ISLAMABAD: Eight young Shimshali girls added a new chapter in Pakistan’s history of mountaineering when they summitted the 6,050 meters Mingligh Sar peak on January 3, traversing 1,750 meters on a windy day when winter temperatures dipped 38 degrees below zero. The peak straddles the Shimshal Pass bordering China.
Qudrat Ali and Shaheen Baig, two renowned climbers who led the ascent told The Express Tribune that it was challenging for the girls, who trained at Shimshal Mountaineering School, to do the winter climb.
The eight women mountaineers who embarked on the first-ever winter expedition to the peak on December 29 were Dur Begum, 30, Farzana Faisal, 22, Tokht Bika, 23, Shakila Numa, 25, Mera Jabeen 21, Gohar Nigar 22, Hafiza Bano, 16, and Hamida Bibi, 18. They made it to the summit on January 3 along with instructors Qudrat Ali, Shaheen Baig, Wahab Ali Shah and Rehmatullah Baig. Their fellow Shimshali girl Samina Baig, in an earlier expedition on the same mountain, was unlucky in her attempt. The tough weather and lack of proper gear (down suit) forced her back just 150 meters short from the summit.
Hafiza Bano at 16 became the youngest Pakistani girl to climb Mingligh Sar in winter, Qudrat Ali said, who has also scaled four of the five 8000ers in Pakistan, except K2.
Among the students Farzana Faisal was the first girl who made it to the summit in 2006 during summer followed by Dur Begum in 2007, he said.
The summit push was made after a first acclimatisation night in clear weather but in 30km per hour winds. “None of the girls had altitude-related problems; we were concerned about Hafiza, who’s only 16, but she performed confidently,” Shaheen Baig said, who has climbed K2, the world’s second highest peak, Gasherbrum-II, Mustaghata in China, and nine 7000ers in the Karakorum and Himalaya ranges in Gilgit-Baltistan. He also attempted with Simone Moro on two winter expeditions on Broad Peak (BP) in 2007 and 2009 together with Qudrat Ali. In 1997, Qudrat Ali and Shaheen Baig scaled an unclimbed peak, Chashken Sar in winter expedition. In 2006, they organised the first local expedition to K2, to prove that the mountaineers from Gilgit-Baltistan are second to none.
Summit day was reportedly cold and quite technical. All climbers were in top shape; the push took off at 6:30am from base camp in good weather. It took four hours to high camp and only another 40 minutes from there to the summit. “The girls climbed in Alpine style and no ropes were fixed in spite of the icy surface,” Ali said.
The members climbed 1,750 meters altitude in one day which is a record of sorts for women in winter. According to Ali, GPS readings from the top showed the wind was flowing at a speed of 45 km/h and the temperatures at minus 38ºC.
The original plan for a double-header expedition including the 6030-meter high Vulyo Sar, was scrubbed for lack of porters. “Many refused to join the expedition due to heavy snowfall at the time of departure from Shimshal, which left the team with inadequate supplies,” Baig told this scribe. “Otherwise the climbers would have been ready and willing to storm up their second target also.”
Samina Baig forced back at 5,900 meters.
The Shimshal Mountaineering School has created the love for this sport among the youth of Shimshal, known as “valley of mountaineers”. Over a dozen mountaineers including Rajab Shah, Mehrban Shah, Subedar Yousuf Khan, Mohammedullah, Qurban Mohammed, Wahab Ali Shah, Sarwar Ali, Aziz Baig, and others have scaled most of the five highest peaks in Pakistan. The expedition was part of the training programme of the school.
Before heading for the expedition, the school organised three-day acclimatisation and training session in which they attempted the famous Ice Wall and the 4500 meters Shefkateen Sar peak.
Dur Begum who was the woman leader having climbed the peak earlier said that this first-ever women winter expedition would promote women mountaineering in the country.
“We wanted to set an example for the women of Pakistan that they can also adopt mountaineering as a sport like women in other parts of the world. The women of Pakistan are not behind anyone else,” said Farzana Faisal, deputy leader of
About establishing the mountaineering school, Ali and Baig considered it imperative to provide basic training to the younger generation, particularly women, and provide them opportunities to enhance their potential in the field of mountaineering.
“Setting up a climbing school in such a remote area was not easy, but we worked hard and used our own resources to establish the school. Simone Moro donated the equipment and visited Shimshal to train the students on different climbing techniques,” Ali said.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 31st, 2011.