Mujer Montaña—“Woman Mountain” in Spanish—participated in a recent project of the International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation (UIAA), in which women climbers from Latin America and Europe carried out ascents of peaks in two mountain ranges in the Bolivian Andes. They established mountaineering records, achieving first all-female ascents and opening new routes. They met another goal as well, promoting exchanges between people of different cultures and worldviews. And, in their distinctive way, they built awareness of mountains in the context of climate change—a key goal of the UIAA’s Mountain Protection Award Platform, which supported the project.
This project, supported by a number of government agencies and tourism firms in South America and Europe, brought together the members of Mujer Montaña, a Latin American group founded in 2013, with representatives of the Women’s High Mountain Group of the French Federation of Alpine Mountain Clubs (a UIAA member since 1932). In total, four women from South America and eight from Europe took part in the project.
The group started out in the Quimsa Cruz range on 28 July, staying there through 7 August. Traveling from their base camp at 4,400m, they climbed a new route up Torrini (5800 m). The second stage in the Cordillera Real, from 10 to 19 August, included ascents of Chachacomani (6100m), Janq’o Uyu (5520m) and Jisk’a Pata (5510m). The final stage, in the city of La Paz, involved a meeting on 22 August with students at the Catholic University of Bolivia, discussing issues of mountain protection, climate change and glacier retreat. On the last day, 23 August, they participated in a program with teachers and schoolgirls which linked climbing and self-esteem, and addressed issues of female empowerment. Carolina Adler, the president of the UIAA Mountain Protection Program, took part in the Janq’o Uyu ascent, as well as the last two days in La Paz.
The group is preparing a documentary film about their expedition, and preparing their next climbs, scheduled for November, which will take place in Ecuador. And they are waiting for the selection of the 2016 UIAA Mountain Protection Award winner. That will be announced October 14 in Brixen, Sudtirol, Italy during the 2016 UIAA General Assembly.
GlacierHub interviewed Lixayda Vasquez, one of the participants in the project. Vasquez comes from Cusco, Peru. In addition to Spanish, she also speaks Quechua, a major indigenous language of the Andes.
GH: What do you see as the significance of all-woman climbing expeditions?
LV: I think that what is most important is to stop seeing mountains as a place where only strong men, the ones with “big muscles,” can go. In recent times, many women in my country have wanted to explore new experiences for themselves, experiences which take them outside their comfort zone. They leave this zone, filled with myths and a whole machismo complex. And they discover that when they go outdoors, they enter a wonderful world where they never feel alone, because they are connected with nature.
It’s not necessary to go to the mountain in expeditions that are composed only of women, or only of men. The best way is for men and women to complement each other. We can remember that men and women are parts of the same world. And we can both bring our distinct contributions to make this world better.
GH: As a climber who speaks Quechua, have you ever used Quechua on an expedition?
LV: Quechua once saved my life.
I was with a group of friends from the climbing club in Cusco. We were trying to ascend Chicón, a snow peak in Cusco. It was already dark when we were returning to our camp near a village. A group of people came up towards us. Some of them were very drunk. They thought that we were the thieves, the ones who had stolen their alpacas several days earlier.
They were ready to kill us, burn our bodies and bury us there, where no one would ever find us. That is what they told us. We were terrified. We tried to explain that we were climbers, but none of them had ever heard of that.
We were in that situation until I said the magic word: chicarapuiku [We are completely lost]. As soon as I said that, they all calmed down, and finally they listened to us.
GH: You are from the mountain city of Cusco, and you have seen the snow peak of Ausangate since you were a little child. How have your connections with mountains changed over time?
LV: I had the good fortune to spend a lot of my childhood in the town where my grandparents live, very close to the high Vilcanota Cordillera. When I looked out my window there, every day I would see imposing mountains, and Ausangate was among them. I would spend hours gazing at them and imagining myself up in them. When I was 19, I got to know a group of rock climbers, and we arranged for a mountain guide to teach us about mountain climbing. That changed my life. I’ve never stopped climbing since then. When I was 23, I fulfilled my dream of looking out from the summit of Ausangate and recognizing the towns and valleys of my childhood. Now, a more mature person, I plan to live connected to the countryside and to the mountains. I will ascend what the mountain lets me ascend.
Lixayda Vasquez will participate next month in an expedition of Mujer Montaña in Ecuador, where she will pass through other Quechua communities and ascend other Andean peaks. You can follow her on Facebook.