Afghan women climb Afghanistan’s highest mountain

Photo by Soraya Sarhaddi-Nelson/NPR

A group of Afghan women are preparing to do something no Afghan woman has ever done before: climb to the highest mountain in Afghanistan, Mt. Noshaq.

The girls trained in secret to protect themselves from the Taliban and other threats. The girls’ struggle is getting to the mountain, not the actual 24,580 foot climb.

There are too many Taliban hotspots between Kabul and where the peak is located to go by road, so the girls fly in planes for the first time, which still aren’t always safe with the Taliban on the ground below (their plane that left before theirs was shot at twice). But nothing is going to stop this group of girls from achieving their dream.

“With the help of a Virginia-based NGO and a mountain guide from Colorado, they and 11 others hope to be the first Afghan female climbers to summit the mountain later this year. This trip in mid-May is the first time any of their group has seen the peak up close.”

When the mountain comes into view and the girls can finally see its snow covered peaks breaking through the clouds, it is hard for them to contain their excitement.

“It’s marvelous,” Niloofar Nooristani, 21, exclaims. “Look how clear it is! Imagine if we’d climbed it already.”

The American guides fought to get through to the Afghan girls as various challenges presented themselves.

“Another thing that is really hard for me is that I heard Niloofar say she’s half-boy, half-girl,” American guide Danika Gilbert says. “I tried to communicate to her — and I think she understood – I’m strong, I can climb mountains, I’m very capable and I’m smart and I am a woman.”

Soheila Hamidi, 20, sprained her ankle on the way up and struggled in knowing whether or not to help after a relative on the trip told her to stay on the sidelines.

“But Hamidi continues to act helpless the next day. Gilbert says she finally lost her patience and yelled at Hamidi, telling her to get serious or go back. That gets the young Afghan’s attention and despite her sprained ankle, she is the first one down on the return trip.”

After the trip, Hamidi and Nooristani give a talk to girls at a local high school.

“Hamidi encourages the 11th and 12th graders to climb mountains and to pursue their dreams, even if they are careers in male-dominated fields. ‘Can’t a woman become a lawyer? Can’t a woman become a parliament member? Can’t a woman become our president?’ she asks, drawing applause.”

Yes you can, girls, yes you can.

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