How women mountaineers rose to the top

Mahua Biswas on Mt Tenchenkhang peak. Mountaineering proves costlier for women because they are a minority and so can’t share resources.

On March 16, Piyali Basak, a 32-year-old mountaineer based in Chandannagar, West Bengal, set out to conquer two peaks higher than 8,000 metres in the Himalayas.

The first peak, Mt Annapurna (8,091m), the world’s 10th highest peak in north-central Nepal, is considered among the toughest to climb. The second one, Mt Makalu (8,485m), on the Nepal-China border is notorious for its knife-edged ridges.

Notwithstanding the challenges of elements and the tough terrain, Piyali, following in the footsteps of her previous successful summits of Mt Everest (8,848 m; the highest), Mt Lhotse (8,516 m) and Mt Manaslu (8,163 m), is confident of conquering the two peaks. She won’t use supplemental oxygen that most mountaineers need in the thin air of the upper Himalayas. She once said, “I can survive fine without oxygen just like Sherpas who have grown up in the thin air environment.”

For the gutsy mountaineer the stiffest challenge, however, is an acute financial crunch. As a primary school teacher near her home, she earns just enough to feed her family, including an ailing father. Truly speaking, mountaineering is a sport beyond her means. Above all, she is a woman – a minority in the male-dominated adventure sport fraught with the risk of death and permanent disability.

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