Mirza and Samina celebrate by flying the Pakistan flag (left, image from Ben Jones) and Samina in traditional attire (right, Samina Baig Facebook page)
What a woman! Samina Baig has come a long way since I first interviewed her and brother Mirza Ali on their plans to conquer the worlds highest peaks. Always determined in spirit but initially facing limited resources, every climb proved an enormous challenge. Refusing to be deterred, in the early days Samina climbed in men’s boots which were donated. Now supported by enthusiastic and committed sponsors, which according to Dawn media includes foreign supporters, embassies and Serena Hotels but no support from Government, Samina has become the first Pakistani woman to summit all seven highest peaks in the seven continents in just under eight months.
Samina first climbed with Mirza when they set up Pakistan Youth Outreach and the Satwa Gunar Project. The idea was to climb with a film maker and photographer as part of a team of locals and to make a documentary focusing on a high school grade 10 student (his sister Samina) who became the first Pakistani woman mountaineer to summit an unclimbed 6400m peak. This was the young woman’s first expedition and ascent and an amazing achievement for all concerned. The mountain she climbed, Chashksin Sar was renamed Samina Peak in her honour.
Describing her experience for Explorersweb, Samina who comes from Shimshal region said, “Shimshali mountaineering is sort of inherited. Our ancestors built Shimshal beneath a glacier, and our community survived this harsh environment using mountaineering skills. Our grandparents and great-grandparents climbed with homemade ropes, wooden stakes and animal horns. Modern mountaineering only reached Shimshal in the 1980s, but Shimshali men soon made their mark. Four of the seven Pakistanis who have summited K2 are from my village” http://www.explorersweb.com/everest_k2/news.php?id=1967
Achievements include participation in the First Pakistani Women’s Winter Climbing Expedition and later becoming the first Pakistani woman to climb Everest and the youngest Muslim woman to do so aged just 21. Speaking to Newsweek after her Everest summit, Samina explained that she climbs to empower women, she said, “I was thinking about the women of Pakistan, those who are not allowed to get education, those who are not allowed to do whatever they want to do in their life. I hope that the families will understand that the contribution of women is important and can be more powerful for building a greater country.”
Now Samina has climbed to the summit of the following mountains during her seven peaks adventure, Mt Aconcagua, Argentina the highest peak in South America (6,961 m), Mt Vinson, Antarctica (4.822m), Mt Kilimanjaro (5895m) Tanzania and Mt McKinley, Alaska, (6,168 m) where she became the first Pakistani woman to climb to the top of the highest mountain in North America.
Samina also scaled the following, Puncak Java (4,884 m) the highest peak in Indonesia and Europe’s highest mountain, Mt Elbrus, (5,642 m) as well as Mt Everest, world’s highest mountain (8.848 m). She is usually accompanied by Mirza on her climbs in a fantastic example of team effort.
The power of team work (photo Mirza Ali)
Brother and sister are Muslim Ishmailis, a sect that broke away from the Shiites in the 8th century and their religious practice is seen to be less regimented than other Muslim communities. Samina is motivated by her faith in Allah and the purity of her environment. Mirza told me that men and women are deemed to have equal status in Ishmaili societies and the women are used to working at high altitude gathering dry juniper and grazing yaks. They both hope that their activities will help encourage more young people of both sexes in Pakistan to become involved in adventure travel and lead by example.
Speaking at the International Mountain Film Festival in Islamabad, (recorded by S Qazi) Samina stated,
“mountains are life for the people living there, and in the plains and downstream by providing water and ecological services. They are huge to fascinate us and challenge our courage, but there are no opportunities for the young to explore the snow covered natural habitats on the mighty glaciers and on the peaks of sky-touching mountains.
The foreigners come to scale the summits on our lands but we have no chance to explore our own mountains. Provision of outbound educational and adventure activities to the youth and other interested ones is not on the priority list of our government. So, we have to depend on the foreign friends”
Mirza along with Pakistan Youth Outreach have devised a long term programme which will incorporate the following, “to educate youth at grassroots level about mountain adventure, trekking adventure, and wilderness which will cover environmental education and the effects of global warming, the focus will be on schools, college and university.”
Mirza and Samina’s work is in line with the United Nations Millenium Development Goals for women and youth which include gender equality and promoting education. Pakistan is signatory supporting this agenda. Mirza is very proud of his sister’s achievements who is a role model for women around the world and was quoted previously as saying, “it is my intention to motivate more women to participate as this will give a message of confidence to females everywhere that if a young woman can climb mountains she can do anything.”
Poster for “Beyond the Heights” (film Facebook page)
Brother and sister team also have a film coming out, “Beyond the Heights” which the trailer describes as;
“based on true story of the first Pakistani and youngest female mountaineer to climb Mount Everest. Overcoming the towers of hardships, a fragile woman belonging to a small village, named Shimshal, in Hunza valley touched new horizons with her will power and motivation”
As with everything the pair do, the documentary is very likely to prove a success story!
Carol Anne Grayson is an independent writer/researcher on global health/human rights and is Executive Producer of the Oscar nominated, Incident in New Baghdad . She is a Registered Mental Nurse with a Masters in Gender Culture and Development. Carol was awarded the ESRC, Michael Young Prize for Research 2009, and the COTT ‘Action = Life’ Human Rights Award’ for “upholding truth and justice”. She is also a survivor of US “collateral damage”.