Ridgway Mountaineer Led Team Of Afghan Women On Historic Climb

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<p>(Courtesy&nbsp;Faisal Naziry)</p>
<p>The team, including 13 Afghan first-time female climbers, head out for an acclimatization hike and easy peak climb on their first full day at basecamp.  Mir Samir looms in the distance. </p>

This interview was originally broadcast on January 5th, 2016.

Thirteen Afghan women and teenagers were undaunted in their effort to make history over the summer. The women, aged 16 to 22, were the first people to summit a nearly 17,000-foot peak in the Panjshir Valley, and they named it "The Lion Daughters of Mir Samir."

A U.S. nonprofit called ASCEND - Leadership Through Athletics organized the expedition and climber Danika Gilbert of Ridgway led the team.

Gilbert said the climbers were successful despite having no experience, the threat of possible retribution from the Taliban, and having to overcome the suspicions of their parents in a religiously conservative region. It was a bittersweet triumph though; after one Taliban threat, the group abandoned plans to climb the country’s highest peak -- Mt. Noshaq.

Related: For Young Afghan Women, Scaling Peaks Brings Highs And Lows

“The girls were quite disappointed,” Gilbert told Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner.

The crew instead shifted to the lower peak, which still posed a big challenge. Many of the young women couldn’t go out to train without a male escort. Others lived in Kabul where opportunities were slim. And training largely consisted of weekly hikes and rock climbing sessions.

“That was really the only chance they had to prepare,” Gilbert said.

Some of the team had to work hard to gain the support of their fathers -- a requirement before being allowed on the trip. One dad, she said, didn’t want his daughters to go because the trip was a “waste of time.”

But he eventually came around.

“By the end of the expedition, when his daughters came back, there was a significant shift in him,” she said. “[There was] real pride in seeing what they had done. And for me, it was a real moving experience to see that shift in this man.”

Gilbert said families risked Taliban retribution by sending their daughters on the expedition. One family even received a threat.

“They are really tired of the constraints and the lack of freedoms,” Gilbert said. “They are willing, if their daughters want to do it, to support them.”

This season, Gilbert hopes to summit Mt. Noshaq with a team of her best climbers. But she’s vague on details.

“The more people that know, the greater chance that there’s somebody who’s going to be upset and plan some kind of attack,” she said.

In any case, last year’s triumph in the Panjshir Valley appears has presented another problem -- albeit a good one.

“More girls would love to join,” Gilbert said. “But we just don’t have the capacity to handle that at this point.”

CPR's Nathaniel Minor contributed to this report.