Surviving against all odds, including a Taliban attack, 24-year-old Hanifa Yousoufi has become the first Afghan woman to climb her country’s tallest mountain.
After climbing for almost a month on August 10, Hanifa summited 24,580-foot-high Mt Noshak, Afghanistan’s highest peak.
She was part of an expedition organised by Ascend Athletics, a US-based NGO that focuses on empowering women through training in climbing and leadership skills.
According to Marina LeGree, the founder of Ascend, the expedition was nearly scuttled when fighting in the next district shut down an airstrip.
“That the Taliban attacked the area the day before we were due to fly had all of us feeling very nervous,” said American photojournalist Erin Trieb, who was part of the expedition, in an interview with Outside.
“Despite all possible odds, Hanifa reached the top. I’m incredibly proud of her and of the entire climbing team. What Hanifa did for women in her country will have a ripple effect for women everywhere. It was a monumental physical and mental effort of true grit, and I can’t wait to tell the whole story.”
Hanifa hopes that conquering the isolated range bordering Pakistan, China and Tajikistan will not just be seen as the victory of an explorer but will offer great inspiration for the many Afghan women who have been experiencing years of conflict and conservatism.
“I did this for every single girl. The girls of Afghanistan are strong,” said Hanifa, who was married at the very young age of 15 and is now divorced.
Hanifa comes from very humble circumstances, and has suffered in ways familiar to millions of Afghan girls and women.
Image provided by Ascend Atlethics
“Married as a teenager, not able to attend school and facing a life of illiteracy as a young divorcee, she worked very hard to achieve her dream of climbing Mt Noshaq. Hanifa’s victory symbolizes the potential and strength of Afghan women to rise above the incredibly difficult circumstances they face daily and carry their country to a better future,” Marina told My Salaam.
“With this achievement, she breaks through the extreme limitations placed upon her and so many Afghan women and girls. She is a role model not just because of her climbing achievements, but because of her contribution to her community,” she added.
Hanifa had been training with Ascend to attempt Mt Noshaq, the highest mountain in the Hindu Kush region, since 2016. Only two other Afghans, both men, have scaled it.
She has always been the consummate team player, caring for others before herself and giving her best effort at every step.
“She volunteers in her community, speaking to other illiterate women and helping at a shelter for animals - she is a defender of the weak and powerless. Afghanistan is experiencing an unprecedented grassroots movement toward peace. Hanifa's achievement is emblematic of her generation's hunger for peace and change,” Marina said.
Hanifa was accompanied to base camp by her teammates, and she reached the summit accompanied by two guides and the Norwegian climber Vibeke Sefland.
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