For Wasfia Nazreen, visiting the Canadian Rockies and meeting Pat Morrow meant connecting with one of her biggest heroes.
A Bangladeshi native who's lived in Dharamsala, India (the Dalai Lama's home in exile) Nazreen was introduced through the Canada Tibet Committee's Calgary branch president.
"I've been reading Pat's stuff since I was in university and picked up a book in the library," Nazreen said. "He's like a legend in my world."
Beyond a social call however, Nazreen's recent visit helped her prepare to climb Antarctica's Mount Vinson this month, part of her project to climb the Seven Summits. Morrow, a former Canmore resident now living in Wilmer, B.C., was the first person to complete the seven summits in 1986. Nazreen's Rockies experience included snowshoeing in deep powder and dragging heavy tires across a frozen lake.
The idea for her project, Bangladesh on Seven Summits: Women Reaching New Heights, came to her while snowbound in a remote Nepali village for seven weeks in 2010.
"I decided I wanted to do something for my country," she said. "Whenever I would say I was from Bangladesh, people would say, 'oh, you guys get a lot of floods,' or they'd mention the poverty. While that is true, we've also come a long way."
Raised in an affluent Muslim family (from whom she receives no money) her father refused to finance her university education, preferring to support her brother's ambitions. Undeterred, Nazreen borrowed money from an uncle in London. At 17, she left home, enrolled in a university on a scholarship in Atlanta then transferred to Scotland's University of Edinburgh, before heading back to Atlanta to graduate. She then returned to Asia to work for aid organizations, including CARE Bangladesh, helping sex workers, trafficked women and efforts to stop violence against women.
Motivated to mark her country's 40th anniversary — March 26, 2011 — she launched her Seven Summits project on Europe's highest, Mount Elbrus, but bad weather prevented her from summitting. She climbed Africa's highest, Kilimanjaro, via its least travelled route with a female guide/friend from Alaska, experiencing a thunderstorm and snow on the summit — something the locals hadn't seen in 10 years. A month later she became the first Bengali to climb South America's Aconcagua, summitting on Dec. 16, 2011, the 40th anniversary of Bangladesh's Victory Day.
Having climbed to nearly 7,000 metres, she decided she was ready for Everest. An experienced high-altitude trekker who'd hiked to Base Camp 13 times, she hired a British trainer to improve her cardio. Sharing logistics with another company, her climbing team consisted of two Sherpas, whose language she speaks.
On the mountain for two months, the sound of night-time avalanches became "like a lullaby to fall asleep by." With a sunburned tongue and coughing blood, she descended to Dingboche village to rest for a couple of days, doubting her summit chances.