A little over two weeks ago, 24-year-old Hahifa Yousoufi pushed alpine climbing forward in Afghanistan in a big way, as she became the first Afghan woman to summit her country’s highest peak, the 24,580-foot (7,492 meters) Mt. Noshaq. Noshaq is the second highest mountain in the Hindu Kush—the mountain range that runs along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border—behind only Tirich Mir (25,289 feet/7,708 meters).
In a press release put out by Ascend: Leadership Through Athletics, Yousoufi said, “I did this for every single girl. The girls of Afghanistan are strong and will continue to be strong.”
Ascend is a nonprofit that seeks to empower Afghan women through climbing mountains—literal ones and those that they face in society. The press release states, “Afghanistan’s security environment and the cultural and logistical challenges made this project uniquely challenging. What the girls are doing is groundbreaking and somewhat dangerous because of Afghan society’s strictly prescribed conservative norms for women.”
Yousoufi’s ascent of Noshaq on August 10 is a noteworthy by any yardstick. Prior to hers, only two other Afghan men had reached the summit, in July 2009. Youousfi reached the summit accompanied by two guides and the Norwegian climber Vibeke Sefland.
Erin Trieb, an American photographer, was also on the expedition. In an article in Outside, Trieb, had this to say of the expedition and Yousoufi’s historic ascent:
“I have photographed war and conflict for ten years, but this expedition was the most difficult project I have ever worked on. None of us realized how treacherous Noshaq is, because so little is known about the mountain. That the Taliban attacked the area the day before we were due to fly had all of us feeling very nervous. Despite all possible odds, Hanifa reached the top. I’m incredibly proud of her and of the entire climbing team. What Hanifa did for women in her country will have a ripple effect for women everywhere. It was a monumental physical and mental effort of true grit, and I can’t wait to tell the whole story.”
The first ascent of Noshaq completed by a Japanese team in 1960. Noshaq also has a unique claim-to-fame in the mountaineering world: it was the first 7,000er ever ascended in winter.