28th June 2019

Alpine Inspiration for Afghan Outdoor Leaders

Written by Jack Nicholl


Every year, a group of enthusiastic young mountaineers descend on Chamonix to take part in a Jonathan Conville Memorial Trust (JCMT) Alpine Mountaineering course. These aspiring alpinists are the beneficiaries of a scheme run by Plas y Brenin instructional staff, and heavily subsidised by JCMT.

The Trust’s goal is to assist young people in training for and pursuing their love of the outdoors in the spirit of adventure. Students are typically from the British Isles, however, this year’s intake has seen three very special women from Afghanistan make the journey to the Alps.

Shegufa, Mariam and Hanifa are three passionate outdoor leaders who have been supported by Ascend Athletics, a US-based not-for-profit organisation dedicated to empowering young women in Afghanistan through mountaineering-based leadership training.

Every year, the charity recruits a new cohort of women aged 15-24 on a two-year, 6-day-a-week training programme that develops their physical fitness, rock climbing, campcraft and mountaineering skills, and involves them in civil engagement projects such as outdoor education clubs. Not only do these women become role models for their community, they also become ambassadors for the outdoors and help widen the positive impact of outdoor education across Afghanistan.

Marina LeGree, Founder and Director of Ascend Athletics, said “I’m thrilled with the week and really grateful for the opportunity to open this new aspect of our program. It was a fantastic learning experience for the girls and helps us improve our alpine training. We felt support from many quarters, which made this all possible.”

“The wonderful people at the Jonathan Conville Memorial Trust have been so generous and are the ones who started this all. Their support caused a snowball effect, and we were able to find further support to pull all the pieces together from GIZ (travel costs), the French embassy in Kabul (issuing the girls’ visas), the campground in Argentiere, Le Chosalets (donating the campsite), and the goodwill and personal generosity of several Ascend volunteers, who came to Chamonix and supported in myriad ways.”

“A highlight for the girls was certainly flying the Afghan flag at the summit of Tete Blanche. For the development of our team members as both mountaineers and confident young leaders, this course was fantastic. We hope to do it again.”

Photo credits: Jeff Witt and Virginia Moore

Applications for funding from JCMT will open in October 2019 for the Scottish Winter Mountaineering course in early 2020, and December 2019 for the 2020 Alpine Mountaineering course. To stay up to date, sign up to our newsletter, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

To find out more about the work Ascend Athletics are doing in Afghanistan, please visit their website.