Bouchra Baibanou is now Morocco’s first female mountaineer, and with her sights set on the world’s seven highest peaks, she says her vision is for a more active and ambitious Morocco. In May this year, she took on Mount Everest and succeeded. Here’s her story.
Kilimanjaro and beyond
Baibanou’s love for summits began when she and her husband climbed Mount Kilimanjaro a few years ago. Since then, she has summited Mount Everest, Mount Elbrus, Mount Aconcagua, Mont Blanc, Mount Kosciuszko, and Mount McKinley in Denali.Baibanou is now a fixture at Moroccan schools where she talks about the challenges and exhilaration of mountaineering. Her biggest thrill is sharing her experience with young people to encourage them to follow their passion, even if it seems impossible.
“People accept women doing adventure sports. It’s not like before. Women can do everything now. I feel lucky to be a Moroccan woman,” she tells the Outdoor Women’s Alliance.
“The most important thing is to live your dream. Money is just a means to accomplish this. I am not rich, but I have a dream and I will do anything to complete it.”
But financing is the biggest obstacle she currently faces. Baibanou saves up for each of her climbs, but it has taken her years to fund her passion herself. “At first, I thought, “Climbing the seven summits is a big dream; I can’t do it. It costs a lot of money.”
Last year, she turned to crowdfunding to raise funding and awareness to summit Mount Everest, a challenge that has been a lifelong dream for the mountaineer.
A rigorous training process
To train for pulling a sled on Denali, Baibanou pulled car tires on the beach in Rabat. She also practices by climbing the tallest mountain in North Africa, Jebel Toubkal many times a year. She also keeps fit by strength training and rock climbing.
Denali is covered by glaciers, which posed a unique set of challenges for Baibanou, who is used to scaling mountains in desert terrain. To get around this, she trained in the snowcapped mountains around Seattle.
Climbing Denali wasn’t easy for Baibanou, but she was mentally prepared. “I knew it would be difficult and a challenge. [There was] a lot of snow and a lot of wind. But once I started climbing, I knew I could do it,” she says. Once she summited, it took 14 hours to come down from camp 3 to base camp, but as she climbed, so did her confidence, which helped her get through it.
A role model for Morocco’s women adventurers
According to Baibanou, more women in Morocco are eager to get out there and do something different. ” Morocco is changing. Women don’t want to stay just at home or only travel to hotels,” she says.
“Many young women want to do things outside and participate in adventure sports. Many Moroccans, both women and men, are becoming adventurers and professional athletes.”
A huge source of inspiration for her is having unconditional support from her family, which she hopes will translate to other families in Morocco who will openly embrace their daughters and wives following their dreams. “My family worries when I climb — I can’t call them and they don’t know what is going on, so they worry,” she adds. “The guiding services are good at sending updates to families. Even with the dangers, my family has always been very supportive of my dream.”
“I want to ski the North and South Pole. It’s the biggest challenge; in the entire world, (only a) few women (have done) it, and I would be the first Arab woman.”
In the future, Baibanou wants to coach people who want to climb the seven summits or any other outdoor adventures.
Baibanou says the most important thing is self-belief, even in the face of obstacles and naysayers. She started out with what she considers a smaller, easier mountain to climb, Mount Kilimanjaro. This helped her build confidence in herself to take on bigger challenges.
Follow her journey on Facebook.