Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Samina Baig standing tall at Everest

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The summit bid on any eight thousander is a test of nerves, skill and immeasurable determination. On 18 May 2013, Samina, twenty-two, and her brother Mirza Ali Baig, twenty-nine years of age, left Camp 3 (7100 metres) on Everest at 6.00 AM, reaching South Col (about 8000 metres) eight hours later. There they rested four hours and at 8.00 PM that same evening, they were on the pitch to the summit. The following morning, Samina Baig stood on the highest point on the planet Earth, 8848 metre-high Mount Everest.

Then she began the descent to reach South Col in five hours. A brief rest followed before she continued her marathon back to Camp 2, reaching it at 8.00 PM on the evening of 19 May. With two brief periods of rest, six hours in total, she had been on her feet for a full forty-eight hours! But Samina has not passed into history for making this epic struggle. She has entered the annals of Pakistani sports for being the first woman to summit Everest. For her the dream began eight years ago.

Shimshal, a remote valley in the north of Pakistan straddling the Chinese frontier, sits at 3200 metres and is a single large valley clenched within the stony grip of great walls of granite whose gaps are filled with glaciers. The rest is grim and narrow gorges, with vertical verges draped with scallop-shaped talus slopes that test the hardiest trekkers and mountaineers. In its farther reaches are beautiful peaks upward of 6000 metres in height.

The people of Shimshal can only be tough: the annual transhumance with the livestock from Shimshal village to the summer pasture of Shuwert on the far side of Shimshal Pass is one of the hardest treks known to trekkers. Local people make this trip several times each season and it is not surprising that Shimshal has produced some world class mountaineers.

In 1999, Mirza Ali Baig started out as a porter at age fifteen. One year later, he found himself working his way to the summit of 6050 metre-high Minglik Sar on the Shimshal Pass with a team of students from King's College. Over the next five years, the man worked very hard as high altitude porter, assistant cook and then cook to a number of expeditions, honing his own climbing ability and making an almost decent living.

Reaching the summit of Minglik Sar was a turning point. The young man knew portering was his means of raising money to one day become a mountaineer himself. And so over the next five years he worked hard as a porter and mountain guide. In all these years, says Ali, the other thing he did with equal diligence was that he told his sister tales of the mountains. And he told her that when she came of age, they would together go climbing.

Focus came in 2005 when Ali was with the Dutch ambassador on Spantik (7027 metres). There are innumerable high peaks in Pakistan, he thought, yet so few Pakistanis climb whereas the country is virtually overrun with foreign climbers and trekkers. He thought he had to do something to promote outdoor sports with special emphasis on getting young women into mountaineering.

Preparing a funding proposal for a women's expedition to Minglik Sar, that he had himself climbed only five years earlier, Ali sent it off to several possible financing sources in 2006. But nothing came of it. For three years his proposal that must have gone to a couple of hundred commercial firms, found no takers. The only achievement out of this endeavour was a Lahore girl who came to climb Spantik in 2009. Without previous mountaineering experience, it was only predictable that she failed to go any higher than Camp 1 at about 5000 metres.

But Ali did not give up. In 2010, he launched his Pakistan Youth Outreach programme to promote outdoor sports, especially mountaineering with a focus on encouraging women in it. As an example he decided to take Samina, then nineteen, to 6040 metre-high Chashkin Sar east of Shimshal Pass. Together with a Romanian and an American the siblings conquered the peak. The notable thing in this ascent was that Samina had no climbing boots; she went up in normal trekking boots, her only implements being crampons and an ice axe.

If the rest of the country remained ignorant of this successful ascent in distant Shimshal, the people of the valley acknowledged the endeavour of their children. Chashkin Sar thence onward became known as Samina Peak. Later, however, the film Ali made of the expedition was showed on Geo TV.

Dreaming of one day becoming the first Pakistani siblings to summit Everest, Samina and Ali went into training. In December 2010, they attempted a winter ascent of Minglik Sar. However, intense weather and a lack of proper equipment for Samina forced them to abort barely one hundred and fifty metres short the summit.

Something daring now needed to be done, something like a peak which had not been climbed and where no routes were marked. And so into Ghuijerab Valley in the north of Shimshal they went with a small group of German and Polish climbers. Ali says he named this the Gender Equality Expedition and its central message was that if Western women can climb, Pakistani women are not lacking.

The full complement of the team made the summit of the virgin unnamed peak that stood at 6008 metres above the sea. In recognition of the principle of gender equality, the peak was appropriately named Koh e Braber (pronounce Brober in Wakhi) - Mountain of Equality.

Once again, Ali filmed the expedition. But this time, despite frantic efforts, not a single TV channel was interested in broadcasting it. One wonders if the private TV channels, regressive and narrow-minded as they are, were repulsed by the principle the film claimed to uphold and propagate. But far away in Germany and in Japan, the film went on air and was much appreciated.

Unfazed, Ali and Samina organised another Gender Equality Expedition in 2012. It was back to Spantik with two girls and a man from New Zealand. All went well, until weather broke a couple of hundred metres below the summit forcing the climbers down. The expedition failed, but a friendship was forged that was to help the Shimshal siblings realise a dream they had now nurtured for nearly three years.

Winter 2012 was training time for Everest for Samina and Ali. Between snatches of short climbs, Ali prepared his proposal for financing for Everest in 2013. The per person cost this year being Rs 5 million, the attempt would accrue Rs 10 million, a darn sight short of what Coke Studio and Walls Ice Cream spend on all sorts of mirasis and tailors and what other commercial firms pamper shameless, cheating cricketers with who only bring humiliation to this sorry country.

Between December 2012 and late February this year, Ali sent out the proposal to more than one thousand prospective financiers. Not one Pakistani firm responded even with a 'thank you for writing to us, but.' The only company to turn down with a polite excuse that this year they had been swamped with sponsorship requests was North Face, the American outdoor gear manufacturer.

In a state of despondency, Mirza Ali wrote to the three New Zealand kids who had attempted Spantik with him and Samina last year. And so, because Pakistan is a nation of spiritually dead exhibitionists, young Joy Deernes, Jennifer Kent and Arthur Smith in that faraway land got to work to raise Rs 10 million from their own resources. The rest, so they say, is history which was made on 19 May 2013 when Samina Baig became the first Pakistani woman to stand on the highest spot on the globe.

Leaving Pakistan on 31 March, the pair was at Base Camp on 9 April to begin the usual rotation of acclimatisation and acquaintance with the route. The route they were following was the very one first marked out by Eric Shipton in 1951 and by which Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay made the successful bid in May 1953. The acclimatisation rotations led them into the dreadful Khumbu Icefall and as far up as Camp 2 at 6400 metres. In Khumbu, the seracs arch threateningly overhead while below crevasses yawn with heart-stopping menace. It is a very dangerous area on Everest.

And so, confident and fully acclimatised to high altitude, the pair left Base Camp on 15 May. Through the Khumbu Icefall, to the Lhotse Face to look across the fantastic vista down the Western Cwm, progressively ever higher until they were poised on the South Col to make the summit bid.

Day was breaking as the sun, still rising over distant eastern lands, became visible at that great height. Samina and Ali were at 8600 metres, just 248 metres short of the summit and a matter of a couple of hours, when something unheard of occurred. Mirza Ali Baig, bid his sister Godspeed and urged her to carry on all by herself. He says they had planned her solo in advance because the message to send out to other Pakistani girls and their brothers was that these women are not just helpless waifs as we look at them.

'We spend our lifetimes ferrying sisters to college and back. With Samina climbing alone to the highest point on earth, we wanted people to know that women can do everything that men do when they have set their heart on it,' says Ali.

With just two peaks in Shimshal under her hat, Samina became the first Pakistani woman to unfurl the Pakistani flag on Everest. This really is like beginning at the top. The question naturally is: since she cannot get any higher, what next? The highest peaks on the seven continents, says Samina. She and Ali now wish to climb those elusive peaks. Elusive because mountaineering is a very expensive sport and the siblings have no clue where the money will come from in order for them to win this ultimate laurel for Pakistan.

Mountaineering is a lonely person's sport. There are no flood lamps, no TV cameras and no spectators. Pakistani sponsors want exhibition and will gladly squander money on music and fashion shows. They do not value sport for its own sake; they value it for its exhibitionism and hence the focus on cricket. Samina and Ali believe that if they continue to be involved with mountaineering and have faith in their own abilities, something will happen to help them put the Pakistani flag on the highest spots of each continent. Will some corporate giant rise above its habitual exhibitionism to sponsor the seven peaks? [Images of Samina and Ali at home by SR. All others by] - {Also in The News on Sunday}

Related: Nazir Sabir - a world beyond the Mountains

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 09:00,


At 16 June 2013 at 13:39, Anonymous Saima Ashraf said...

Salute to you Samina Baig....I love those personalities who are Everest in their respective domains

At 16 June 2013 at 20:00, Anonymous Rafay Bin Ali said...

Indeed a marvelous feat by Samina Baig. I congratulate her on this superb achievement. She is an honor for Pakistan. Best of luck to her in the future.

At 16 June 2013 at 20:10, Blogger aghafarooq said...

Its amazing story of accomplishment, excellence and display of splendid courage by the couple specially Samina against heavy odds. She set a very high standard of personal excellence, determination and fighting spirits. keep it up, we are proud of you as you represent the real spirits and soul of Pakistan. Keep it up.

At 16 June 2013 at 22:29, Anonymous Saima Ashraf said...

Really it's hard to even think of that height where she stood along with her brother. Dragging upwards, creeping, slipping, and snakea of possible failures around....Brao Samina Baig.....You did it!

At 16 June 2013 at 22:42, Anonymous Runi said...

Samina Baig seems too tall for ... Strength, courage and skill at this young age. Too happy for you Samina. You are a true hero. Keep it up.

At 17 June 2013 at 09:47, Anonymous Aghader Ami said...

OMG. I love you Samina. You are so brave and s pretty. Wish you stars and the moon. Keep up. But what Ali did is unmatched. Well done Ali. Very well done.

At 17 June 2013 at 11:39, Blogger Nayyar Julian said...

This really is unheard of. What Mirza Ali Baig did is a bigger feat than climbing Everest. Amazing.

At 17 June 2013 at 12:09, Anonymous Kausar Bilal said...

What an amazing and inspirational story! Love you both, Samina & Ali. And, truely feeling proud of you, equal heroes of the episodes. Congrats and best wish for the rest of your lives.

At 17 June 2013 at 14:00, Anonymous Shahid Siddiqui said...

Bravo Samina and Mirza Ali Baig, We are so proud of you:)

At 17 June 2013 at 14:19, Anonymous Ramla said...

I need to meet them both. I need to see how success looks like.

At 17 June 2013 at 23:29, Blogger TARIQ said...

Most inspiring story

At 18 June 2013 at 10:04, Anonymous Christine Abad said...

Wow...Thank you for sharing... Such an incredible story of how women can be equally be as good as their male counterparts in the arena of mountaineering.

At 18 June 2013 at 12:06, Anonymous Shambhu Thapa said...

The Himalaya are extended from eastern India Assam west to Afghanistan. It is a chain of the highest mountains on earth and it covers a region of deep religious and cultural traditions as well as an amazing diversity of people. Therefore, trekking in Nepal is a special mountain experience.

At 18 June 2013 at 20:09, Blogger Asmatullah Khan said...

great young girl i met her and her brother

At 21 June 2013 at 10:16, Anonymous Rao said...

Truly great feat when one can see a woman at her best. Any record of how many Pakistanis have scaled Mt Everest so far?

At 21 June 2013 at 14:33, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

The unbeatable Nazir Sabir was the first Pakistani to summit Everest. He was followed by Hasan Sadpara and now we have the third, the first Pakistani woman, Samina Baig, to have done it
There is a Karachi fraudster who having been up to Base Camp came home to claim a Pride of Performance award for scaling Everest! In this country where true merit is ignored charlatans like him have every chance of winning.

At 6 July 2013 at 02:30, Blogger Saleem Khan said...

Samina Baig is a new symbol of success and committment for the young generation femalws and males of world mountaineering.It is a dream that every person think but very few are able to achive this height...Congratulation once again feeling proud.

At 6 July 2013 at 02:30, Blogger Saleem Khan said...

Samina Baig is a new symbol of success and committment for the young generation femalws and males of world mountaineering.It is a dream that every person think but very few are able to achive this height...Congratulation once again feeling proud.


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Deosai: Land of the Gaint - New

The Apricot Road to Yarkand

Jhelum: City of the Vitasta

Sea Monsters and the Sun God: Travels in Pakistan

Salt Range and Potohar Plateau

Prisoner on a Bus: Travel Through Pakistan

Between Two Burrs on the Map: Travels in Northern Pakistan

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