By Carol Grayson
Following on from the recent success of the Pakistani women’s cricket team winning gold in the Asia Games [i] Mirza Ali (27) hopes to reach new heights partnering with his younger sister Samina Baig (20) to embark on the First Pakistani Women’s Winter Climbing Expedition. It is easy to be enthused by Mirza an experienced climber of several years as he counts down the days to the start of their adventure in the Karakorum planning the route and buying food supplies for the trip. He delights in the fact that a friend has donated a pair of men’s boots for Samina to use on her climb as unfortunately funding does not come easy and Mirza spends a lot of his time knocking on doors for sponsorship money.
Mirza graduated from Karachi University with a qualification in Tourism and Management. Born in the village of Shimshal, Hunza region, he is the youngest mountaineer in Pakistan to make a climb of 6050m, Mingligh Sar was the first summit he conquered. Mirza is passionate about climbing and aims to be the first Pakistani to climb all 14 of the 8000 metre peaks in the world with the intention of becoming an adventure ambassador for Pakistan. He cites as his idol Nazir Sabir who was the first Pakistani to reach the summit of Mount Everest and hopes to use his love of adventure travel to promote peace and understanding with both national and international communities.
Mirza has great achievements already under his belt. He developed and set up a joint venture project with Pakistan Youth Outreachiii and the Satwa Gunar Project [iii] The idea was to climb with a film maker and photographer as part of a team of locals and to make a documentary focusing on a high school grade 10 student (his sister Samina) who became the first Pakistani woman mountaineer to summit an unclimbed 6400m peak. This was the young woman’s first expedition and ascent and an amazing achievement for all concerned. The mountain she climbed, Chashksin Sar has now been renamed Samina Peak in her honour. Describing her experience for Explorersweb Samina said, “Shimshali mountaineering is sort of inherited. Our ancestors built Shimshal beneath a glacier, and our community survived this harsh environment using mountaineering skills. Our grandparents and great-grandparents climbed with homemade ropes, wooden stakes and animal horns. Modern mountaineering only reached Shimshal in the 1980s, but Shimshali men soon made their mark. Four of the seven Pakistanis who have summited K2 are from my village” [iv]
Brother and sister are muslim Ishmailis, a sect that broke away from the Shiites in the 8th century and their religious practice is seen to be less regimented than other muslim communities. Mirzir told me that men and women are deemed to have equal status in Ishmaili societies and the women are used to working at high altitude gathering dry juniper and grazing yaks. They both hope that their activities will help encourage more young people of both sexes in Pakistan to become involved in adventure travel and lead by example.
Rubab Raza became a role model for women in 2004 by becoming the first female to represent Pakistan in an Olympic swimming event aged only 13[v] Khadija Ranja argues however that it has not always been easy for female athletes to gain acceptance in Pakistan and states, “we have been born with a mindset and a family setting that dictates to us that a woman’s place is in her home, taking care of her husband and children, and not in a field, wielding a hockey stick or bat. The fact that women break out of such cliché and commonplace roles make them unacceptable in our society. Women’s sports are looked down in general, in our society, and that is truly a very sad predicament, because in reality, the progress of sports in a country is a reflection of its political stability”[vi]
Mirza’s work is in line with the United Nations Millenium Development Goals for women and youth which include gender equality and promoting education.[vii] Pakistan is a signatory supporting this agenda. He is very proud of his sister’s achievements and said “it is my intention to motivate more women to participate as this will give a message of confidence to females everywhere that if a young woman can climb a mountain, she can do anything”. Mirza along with Pakistan Youth Outreach have devised a long term programme which will incorporate the following, “to educate youth at grassroots level about mountain adventure, trekking adventure, and wilderness which will cover environmental education and the effects of global warming, the focus will be on schools, college and university.”
Mirza has a growing number of supporters across the globe, loves meeting people from different cultures and encourages people to visit Pakistan to admire and experience the beauty of the landscape. On Sunday he wrote “the company of good people is like the shop of perfume, whether you have bought perfume or not, you will receive a lot of good perfume, my friends are like the shop of perfume.”
Samina has already set out to acclimatize. The expedition starts officially on the 1st December to the end of the month. The enthusiastic adventurer is motivated by her faith in Allah and inspired by the purity of her environment, her ultimate goal is to one day scale K2. Joining Samina on this expedition will be Jennifer Rawlins from the United States and led by Mirza they plan to climb a 5850m peak named Qusar and an unnamed peak. (Anyone wishing to support the expedition with a donation can log on to Pakistan Youth Outreach.
via Asia Dispatch