Safety and Security had the privlege of Interviewing Naila Kiani to delve into the difficulties of Mountaineering and her life. We hoped to get an idea of how Naila has empowered women across the country and how her resilience helped her make a name for herself.
Safety and Security Today (S&ST): Tell us about your childhood and early education?
Naila Kiani (NK): I had a unique childhood growing up in Rawalpindi. My family adhered to conservative values, which meant that boys and girls weren’t allowed to participate in sports. Despite this limitation, I was always adventurous at heart and longed for opportunities to explore the world beyond books. Unfortunately, there were very few sports activities available in my surroundings during those times. Nevertheless, I channelled my energy into my studies, and as a dedicated nerd, I performed exceptionally well academically.
Amidst my academic pursuits, I nurtured dreams of becoming a ninja, which truly reflected my adventurous nature and yearning for thrill and excitement. It was an intriguing blend of ambitions – excelling in studies while harbouring a longing for daring adventures amidst the vast mountain landscapes that seemed so far away from my reality.
S&ST: What kind of teenager were you? Were you fond of adventurous or risky sports right from childhood?
NK: As a teenager, my life took a significant turn when I turned 17 and moved to the United Kingdom to pursue my studies in aerospace engineering. This transition brought me new opportunities and exposure to a whole different world. In the UK, I felt the freedom to explore my adventure on the other side, something I couldn’t fully do during my childhood in Rawalpindi due to limited sports opportunities.
During my teenage years in the UK, I wholeheartedly embraced the spirit of adventure. I tried out various sports, including boxing, and engaged in thrilling activities that allowed me to experience the rush of adrenaline I had yearned for since childhood. It was a time of self-discovery and personal growth as I delved into different sports, pushing my boundaries, and finding joy in living life to the fullest.
S&ST: What inspired you towards your indulgence in trekking and mountaineering?
NK: My love for mountains and the desire to explore their majestic beauty have been lifelong passions. In 2011, I embarked on a journey to Nepal, where I had the chance to witness the breathtaking grandeur of the mountains firsthand. The experience left an indelible mark on my soul, igniting a burning desire to experience more of these magnificent peaks.
One particular dream stood out – the ambition to see the K2 range, a dream that came to fruition during my wedding photoshoot in 2018. Although unforeseen circumstances prevented my husband from accompanying me, his unwavering support encouraged me to venture forth and realise my dream of witnessing the iconic K2 range up close.
The pivotal moment that fueled my passion for mountaineering was when I joined a group of professional mountaineers to summit an 8000-meter peak in late 2018. This challenging endeavour introduced me to the world of professional mountaineering, and I was determined to learn from the best. To my astonishment and delight, I succeeded in reaching the peak, becoming the first Pakistani female to achieve such a feat on home soil. This achievement not only opened doors of opportunity but also instilled a profound sense of empowerment and purpose.
S&ST: Did you get any formal training for developing climbing skills?
NK: Surprisingly, I did not receive any formal training for developing climbing skills. Instead, I seized the chance to learn from experienced mountaineers, such as the renowned Ali Sadpara, who graciously shared their knowledge and expertise. Throughout my journey, I remained committed to learning and improving my skills, continuously honing my craft.
The lack of formal training didn’t de ter me; instead, it sparked a deep-rooted determination to prove that one’s background or upbringing doesn’t define their capabilities. I embraced the journey of self-discovery, recognizing that every step towards becoming a skilled mountaineer is an opportunity to grow and evolve as an individual.
S&ST: Tell us about your family?
NK: Presently, I am married and blessed with two wonderful children – daughters aged 4 and 2. My family has been an unwavering pillar of support throughout my mountaineering pursuits. My husband, in particular, has been exceptionally encouraging, understanding the significance of my dreams and aspirations.
His unwavering support has allowed me to balance the responsibilities of a mother and a mountaineer. Having a strong support system at home has been crucial in enabling me to pursue my passion for trekking and mountaineering, while also fulfilling my role as a caring and devoted parent. Their belief in me has been a driving force, motivating me to achieve new heights and inspire others to dream big and overcome obstacles in their own lives.
S&ST: It’s apparent that your family is very supportive of you in your passion for climbing. How important has this been for you in your achievements?
NK: My family’s support, particularly that of my husband, has been absolutely crucial in my achievements as a mountaineer. In Pakistan, it’s not common for females to receive such support from their families to pursue adventurous pursuits like climbing. However, I feel incredibly fortunate to have the untiring encouragement and backing of my family, which has played a pivotal role in my success.
My husband, in particular, has been a rock-solid source of support and inspiration. His belief in my abilities and dreams has bolstered my confidence and determination to conquer new heights. Without his understanding and encouragement, it would have been challenging to balance my responsibilities as a mother and a mountaineer. His support has allowed me to fully focus on my passion for climbing and has been a driving force behind my achievements.
S&ST: Can you share any unforgettable incidents related to your climbing lofty mountain peaks?
NK: One unforgettable incident occurred while I was climbing Everest. Normally, there isn’t any rockfall on Everest. But during one expedition, on the way from camp 2 to camp 3, hundreds of rocks came hurdling towards us. In that perilous situation, we had to quickly take evasive actions, jumping around to protect ourselves from the falling rocks.
It was an incredibly risky and nerve-wracking experience, but our skills and quick thinking helped us save our lives. Such incidents serve as potent reminders of the risks and challenges associated with mountaineering, but they also reinforce the importance of preparation and resilience in such extreme environments.
S&ST: What are your future plans in relation to mountain climbing?
NK: In the near term, I have set my sights on summiting the remaining six of the top 14 peaks. Each of these climbs presents its own set of challenges, and I am excited to take them on with the same determination that has brought me this far. Beyond that, my long-term aspiration is to promote adventure sports in Pakistan.
I believe that my journey as the first Pakistani woman to summit seven peaks above 8,000 meters can serve as an inspiration to others, especially young women, to pursue their dreams and overcome societal pressures. I want to be a beacon of hope and might face obstacles and resistance while pursuing their passions. Through my experiences and accomplishments, I hope to instil the belief that with resolute determination and perseverance, nothing is impossible.
S&ST: What is your message to the young women of Pakistan?
NK: My message to the young women of Pakistan is simple – never give up on your dreams. I understand the challenges and pressures that societal norms may impose, but I stand as living proof that it is possible to overcome them. Despite having family responsibilities, I pursued my passion for mountaineering because I had the support and belief of my loved ones.
I want every young girl to know that where there is a will, there is a way. It might not be easy, and obstacles may arise, but with tenacity and dedication, you can achieve your goals. Don’t let society define your limits or dampen your spirit. Dream big, believe in yourself, and work hard to turn those dreams into reality. Embrace your uniqueness, break barriers, and pave the way for more women to follow their passions fearlessly. Remember, nothing is impossible if you set your heart and mind to it.