Mountain guide Danika Gilbert helped Afghan girls learn to climb. Now she’s helping them navigate life as refugees.

Ridgway’s Danika Gilbert is mentoring women climbers from Afghanistan as they explore new lives far from Taliban rule.

Stephanie Maltarich
The Colorado Sun

RIDGWAY — Danika Gilbert traveled to Afghanistan for the first time in 2015. The Ridgway mountain guide had one goal: to teach young women from Kabul how to rock climb and mountaineer in remote mountain regions with the organization Ascend Through Athletics

Over the span of four years, she led dozens of adolescent girls on mountain expeditions. She also taught them much more than mountain skills — she helped them become leaders in their conservative culture.

Last summer, Gilbert found herself helping dozens of young women she had met over the years in a new way as they navigated to safety following the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. 

“If you told me in 2015, that this would be what I was going through with the girls right now, I’d never believe you,” Gilbert said. “I really had hope early on that things were getting better — and so did most of the girls.”

It all started when Gilbert was on a flight to Germany last August. After pandemic restrictions loosened, she planned a vacation to visit three young women she instructed in Afghanistan. All three had relocated to Europe a few years earlier as tensions escalated in their home country. 


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