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Controversy Over "All-Female" Summit of K2—Men Aided Climb


 Sherpa, Dawa Yangzum Sherpa, and Pasang Lhamu Sherpa (left to right) hold the flag of Nepal at the summit of K2.

PHOTOGRAPH BY MAYA SHERPA

On July 26 at 3:35 p.m., after 16 grueling hours of climbing from Camp 4, Pasang Lhamu Sherpa, Dawa Yangzum Sherpa, and Maya Sherpa crested the 28,251-foot (8,611-meter) summit of K2, the second highest mountain in the world.
In doing so, the three Nepali women have laid claim to being the first all-female team to climb what many mountaineers consider a much tougher challenge than Everest."For us, it was our dream come true," Pasang Lhamu, 30, said in a telephone interview from Skardu, Pakistan, where the team arrived on August 2, after four days of hiking and driving from K2's base camp.

The feat was trumpeted in climbing circles as a breakthrough achievement for women in high-altitude mountaineering. Straddling the Chinese-Pakistani border in the heart of the Karakoram Range, 65 miles (105 kilometers) from the nearest village, K2 is regarded as one of the most difficult and dangerous peaks on the planet.

Only 18 of the 376 people who have summited K2 have been women, compared to the 372 women (of 4,034 climbers) who have stood atop Everest. For about every five people who have summited K2, one has died in the process, according to statistics provided by Eberhard Jurgalski, a K2 historian.

However, as details emerge about the Nepali women's climb, uncomfortable questions about the nature of their claim have begun to arise. Three male Sherpas accompanied the women to the summit, and the women climbed as a part of a larger guided group led by the trekking outfitter Seven Summit Treks, which included a male guide, six additional climbers (four of them men), and at least six more male Sherpas, all of whom also summited with the Nepali women.
It raises the question: What counts as an "all-female summit"?
"I don't think their accomplishment is diminished—it's just different," said Hilaree O'Neill, a professional ski mountaineer, who climbed Everest with Dawa Yangzum, 25, in 2012.
Questions about an expedition's true merit are not new to mountaineering. In 1978, Arlene Blum led the first successful American ascent of Annapurna with an all-female team. Her feat came under scrutiny due, in part, to the fact that male porters had supported her team. "Two years earlier in 1976, the American bicentennial Everest expedition ... was supported by 40 Sherpas. Does that diminish the climb being an American one?" Blum asked.

Source : Kelley McMillan For National Geographic

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