Mountaineer wants to see sport scale new heights

Published August 20, 2022
‘Mountaineer Mom’ Naila Kiani speaks at a press conference. — White Star
‘Mountaineer Mom’ Naila Kiani speaks at a press conference. — White Star

LAHORE: After summiting three mountains over 8,000 metres high within a year, ‘Mountaineer Mom’ Naila Kiani now plans to peak the remaining two ‘8,000ers’ in Pakistan -- Nanga Parbat and Broad Peak.

Last week, the Dubai-based banker by profession and a mother of two, had reached the top of Gasherbrum-1 – the 11th highest mountain in the world – only three weeks after she climbed the world’s second highest mountain, K2.

In 2021, she had set a record by becoming the first Pakistani woman to climb Gasherbrum-II (8,035m), the world’s 13th highest mountain. She was conferred with an award in December that year by the president in acknowledgement of her achievements and contributions to mountaineering. Naila also holds the record for becoming the first Pakistani woman climber to summit three 8,000ers in her first attempt.

Speaking at a press conference here at the press club on Friday, she explained that the mountains 8,000m high and above were significant because the oxygen level decreased as one climbed higher. “The top zone is called the ‘death zone’ where there’s only 30pc oxygen. In this sport, conquering the 8,000ers is considered a big achievement.”

Talking about how difficult it was to leave her two little girls – aged three and 1.5 years -- behind for her expeditions, Naila said after marriage and children, it was unthinkable for a woman in Pakistan to go climb a mountain. “But it was my passion since I saw K2 and thankfully, my family supported me. When my second child was only 6.5 months old, I used my maternity leave to climb Gasherbrum-II – my first 8,000er. I thought I had to become a role model for my children so they can look at my achievements and fulfill their dreams. It was very difficult to leave them behind, and I missed them dearly when I was starting the expedition. But that also became my strength and I thought my kids are small so I can’t afford to make a mistake and have to focus more.”

Naila then went on to explain the intricacies of mountaineering and shared her experience of her three expeditions. Answering a reporter’s question, she said her aim was to first peak the over 8,000m mountains in Pakistan to promote the beauty of the country and its tourism and convey a positive message to the world, and then move on to the rest of the 8,000ers in the world.

She further said she did not receive any kind of support from the government and was completely supported by the BARD Foundation, which also hosted the press conference. She appealed to the government to build mountaineering infrastructure in the country to attract foreigners, so Pakistan could become an industry like Nepal and earn through it. “We lack the infrastructure for mountaineering as a sport, any training for climbers, rescue, insurance for high altitude porters and climbers. There’s a lot to do,” she stressed.

Also talking about her journey and the time it took to cross various levels of the mountains, overcoming obstacles such as inclement weather, the mountaineer said climbing needed a lot of patience and time. “There’s a lot of ice fall and rock fall. The most difficult part is climbing on blue ice as it is very hard. When we summited G-1 we shed some tears as we couldn’t believe we’d done it. But returning is more difficult than climbing because you’re already low on energy.”

Also speaking at the event, Mehreen Dawood from BARD Foundation said, “Naila has inspired and motivated women across the nation to pursue their sports careers with zeal. She has also promoted gender equality in the sports community and proven, through her conviction, that women can surpass any challenge in their path. The Foundation will continue to nurture young athletes so they can become stars.”

Published in Dawn, August 20th, 2022

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