Bouchra Baibanou, a software engineer from Rabat, is working her way toward being the first Moroccan to summit the highest point on each of the world’s continents, known as the “7 Summits”. She hopes to use this project to continue inspiring young Moroccans to rise up and accomplish their goals. To date she has currently summitted: Mt. Kilimanjaro, Mt. Elbrus, Aconcagua, Mt. Blanc, Mt. Kosciuszko, Mt. McKinley (Denali), Puncak Jaya, Mt. Everest. She has her sights set on Mt. Vinson for the end of 2018. Bouchra also runs boot camps for young women and girls in Morocco – helping them build self-confidence and empowerment through the outdoors and trekking. She is a force of nature, changing perceptions in Morocco and bringing about greater gender equality through mountaineering and adventure sports.
Recently, I visited Bouchra in her home in Rabat to continue documenting her journey as part of my Women Rising project. This project documents women using adventure sports, adventure travel, and the outdoors to promote gender equality and change perspectives on what women can accomplish. Bouchra and I discussed her recent successful climb of Mt. Everest, her upcoming climb of Mt. Vinson in Antarctica (which would be her final summit for the 7 Summits project) and what has motivated her to tackle this multi-year project.
Below are a selection of photos from this portrait shoot at Bouchra's home. These moments document the success of her Mt. Everest climb and the beginning of her next journey - embarking on the last leg of this project - climbing Mt. Vinson. Whatever the outcome - Bouchra reminded me that's its the journey which matters most. When I asked her what's her biggest advice for anyone tackling a hard project - she said to simply believe in yourself and your dream.
Below each photo is more details on Bouchra's journey to be the first Moroccan to climb all 7 Summits.
Recently, back from a successful climb of Mt. Everest, Bouchra is preparing to leave to climb Mt. Vinson in Antarctica. This will be the final peak in her 7 Summits project, the climb the tallest peak on each continent. Originally a software engineer, Bouchra fell in love with high altitude expeditions while on a trek of Mt. Kilimanjaro. This began her multi-year 7 Summits project. She didn't set out to be the first Moroccan woman to summit Mt. Everest or the first Moroccan to climb all 7 Summits, but through her personal goal of climbing the tallest peak on each continent she is breaking down barriers and inspiring other women around the world. Each of these climbs has taken years of preparation, training, focus and fundraising. Each climb is not guaranteed. There are so many factors that go into whether a climber makes it to the top.
Among the mountaineering community there is a saying "The Mountain decides if you climb." There are so many factors that go in to reaching the top of one of these expedition, high altitude mountains. You can be as prepared as possible but factors such as weather, conditions, and other climbers on the route and determine if you reach the top are not. Success is really showing up and going on the journey.
A climber's hands can be one of the greatest tools. Important for moving the jumars up fixed ropes, properly securing their harnesses, handling ice axes and ice tools; a climber's hands are a crucial tool in alpinism. During her climb of Mt. Everest, Bouchra suffered frostbite on her fingers with the top of each digit turning black from frostbite. The temperatures on Mt. Everest are so cold that it takes only a few seconds of exposure to bring on frostbite. Even with frostbitten hands, Bouchra was able to keep focus and fortitude and safely descend from the summit all the way to base camp. Skilled doctors and plenty of oxygen therapy where able to save her fingers. One of Bouchra's biggest tools, her hands are in good shape now for tackling Mt. Vinson.
I asked Bouchra what does she attribute as the biggest factor for her success. While climbing Mt. Everest she witnessed many other climbers struggling to navigate this challenging peak. She even witnessed other climbers fail to properly manage their oxygen supplies, run out and perish while climbing. Bouchra said it was all about mindset, staying calm and focused, and believing in your dream. Belief in yourself and your dream are her 2 biggest pieces of advice when tackling any hard project and what she attributes her success to.
With her sights now set on Mt. Vinson in Antarctica, Bouchra said the biggest challenge for this next climb was going to be the cold and wind. Mt. Vinson is notoriously cold and windy and after her previous frostbite climbing Mt. Everest, Bouchra is even more mindful of the importance of protecting her hands. Weather can also be a big factor climbing in Antarctica, but she feels as ready as she can be to tackle her last 7 Summit.
Bouchra examining her jumar gear - an important tool climbers use to ascend fixed ropes up the mountain's precarious slopes.