On top of the world

Published July 24, 2022

IN the space of three hours on Friday, Pakistan saw its first two women set foot on its highest point. At 7:42am, Samina Baig became the first woman from the country to conquer K2 — the world’s second-highest peak. She was soon followed by Naila Kiani. For Samina, arguably Pakistan’s greatest female mountaineer, K2 had been the ultimate dream, even though she’d made history by becoming the first Muslim woman to scale Mount Everest in 2013. She had tried several times previously to conquer the ‘Savage Mountain’, only to come up short in her bid. This time though, during the country’s busiest mountaineering season in over two decades, she was successful. For Dubai-based Naila, who last year became the country’s first woman to have conquered an 8,000m peak — Gasherbrum-II — in Pakistan, it was remarkably her first attempt on K2. It wasn’t only women from Pakistan making history on K2 on Friday, when over 100 mountaineers summited. Bangladeshi climber Wasfia Nazreen and Taiwan’s Grace Tseng became the first from their countries to scale the mountain. Iranian Afsaneh Hesamifard, Lebanese-Saudi Nelly Attar and Oman’s Nadhira Alharthy, meanwhile, became the first women from their respective countries to summit K2.

The plaudits came immediately for Samina. Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif described her as a symbol of determination, courage and bravery for Pakistani women. However, Samina’s journey is of her own making. Samina, who is the first woman from Pakistan to have conquered the Seven Summits — the highest peak in every continent — has not only scaled peaks that mountaineers of all nationalities and genders risk their lives to climb but has done it by securing financial support through her own efforts. She has not received government funding for her summits. Instead, she’s achieved funds through the help of private individuals and sponsors. If anything, Samina and Naila’s feats on Friday should become a watershed moment for mountaineering in Pakistan. For a country blessed with three of the world’s most famous mountain ranges, the government must do more to support its aspiring climbers.

Published in Dawn, July 24th, 2022

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