DUBAI: When British mountaineer George Mallory was asked why he wanted climb Mount Everest, the tallest summit in the world, his answer was simple: “Because it’s there”.

It seems as if Dubai-based Pakistani mountaineer, Naila Kiani, follows the same belief as she scales peak after peak, setting records while she conquers each summit.

Making a sharp pivot from a successful banker to a professional mountaineer, Naila has set herself literally a tall order of summiting all the 14 of the ‘eight-thousanders’; that is, mountains that are 8,000 metres (26,247 ft) in height above sea level.

Out of those, so far, the ex-banker has summited 10 peaks already, the first Pakistani to have achieved this feat. What makes it all the more incredible is that she has scaled the 10 mountains in just two-and-a-half years. In 2023 alone, Naila scaled seven of the 14 highest mountains in the world.

Pakistani mountaineer Naila Kiani summits Broad Peak

It was during her maternity leave in 2021 that Naila made her – what she thought was – a one-off expedition to Gasherbrum II (G2). Little did she know that this trip would quickly turn into an odyssey of love, passion, and grit that will eventually help her scale many snow-capped peaks.

“I had no plans of actually reaching the top when I first started the trek; my goal was to cross just about 7,000 metres,” Naila recalls of her first summit of G2. “But I eventually left my job when I went for the K2 summit because by then I had turned into a professional mountaineer which required more commitment.”

Living on the edge became a lifestyle for the Dubai resident as she fought her way across treacherous snowy terrains, dodging deep and dangerous crevices, facing icy winds, sometimes at 70kms an hour, and even being stranded at approximately 7000 metres at Annapurna mountain, regarded as one of the deadliest mountains in the world.

Naila Kiani becomes second Pakistani woman to scale Mount Everest

Needless to say, these treks have had their ups and downs, both literally and figuratively.

One such mammoth challenge that mountaineers in Pakistan face is the lack of financial support, and since scaling mountains is an extremely expensive sport, many dreams lie buried at the foothills of the Himalayas. Naila was still fortunate that although she had to fund her first trip to Gasherbrum II, she was able find sponsors for her other treks, something few other Pakistani mountaineers can confidently claim.

“For me the challenges begin the minute I step out of the house, because I have to leave my kids alone, and once we begin our climb, my focus is torn between surviving on the mountain and the family I’ve left behind.“Being a woman, Naila feels this factor is all the important, since when she goes on these dangerous expeditions, she leaves behind two young girls and needs ironclad confidence that they will be taken care of in her absence. For this, she gives full marks to her husband, “who’s a great father”, and without him she couldn’t have achieved what she has.

“Then of course, there are expected issues of sub-zero temperatures and low oxygen levels.

“But I feel one the biggest challenges when on the mountain is when we learn of a death of a fellow climber. We’ve seen bodies of people who had passed away just few minutes ago, and even people falling off cliffs and getting snowed under avalanches. I’ve even buried one body of a mountaineer with my co-climber. The body was buried in a glacier but had surfaced when the glacier melted.”

Naila Kiani becomes first Pak woman to summit 3 peaks

Memories of Annapurna summit, where she went without food for 24 hours and had to be evacuated, have left a deep mark on Naila.

“We were descending from the summit when we heard that one of our teammates had fallen in a crevice. When we finally arrived at Camp 4, we found that there was no food available, the route had been blocked by avalanches and the rope used to climb down was cut. Eventually, given the dangerous situation, all the mountaineers there were evacuated.”

But then, there are the happy moments too, not least the reward of standing proudly at the top of a peak, over 8,000 meters, holding the Pakistani flag high. For Naila though, the mountains, particularly K2 basecamp holds a few precious, personal memories as well. For this is where she had her wedding shoot.

“When we got married, my husband and I decided that instead of a huge event, we will do a wedding shoot at K2 basecamp. Unfortunately, due to a family emergency, my husband had to turn back from Skardu, but I went ahead, and did the shoot anyway. There was a small celebration at the basecamp with the people who were there. But the actual images of the shoot surfaced much later and went viral.”

Top climbers Naila, Shehroze summit Annapurna-I

Living in Dubai for the past decade or so has also given Naila the much-needed boost and motivation to follow her passion. Home to hundreds of nationalities, the UAE has developed an impressive community infrastructure that provides people with diverse platforms to follow their pursuits and interests.

“I love living in Dubai, not just because it’s safe and secure, but also because it gives the residents ample opportunities to hone our skills and talents across various interests. In sports, for instance, we have clubs and communities for boxing and rock climbing where we meet like-minded people as well as experienced mentors from whom we can learn the ropes,” added Naila.

As she gears for her next adventure, which is to summit Shishapangma in Tibet, China, Naila continues to train while juggling a number of new business ventures. This will be her second attempt to scale the mountain; in October last year, she, along with fellow mountaineer Sirbaz Khan, had to turn back with the summit in sight after surviving an avalanche.

What’s next on the agenda after Shishapangma? To scale the three other eight-thousanders, Kangchenjunga, Dhaulagiri and Makalu mountains. For Naila, as the lyrics of a song go, ‘ain’t no mountain high enough’.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2024


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gomat Mar 08, 2024 10:05am
So this is confirmed, Pakistanis can only be successful outside of Pakistan only. 3rd last para of the above article states that.
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