Hanifa Yousoufi

Hanifa Yousoufi, 24, has become the first Afghan woman to climb her country’s highest peak with the help of a Norfolk-based nonprofit.

Yousoufi reached the summit of Noshaq (7,500m) on Aug. 10 after nearly a month of climbing. It’s the highest point in Afghanistan and the second-highest peak in the Hindu Kush range.

She was part of a team led by Ascend: Leadership Through Athletics, which supports Afghan women using climbing to teach leadership.

It was started in 2014 by Marina LeGree after five years in Afghanistan doing development work. “She’d heard about two Afghan men who made it to the top of Noshaq in 2009 and thought the country’s women, who are largely barred from outdoor athletic activity in their society, should get a chance,” said Katherine Hafner in an article for pilotonline.com.

Ascend has worked with about 60 women and accepts as many as 20 each year, said LeGree, who lives in Arlington. Yousoufi came to the program a few years ago after escaping her abusive husband.

“Unfortunately it’s a very common situation that Afghan women face,” she said. “She’s a divorcee in a country where that’s totally just taboo. Her life prospects (were) basically over.”

It was a $30,000 expedition fully funded by the nonprofit, half from a single donor.

There were a number of complications the team had to face, including fighting between Taliban forces and the Afghan army

The climbing conditions were colder and icier than expected and two of the climbers turned back early.

“It shines a spotlight on what these girls are capable of,” LeGree said. “It really does defy cultural norms.”

Each January, a new team of twenty 15 to 23 year old Afghan girls begins Ascend’s two-year physical training and leadership development program.

They start with basic rock climbing skills and progress through a series of increasingly challenging climbing trips and backcountry trekking expeditions in the Hindu Kush mountains to maximize development of their technical and leadership capabilities.

High on Noshaq

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