Bolivia's cholita climbers dream of conquering Everest in skirts

March 8, 2024 5:19 pm

[Source: Reuters]

Julia Quispe Tincuta remembers the first time she reached the peak of Bolivia’s Huayna Potosi mountain.

Where she and other Aymara Indigenous women had long worked cooking or carrying gear for other climbers to reach base camp.

“When I arrived at the summit I felt like I was in the air, like being in heaven,” the 35-year-old said as she again ascended the 19,974-foot (6,088-meter) mountain with a small group, all wearing traditional “cholita” garb with billowing red skirts and carrying their belongings in colorful blankets.

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“From the mountain I saw the lights of the city of La Paz shining like stars. I thought at that moment that I am never going to stop climbing.”

Spurning modern mountaineering gear, the cholitas climb wearing their layered skirts and cardigans – although they do swap their bowler hats for climbing helmets and add crampons to their shoes.

They say they have conquered Argentina’s Aconcagua, the highest peak in the Americas at 22,838 feet, as well as the Ojos del Salado, the world’s highest volcano, on the Chile-Argentina border.

Now they are training – and looking for financial backing – to climb an even higher peak: Everest.

“I want to be the first woman in a skirt to reach the top of Everest, because I want to wave our skirts and the flag of Bolivia,” said Elena Quispe Tincuta, Julia’s sister.

The cholitas say their long experience living at high altitude and carrying heavy weight would help them if they can make it to the Himalayas.

Elena said the group felt an affinity with the Sherpas who guide foreign climbers to Everest.

“I would like to meet the Sherpas and share our stories of the mountains,” she said. “I would like to be there, to meet their animals, the yaks. The Sherpas are almost the same as us.”