Aiming Higher

Estimated reading time: 5 min

The first Pakistani woman to conquer the Seven Summits, Samina Baig sets her sights on an even steeper goal: Developing outdoor recreation and gender equality in Pakistan.

The first mountain Samina Baig ever climbed was a 6,000-meter first ascent. In 2013, just three years later, the then-22-year-old Samina became the first Pakistani woman to stand atop Everest. She completed the rest of the Seven Summits within the following year.

“When I’m in the mountains, I’m the happiest person. It’s what I love most,” she says. It’s precisely this joy that she now hopes to share through her more recent work: teaching mountaineering through the Pakistan Youth Outreach Foundation.

“When I started, there was no such platform. I had no idea where to go or how to train. In Pakistan, mountain climbing was not for girls,” Samina explains. She grew up in Shimshal, a remote village in northern Pakistan where foreign climbers often wandered through.

“There were women in those groups, just not Pakistani women,” Samina recalls.

As a child, she would approach them and ask, in broken English, about trekking and climbing. Her brother Mirza Ali promised Samina that when they grew up, they’d climb mountains together. When she was 19, the two of them topped out on the 6,000-meter (19,700 ft) Chashkin Sar. “When I made the summit, I knew I was going to pursue this as a profession.”

Samina’s family, accustomed to women climbers, was supportive. Outside her village, however, the reaction was mixed. Mountaineering was not well-known in Pakistan, and the mountaineering community that did exist was male-dominated.

New generation of women mountaineers

Now, Samina wants to increase awareness of the sport, especially among women. She works alongside her brother, who founded the Pakistan Youth Outreach Foundation in 2010, to run equality-focused outdoor camps for kids. The organization is the first of its kind in Pakistan.

Each camp accepts an equal number of boys and girls. They play, learn, and eat together. For many, it’s their first time in a mixed-gender sport, as well as their first outdoor experience.

“Their confidence increases so much, and many of them leave wanting to pursue outdoor sports,” Samina says.

She recalls one girl who attended a camp in 2017, then in the following year went on to summit a 7,000-meter peak (23,000 ft).

“This is the impact of our work.”

The rest of the country is catching on to the movement, and many Pakistani universities now have outdoor clubs.

“Things are changing in this country, but it will take time.”

Samina hasn’t climbed a mountain in over a year. She dreams of summiting K2, but in the meantime, she’s busy with other things: mentoring kids, serving as a United Nations Development Program Goodwill Ambassador, and developing her own nonprofit. She hopes to organize all-women expeditions and to promote more women in outdoor professions.

“In our culture, we don’t have female guides in the tourism industry. Women are nowhere,” she says. “Until now.” pakistanyouthoutreach.com

 

PHOTOS: MIRZA ALI/PAKISTAN YOUTH OUTREACH FOUNDATION

Corey Buhay
info@norragency.com