I don’t know how I found the video, but it imprinted deeply — I’ve been seeing the images for weeks and thinking about those women, their lives, their determination. I want to share the video and tell you about the Cholita Climbers now because I’m seeing a lot of what’s become known as “learned helplessness” — the feeling that America has taken a tragic turn, that worse lies ahead, and that there’s not much any of us can do about it. I think I understand how that happened, I think I know who made it happen and who profits from it. What I don’t know is how to banish despair. But I suspect it has something to do with what propels these magical women. Maybe you’ll find something in their story that inspires you.

This is the video that haunts me…

MONTAÑAS from yumna on Vimeo

Who are these women? They’re Aymaras, descendants of people who have inhabited the Andes for a thousand years. They wear distinctive clothes. They speak their own language. Most are wives of the guides who lead climbers to the summits of the mountains of Bolivia. The women work as porters and cooks.

In 2014, something like feminism grabbed them. They had no climbing experience, but eleven of them — the youngest was 23, the oldest 52 — set out to climb Huayna Potosí, a peak in Bolivia that tops out at 19,974 feet. They wore their traditional wide, puffy skirts and plaited hair. Their one concession: helmets instead of high bowler hats. All eleven summitted.

In 2019, five Cholitas — Lidia Huayllas, Dora Magueño, Analía Gonzáles, Elena Quispe and Cecilia Llusco — climbed Aconcagua (22,841 feet), the tallest peak in South America. They’re now thinking about Everest.