Spring in Afghanistan brings with it explosions, gunfire, and bombings. The beauty of the mountains is often obscured by the never-ending turmoil of religious and political conflict in a region where many families struggle to provide the basic necessities of life. Spring also brings with it hope that doesn’t care about international boundaries. This year, in the war torn mountains of Afghanistan, spring also brings with it a team of 12 Afghan women who are bucking the political and religious constraints they have chaffed under all of their lives to summit Mount Noshaq, the country’s highest mountain. In a country where women are segregated by gender, religion, class, and politics, only two Afghans, both men, have ever made it to the 24,580-foot summit. The women are seeking to prove, in a rigid, patriarchal society, that women can climb mountains if they are given the chance. There are no gender or class limitations to success.
Women have typically been viewed as the weaker, more delicate gender. While most first world countries have begun to accept women as capable and self-sufficient, other countries still view women as needing sheltered and protected lives. The Afghan climbing team is choosing to go against this tradition. They are proving to the world that women are more than capable of climbing mountains.
For most of us, we do not need a physical mountain in our backyard to climb. We are fully capable of creating our own mountains with the choices we make. Issues that start out small, such as a sideways comment about our outfit can go from inconsequential to monumental when we over analyze the conversation and try to find fault in ourselves. Sometimes, my inner critic will say to me “Well, they must think I have gained weight because they told me that my skirt didn’t suit me.” Or that same critic might even suggest that I am a failure as a cook because my dish was barely touched at the covered dish supper. On really bad days, ending a casual relationship can add a new cliff to the mountain range in my mind.
The most important thing to remember is that we face metaphorical mountains everyday. Some are big. Some are small. Some are even covered with ice and prone to avalanche. There is always a summit to reach and another peak just past the ridgeline. Maybe your mountain is breaking the cycle of substance abuse. Maybe it is leaving a codependent relationship. Perhaps your mountain range rose out of the abyss of depression and reaching the peak can only be accomplished by creating an emotional support team. Whatever your personal goals are, reaching the summit will require a strategy for success.
The most basic lesson to climbing a mountain is simple; take one step at a time. Any major accomplishment can be broken down in to a series of steps. If your summit is too intimidating, break it down into smaller steps, focus on each individual step, and eventually, you will reach the top. Each step you take puts you closer to the peak. Even Mount Everest can be conquered, one step at a time.
Next, remember to pack light. Very few mountain climbers reach the summit if they over burden themselves with extra possessions. Each unnecessary piece of gear they pack complicates the climb and detracts from the experience. The lighter you pack, the better. Life is way too short to be burdened with excessive possessions, emotional baggage or regrets. Positive thoughts, experiences, and relationships take up no space and are weightless. Anything else is extra weight and should be shed at the first opportunity.
Have a support system. When climbing, a partner is a must. A partner provides support, motivation, camaraderie, and safety. It would be asinine to attempt to climb a mountain by yourself so find someone to share the journey with. Remember, life is more meaningful if it is shared with others. Relationships magnify experiences and help you do things that prove impossible on your own. Never leave base camp without your support team.
Finally, listen to the experts and take your time. There are always guides who know how to properly face the hazards of the mountain. There could be a storm brewing over the horizon that would make reaching the summit in one day impossible. It would be foolish to ignore the guidance of experts. Choose your experts wisely and keep them close by on your climb.
Remember, if it is possible to make mountains out of molehills, it is just as possible to reduce those mountains back down in size. Enjoy the journey and savor the view. An intimidating mountain is nothing more than a challenge and a challenge is simply an opportunity in disguise. As Sir Edmund Hillary once said, “It is not the mountains we conquer but ourselves.”