Do you ever think it’s too late to take up a new activity, like mountaineering? Perhaps you’ll get criticism just from believing you can. Particularly if you’re a middle-aged woman working as a cook at the bottom of Bolivia’s highest peaks…
A few years ago, 11 indigenous Bolivian women known as ‘Cholitas’ were working as porters and cooks for mountaineers at base camps on the steep, glacial slopes of Huayna Potosi, an Andean peak outside La Paz in Bolivia. Their husbands were the guides. So far, so gender-imbalanced.
But when the women asked themselves what was stopping them from scaling the very peaks on which they worked, so began the life-changing story of their mountaineering dreams.
Traditional Cholita attire of colourful shawls, full skirts, and ornate earrings is complemented by climbing boots and crampons, helmets and ice axes. It’s a peculiar look for mountaineering, but perhaps only when viewed through a narrow historical lens of what ‘should’ be acceptable.
“There’s always someone who’ll criticise us. They still do. But we show them with actions, not words”, said Lydia Huayllas, who leads the group.
“The first experience was the Huayna Potosi. I cried with emotion. And I’m strong, I’m going to continue and get to the top of eight mountains,” said Dora Magueno, 50.
Last week – on 17th January – a group of 5 began the journey to realise their ultimate dream – to plant a Bolivian flag on the summit of Aconcagua, the highest mountain outside of Asia at 22,841ft (6,961 meters), located in the Argentinian Andes near the border with Chile. According to this Argentinian report, all being well, they should summit today!
United by their love of mountains and a sense of defiance, the Cholita Climbers push ever harder to feel the freedom that comes from scaling great heights.
Watch the original video from Great Big Story
Read more from Womenclimb:
Pole vaulter to climber to explorer – Stephanie Langridge
Too old to climb? Think again! – Jan Coleyshaw