First Muslim women conquer Mount Everest

Two Iranian women were among 46 climbers who reached the world's highest summit Monday.

By , Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

Two Iranians are the first Muslim women to conquer Mount Everest after a 10-week expedition that was beset by bad weather and an avalanche that injured other team members.

Farkhondeh Sadegh, a graphic designer, and Laleh Keshavarz, a dentist, hoisted their country's tricolor flag on the 29,035-foot summit, together with six Iranian men, on Monday morning.

"It's fantastic," Mohammad Hajabolfath, the editor of the website Iran Mountain Zone (www.mountainzone.ir), told the Monitor by telephone from Tehran. "It is a very big thing for women in Iran. Because of appalling weather conditions, most climbers here expected to hear the Iranian team would be returning unsuccessfully."

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The window of opportunity for a final push on the summit had become ever narrower in recent days with the approach of the monsoon season.

Thirty-eight other climbers, including American Christine Joyce Feld Boskoff, made it to the top as teams took advantage of a rare break in the weather.

Mona Mulepati, leading a three- member team, became the first non-Sherpa woman from Nepal to reach the top of the world. Ms. Mulepati is Newar, Kathmandu's main ethnic community.

Ms. Sadegh is one of Iran's most experienced women climbers. She took up the sport while in college a decade ago and first saw Everest when she scaled nearby Mount Pumori, a 23,494-foot mountain, in 2001. Ms. Keshavarz, from the eastern town of Zahedan, had also climbed in the Himalayas before.

They were among a 21-member Iranian team, including seven women, who arrived in Nepal in mid-March. A huge avalanche earlier this month caused havoc for the team, which had been forced lower down the mountain by snowstorms. Two male climbers were injured.

Before leaving for Kathmandu, Sadegh told the Monitor (Jan. 25, "Iranian women, scaling new heights, eye Everest") that when she was on Mt. Pumori, she vowed to return and conquer Everest. The women sought mountaineering's ultimate challenge not just for themselves and their country, but for Muslim women everywhere, they said. "Fewer than 100 women in the world have climbed Everest. It would show the world the potential of Muslim women as sportswomen," Leila Bahrami, another expedition member, told The Monitor.

It has been 30 years since Junko Tabai of Japan became the first woman to scale Everest. A men's team from Iran first scaled Everest in 1998.

The sport, long popular with Iranian men, has gained enthusiasts among Iranian women, along with golf, skiing, taekwondo, and paragliding - activities in which the need to keep the body well-covered is not a serious hindrance to performance.

Their success on Everest will raise the profile of women's sports in Iran, which have surged in recent years. Earlier this year, Iran hosted the All Women Games for Muslim and Asian Capitals, in which some 600 women from 17 countries competed in events ranging from marksmanship to swimming.

Women's sports in Iran have been championed by Faezeh Hashemi, vice president of Iran's National Olympic Committee and a daughter of Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the front-runner in next month's presidential elections. She initiated the Muslim Women's Games, held every four years, in 1993. Men may not attend the games, either as judges or spectators, so the athletes are free to compete in normal sporting garb.

Iran sent only one woman to the Athens Olympics: a teenage markswoman in the 10-meter air-pistol event.

She excelled at gymnastics, but the dress code prevented her from competing internationally.

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