It was towards the end of our expedition in the Karakoram.
One frozen evening, the clouds parted and the night sky unveiled a beautiful canopy sprinkled with stardust. I couldn’t take my eyes off of it in a mesmerized state of wonder. I had brought my watercolors along and hadn’t really given it much time to paint let alone to journal since my hands could not stand being outside of their gloves longer than a minute. But something about the solitude I had to myself, perched on a little rock and craning my neck to the Milky Way, warmed my body to a state of action.
I pulled out my watercolors and ink pen and let my thoughts hit the paper for the first time the whole expedition. These were the thoughts I could muster before my hands became too cold to write anymore.
Lessons in the Karakoram
PC: Gol Muhammad Baig
I have struggled to know how to describe what this experience was like. This was nothing short of epic.
It was absolutely freezing and I neglected to journal every day, but here is my experience in a nutshell.
The main theme of this women lead winter expedition was in solidarity of women empowerment and to continue towards gender equality. Many encountered hurdles before even arriving, but persisted to show up. Not to mention the obstacles we faced during, but we always found a way to sing and dance about it every night. It was a cause beyond ourselves, and in that was born our strength.
The original plan was to make a winter ascent of Mingligh Sar. However, winter conditions in that area were harsh and we could not get enough porters to make a journey that far away. We considered our options. We eventually agreed we were capable to go for a first ascent, so why not try?
Although, in the end, not everyone physically stood on the summit, we collectively as a team made a first ascent of an unnamed, unclimbed peak, establishing a historical event in Pakistani history as an all women-team. The peak was named Koh-e-Zamiston, which means Mount Winter in the native Wakhi tongue of the Shimshali village.
That is one of the many lessons the mountain teaches me. That when we invest in our team, we result in reaching new thresholds as individuals. And it isn’t always the summit every time. But growth nonetheless. When I say collectively we reached the summit, I literally mean the nursing to health of one member to her sick counterpart for hours, the hand holding during difficult times, the sacrificing and sharing of gear, and the scrambling around of women in the morning as the others were departing to High Camp to pass along their most useful items; the delivering of hot tea and last minute massages and the endless hugs and tears. “Your success is my success,” I heard constantly.
Throughout the training, competition, and expedition I met women who had never seen snow or ice, never been camping, never left too far from home. We braved freezing temperatures (-35 to -42C to be exact), some lacked proper gear, got sick and yet many lead their first ice climb after just a week of training. Some reached an elevation of 5000 m for their first time ever being exposed to high altitude. Samina is a woman of graceful grit and humble power. Who chose a path with no examples before her, but with her brother, achieved something that had been perceived impossible. Now giving the confidence to thousands of girls and women across her country to take jumps into the unknown as she. I met an incredibly inspiring woman from Norway who jumps into adventure to show her children that a life of adventure is the only one worth living and that requires taking some risk. Some got respiratory infections, altitude sickness, an injured knee, and frost bite. But we all wanted to change the narrative around gender equality and braving those obstacles felt pretty trivial compared to the weight that women collectively carry on their shoulders worldwide and historically.
What was serendipitous about it was that the summit was made the same week as the Women’s March on Washington. And, as fate would have it, both held the same vision and both operated under the same principles for success. That neutrality is the static. It means lactic acid build up and frost bite. Laziness and letting others do the work means you’ll never develop the muscles you’ll eventually need one day when your mountain comes. Discomfort means vulnerability, teamwork means strength, perseverance means progress.
And with every step, we never forgot out roots.