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Nepalese women climbers aim to break highest glass ceiling

Shailee Basnet, the 29-year-old team leader, checks out some climbing gear at a store in Katmandu, Nepal.

Niranjan Shrestha/aP

Shailee Basnet, the 29-year-old team leader, checks out some climbing gear at a store in Katmandu, Nepal.

KATMANDU, Nepal — It’s the world’s highest glass ceiling. Of the 3,755 climbers who have scaled Mount Everest, more than half are Nepalese but only 21 of those locals are women. Aiming to change the all-male image of mountaineering in this country, a group of Nepalese women has embarked on a mission to shatter that barrier by climbing the tallest mountain on each of the seven continents.

The women, ages between 21 and 32, have climbed Everest in Asia, Kosciuszko in Australia, and Elbrus in Europe. They are preparing to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa to mark International Women’s Day this week.

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‘‘The main goal of our mission is to encourage women in education, empowerment and environment,’’ Shailee Basnet, the 29-year-old team leader, said before leaving for Africa.

Women in this Himalayan nation rarely got the chance to climb because they were confined to their homes while their husbands led expeditions or carried equipment for Western climbers, Basnet said.

It was only in 1993 that a Nepalese woman — Pasang Lhamu — first reached the 29,000-foot summit of Everest. She died on the way down.

According to Ang Tshering of the Nepal Mountaineering Association, Nepalese women had traditionally expressed little attraction to mountaineering. ‘‘It is only recently that women have shown interest,’’ Tshering said.

Since they climbed Everest in 2008, the women have spoken in more than 100 schools across Nepal to tell students about their mission.

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