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Three Women, a Mountain and a Mosque
Breaking out of my forced dreaming, I tie the knife I keep around my neck to the rope's end for Luisa. We've tried coaxing, flicking, pulling (so hard we burned our hands), levering and hammering to free our rope, to no avail. In the end, we lose only five centimeters of rope—but also two hours of daylight. We tie the tattered ends together and finally continue moving down. The sun sinks behind the 7000-meter frame of the Ogre to the west, and its long shadow overtakes the Choktoi Valley.
Sarah Hart managing the rope on another after-dark rappel. The brown rope shows scars of its courtship with the flake on the first rappel of the descent. [Photo] Jacqui Hudson
A full moon rises and walls of granite glow in the nighttime light. Although cold, we're steadily moving down the wall, and my earlier feelings of apprehension wane as we progress back to our bivy. By 11 p.m. we are at our ledge again.
After two months of spending every minute with each other, night after night, close enough that we could hear each other Cheyne Stoke breathe through endless hours of poor sleep at altitude, we returned to Vancouver and our separate lives. Instantly we felt the separation, and missed each other terribly.
There were many instances during our time in Pakistan where we felt particularly exposed: our first morning in Islamabad; the reality of being without any reasonable method of contacting the outside world from the Choktoi; our rope stuck at the top of a 5200-meter peak. But we communicated well without egos, and we openly expressed our fears. I wonder if our approach to troubleshooting through our more challenging times, and the subsequent strengthening of our friendship, was facilitated by the camaraderie of women. Our challenges were not, of course, unique to us being female, but were the methods we invoked to deal with them?
Sarah Hart facing up to the start of the upper headwall, during the teamís third and final attempt on the peak. This was the start of Pitch 14, the crux pitch: 60 meters of sustained 5.10 climbing up thin corners on superb granite. Basecamp is tucked under the peaks visible on the far side of the glacier. [Photo] Jacqui Hudson
After returning to work, I was discussing the topic of gender roles—specifically women entering into traditionally male dominated arenas such as alpine climbing and medicine—with a female anesthesiologist mentor. As she set about taking control of all the physiologic functions of the anaesthetized patient on the table in front of her, she simply said, "Not until men can carry a pregnancy to term will we ever really be equal."
She has a point; there are some fundamental differences. How far these differences affect our abilities and persuade our judgments is difficult, maybe impossible to say.
On the bigger screen of alpine climbing, our little route on our no-name peak might be a rest-day outing for household-name alpinists, male or female. But to us it felt challenging, real. Before we left for Pakistan the prospect of putting up a new rock route longer than a single pitch was a far-fetched ideal. We are, by all accounts, "small fries" who keep too many "paid rest days" per year to ever register on the climbing radar.
But our ability to work as a team, listen to one another and communicate our differing perspectives allowed us to surpass our own expectations of what we thought capable. Perhaps our commonality as women allowed us to form a firm, solid, trusting relationship that gave us a wild ride and a safe descent.
Or perhaps it is the nature of climbing to facilitate these kinds of trusted relationships. Maybe it was just a fortunate melding of compatible individuals, facilitated further by similarities that allowed us to get out there, and up there (at least most of the way).
Luisa Giles making it look easy atop a boulder close to base camp on the Choktoi Glacier. In the distance is the junction of the Choktoi with the Pangma Glacier; clouds hide The Flame and the backside of Uli Biaho, visible from basecamp during good weather. [Photo] Jacqui Hudson
I don't have an answer. I can only reflect now on my memories of our trip to Pakistan: the sound of our cook singing in the still morning air around basecamp, the evening light on the Choktoi after a storm had passed, and the smiles and laughter of Luisa and Sarah as we climbed yet another splitter pitch of alpine granite. Philosophy aside, I can safely say I love climbing, for the people I meet, the places it takes me, for the lessons it teaches me, and the questions it makes me ask.
Looking west up the Choktoi Glacier at sunset. The Impressive North Ridge of Latok I (7145m) and the east face of the Ogre (7285m) are visible to the left of the setting sun. [Photo] Jacqui Hudson
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