Scaling Kilimanjaro: The journey of the seven women defying stereotypes

Recollecting one of the most difficult parts— crossing the Barranco Wall, 'Pahadi Girls' say the experience stripped away any lingering fears.

BySouth First Desk

Published Mar 08, 2024 | 6:00 PMUpdatedMar 08, 2024 | 6:00 PM

Pahadi Girls on top of Kilimanjaro

Just ahead of International Women’s Day, a group of seven women called “Pahadi Girls” on Tuesday, 5 March, scaled the Kilimanjaro Peak, the fourth-tallest mountain in the world, and one of the Seven Summits — the seven tallest mountains in each continent.

The seven women are well into their 40s, some nearing 50, with lucrative careers: While one is a doctor, another is a software engineer.

Among the seven, Geetha Ramaswamy, Savita Pandhre, Suma Biju, Vijayabharathi Bhat, Subhashini Sreekumar, and Shraddha Rananaware are from Mumbai, while Reema Gupta is from Hyderabad.

The seven women met about two years ago, in 2022, during one of their expeditions. Their common love for life and adventurous spirit brought them together to form “Pahadi Girls”.

Defying the stereotypes of age and gender, they have already conquered the Everest Base Camp (EBC) and the Kanchenjunga Base Camp (KBC).

The Pahadi Girls speak of their journey, their latest expedition, and why they chose a life in the difficult terrains of the mountains away from the hustle and bustle of cities.

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‘Pole Pole’— one step at a time

“Pole, Pole”, which translates to “slowly, slowly”, or “One step at a time” was the mantra of these women throughout the seven days of their expedition.

That was the phrase used by their guides throughout the trek to scale Africa’s highest mountain Kilimanjaro, reminding them to maintain the pace and not to stop.

They began their adventure on 28 February, from Londorossi Gate and moved through various camps like Shira 1 and 2, Barranco, Karanga, and Barafu, then reached Uhuru Peak on 5 March, and finally descended to Mweka Camp.

On the way to the peak of Kilimanjaro

On the way to the peak of Kilimanjaro. (Supplied)

Speaking of how their day starts, the women recollected, “Our trek day starts early in the morning, waking up in the coldest weather, preparing our minds to be stronger for the day’s activity.”

They added: “This preparation includes getting ready with our special dressing of three layers of clothes, back-packing the day’s hydration, and so on.”

Emphasising that mountain climbing is never easy, they add that the whole experience tested their mental, physical, and emotional endurance, “Every day brings a new, different experience.”

It took eight and a half hours of non-stop trekking on the last day to finally reach Stella Point at 7:00 am on the morning of 5 March. Another hour and a half to reach the Uhuru peak at 8:30 am.

Recalling the feeling of standing on top of Kilimanjaro, the women say, “All the pain and exhaustion was forgotten as we took in the breathtaking view from the mountain top, at a minus ten-degree Celsius temperature.”

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Highs and lows

The seven women along the trek

Geetha Ramaswamy (standing), (Right to left)Savita Pandhre, Reema Gupta, Suma Biju, Vijayabharathi Bhat, Subhashini Sreekumar, Shraddha Rananaware. (Supplied)

Recollecting one of the most difficult parts — crossing the Barranco Wall, “Pahadi Girls” say the experience stripped away any lingering fears.

Narrating the trek, they share, “We put our trek poles on our backpacks and crawled, lifting ourselves to climb through the steep rocks for almost two hours, passing through the ‘kissing wall.'”

Speaking of the highs, they speak about the night of their summit. “It was freezing, dark, and rocky. Due to the altitude, we were asked to walk very slowly, a pace that was essential yet challenging.”

Dispelling the misconception that the descent is easier than the climb up, the women add, “When we are climbing up, we have the energy and excitement to bank on, but once we reach the summit, it is scary to think of the trek to base.”

“Luckily we had seven guides—each one for each of us, who helped us come down. At one point, we were literally skiing through the sand,” they add.

Appreciating the presence of the guides, who motivated them from the start, the climbers say, “Their mountain songs, dance moves, and motivating words kept us going.”

‘Many mountains to conquer’

The trek was meticulously planned to ensure better acclimatization and provide them the best chance to reach the summit.

“Each day brought its unique challenges and experiences, from navigating the Shira Plateau to scaling the Barranco Wall, and ultimately reaching the summit,” they add.

The women, who are yet to return from Kilimanjaro, have big plans ahead, they say, “There are many mountains to conquer, and greater heights to scale.”

Pahadi Girls sign off by reiterating their belief,  “You climb mountains with your feet but move them with your soul,” which helped them reach the summit.

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