Samina Baig lives her dreams. Pakistan’s best-known female climber wants to fulfill another one on K2: She wants to be the first woman in her home country to stand on the 8,611-meter-high summit this summer. With her Pakistani team, the 30-year-old arrived last Thursday at the base camp at the foot of the second highest mountain on earth. Once again, Samina wants to take up the cudgels for her countrywomen. ” Being a woman, my message to people is to encourage and support their daughters and let them choose their own profession,” the climber said before setting off for the Karakoram. “Let them make their own mark.”
First Pakistani woman on Everest
Baig hails from the small mountain village of Shimshal in Gilgit-Baltistan in northern Pakistan. The youngest of six children, she discovered her passion for the mountains at an early age. “When people asked me what I wanted to be in life, I used to say, ‘I want to become a mountaineer,'” Samina says (see video below). “Everybody laughed at me because it was something beyond thinking that a girl can be a mountaineer.”
She didn’t let that discourage her. In 2010, she summited the roughly 6,000-meter-high Chaskin Sar in the Shimshal Valley with a team that included her brother and mountaineering mentor Mirza Ali Baig. Today it is called Samina Peak. It was renamed after Samina Baig became the first woman from Pakistan to scale Mount Everest (with bottled oxygen) in 2013.
She was 22 years old at the time. A year later, she became the first person from Pakistan to complete the collection of the Seven Summits, the highest mountains on all continents. Her brother Mirza Ali, who had taught Samina how to climb, accompanied her to six of the seven summits, only turning around at 8,600 meters on Everest. In 2019, he then stood at the top himself.
For women’s empowerment
Samina Baig is one of Pakistan’s best-known women and uses her popularity to promote her messages. Since 2017, for example, she has been campaigning for sustainable development in her home country as a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), particularly with regard to climate change, environmental protection and women’s empowerment. In 2020, Baig advised the interim government of Gilgit-Baltistan province on sports, tourism and culture.
Samina became aware in 2018 at the latest that female mountaineers have been virtually absent from Pakistan’s public consciousness. At that time, she wanted to organize a Pakistani women’s expedition to Mount Everest. The project failed due to a lack of support.
Before her K2 expedition, Baig appealed to the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan, a former Pakistani cricket star, to support mountaineering financially to a similar extent as traditional sports. If that were to happen, more Pakistani women would surely be drawn to the mountains, says Samina: “I want to encourage them to try mountaineering. So far, at most women go to the mountains for trekking.”
Her attempt on K2, by the way, is sponsored by a Pakistani mobile phone company. The corporation has set up a new transmission tower at Concordia, about twelve kilometers from K2 Base Camp. Since then, climbers on the eight-thousanders K2, Broad Peak, Gasherbrum I and II have been able to surf the Internet with 4G.