saved for rest days and weather days higher up in the mountain. Dark clouds built up on the horizon, a change in the weather pattern. Maybe the storm would roll in earlier…
Hanifa got better, and we climbed in a good pace; almost 100 elevation meters per 30 minutes. We climbed “inside” the clouds all day, so we really felt the cold. We reached C3 (6650m) but the next day we woke up to total whiteout and realized that we couldn’t go anywhere. The clouds were rolling in and out, the wind was strong, snow drifting and sudden fog coming in all day. At the end of the day, wind calmed down and we had an absolutely magical sunset above the clouds.
Next day was the day with most technical climbing. We fixed ropes and climbed with almost 2000 vertical meters straight down below us. We reached the top of the rock band and made our way through the snow further into a plateau where we put up our tents. Hanifa did not feel well, she had low O2 saturation and was very nauseous but manage to drink some hot water and eat a biscuit, and then fall asleep. Emilie and I were worried about her and checked her regularly, we were also worried about our summit push the following day. Hanifa slept well.
We woke up to great summit weather! Nearly no wind and sunny, but a lot of fresh snow. We had to break trail and it was really tiring. Emilie started out and Sandro took over and continued as a machine the rest of the day. We worked really good together and after about two hours we reached the mountain ridge leading to the summit. It was only one hour left until sunset. At best, it would take one hour to reach the summit. Which meant the descent would be in the dark. I asked Hanifa if she was ready for that; "YES", "GO" she groaned. The sun was approaching the horizon, and the peak in front of us was bathed in gold. Hanifa walked on a carpet of gold to the summit. She waved her Afghan flag high, kissed it and cried out from the top of Afghanistan; “Thank you my country, thank you my family. This is to all of you my strong sisters”


I am sitting outside the tent enjoying the magic light of the sunset, sending the last ray of light over all the Hindukush Mountain peaks looking like sharp gray silhouettes disappearing into the orange fog. The peaks vanishing in the fog, and it all gets darker and darker before the first stars appears and the Hindukush is becoming a dream out there, down there. The temperature is dropping, and I crawl in to my sleeping bag. 
We reached the top, reached the goal, rewritten world history!
Changing the world step by step, upwards onwards…