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First Afghan woman stands atop the country's highest peak

Posted on: August 22, 2018


Hanifa Yousoufi holds the Afghan flag on top of Mt. Noshaq (7492m) after she became the first Afghan woman and only the fourth Afghan national to stand on top of her country's highest peak August 10. [Photo] Courtesy of the Ascend: Leadership through Athletics ProgramHanifa Yousoufi holds the Afghan flag on top of Noshaq (7492m) after she became the first Afghan woman and only the fourth Afghan national to stand on top of her country's highest peak August 10. [Photo] Courtesy of the Ascend: Leadership through Athletics Program

On August 10, Hanifa Yousoufi, 24, became the first Afghan woman to stand on top of Noshaq (7492m), the country's highest mountain and the second highest in the Hindu Kush.

Yousoufi took on great risk during her three years of training and attempts to climb Noshaq. As Eileen Guo observed in Alpinist 61, the Taliban still exerts influence in Afghanistan, and women have been known to receive extrajudicial punishment through strict, local interpretations of Shari'a law.

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In the days leading up to the expedition, fighting in the next district shut down the airstrip and the climb was nearly called off.

"I did this for every single girl," Yousoufi said in an Ascend press release. "The girls of Afghanistan are strong and will continue to be strong."

Yousoufi's teammates accompanied her to base camp and two guides were with her on her final push to the top with Norway's Vibeke Sefland summiting alongside her.

Yousoufi's ascent was made possible by the Ascend: Leadership through Athletics program, which aims to develop "young women's self-confidence and skills through service and the sport of mountain climbing to promote leadership and civic-mindedness in post-conflict countries," according to the organization's website.

Ascend's co-founder Marina LeGree recently told Alpinist, "I've done so many happy dances, I've lost count.... For security reasons we had to keep it all super secret and now that everyone is safely out of the mountains I can tell you...."

Guo's Alpinist article, "Dreaming of Afghan Mountains," only identified Yousoufi by her first name. Revealing her full name still presents risks, but LeGree said that Yousoufi "has expressed her desire to have her full name used. We worried about this a lot but she and her teammates all feel strongly that they want to own their achievements...."

Yousoufi on top of Noshaq. [Photo] Courtesy of the Ascend: Leadership through Athletics ProgramYousoufi on top of Noshaq. [Photo] Courtesy of the Ascend: Leadership through Athletics Program

"Not only is it an incredible athletic achievement for our team...it's a symbolic victory of Afghan women conquering challenges in their own country; of overcoming stigma and security barriers to achieve big things; of climbing mountains and moving mountains," LeGree told Alpinist.

The press release notes:

Ascend has been running its program in Afghanistan since 2015. Ascend team members train hard to not only climb mountains, but to change the society they live in. They strive to reach new heights and inspire others by going where no Afghan women have gone before.... [The] program is holistic and each team member commits to many months of intensive physical training but also classroom work, learning what it means to be leaders and role models and to work as a team. In monthly training sessions, the team has developed confidence by articulating their own stories and supporting one another.

Only three other Afghans have summited the peak—Afiat Khan and Malang Darya in 2009, and Aziz Beg in 2011.

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