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Local Hero: Nasim Eshqi

[This story originally appeared in Alpinist 85, which is now available on some newsstands and in our online store. Only a small fraction of our many long-form stories from the print edition are ever uploaded to Be sure to pick up Alpinist 85 for all the goodness!–Ed.]

Nasim Eshqi stops for a photo during a trip to Turkey’s Aladaglar Mountains. [Photo] Moritz Attenberger

On September 9, 2022, Nasim Eshqi tested the moves of Digital Crack (5.13b), which slices the large gendarme above the Arête des Cosmiques, high above Chamonix at 3800 meters. As always, she was colorfully dressed: light blue trousers, blue jumper, bright yellow chalk bag, a red helmet. A bright splash of color on the grey-brown granite. At the time, Eshqi thought of herself simply as a professional climber, no more, no less.

She trained in Bisotun and Baraghan, some of the most famous Iranian climbing areas. She traveled to the Alps, Oman, Armenia, India, Georgia, Turkey and China. She was driven by an irrepressible lust for life, a never-ending energy, techno music, books and “the power of pink.” Eshqi’s painted fingernails became her trademark. Her life had been mostly cheerful, says the Iranian in one of the many phone calls we shared in the year since she left her home country.

In the week after the photo of Digital Crack appeared in her Instagram feed, Eshqi posted a black tile, a sign of mourning: twenty-two-year-old Mahsa Amini had died in Tehran’s Kasra Hospital from the injuries inflicted on her by the Gasht-e Ershad, the “morality police.” They had arrested her for not wearing her hijab correctly. Amini’s death triggered a wave of protest under the slogan “Woman, Life, Freedom” that continues to ebb and flow to this day, and it turned Nasim Eshqi into a human rights advocate.

By then, Eshqi had already experienced the arbitrariness of the Iranian regime firsthand. When she was still a student jogging through the streets of Tehran in 2005, she was stopped by the morality police, locked in a minibus, taken to the Vozara detention center, and then interrogated, insulted and shouted at for three days. “I didn’t dare leave the house for a long time after that. That’s exactly what the regime wants. I became depressed and cried for days. They rob you of your dignity. They break you. And you have to put the pieces back together again.” It is a testament to her inner strength that Eshqi continued on her path. “Iran,” she tells me in English, “made me the woman I am.”

Born in 1982 during Nowruz, Eshqi grew up in the Islamic Republic of Iran, a state she describes as a hybrid of theocracy and republic, a religious dictatorship disguised with pseudo-democratic elements. One of the cornerstones of the regime is the control of women. Since the 1980s, they have had to wear a hijab in public—the compulsory veil is an omnipresent sign of their oppression.

Nasim is Farsi for “breeze.” This woman is indeed a whirlwind. She discovered climbing in 2005. Overnight she gave up all other sports because she found the freedom she had always longed for in the mountains of Iran. She has opened up around 100 sport climbing and multipitch routes since then. “Climbing taught me,” Eshqi tells me, “that I don’t always have to fight. I realized that there are several paths in life. If one is blocked, you take another.”

It is still uncommon for women to climb in Iran today. But Eshqi didn’t care what was said behind her back. As soon as she got to the rocks, she took off her headscarf and climbed in shorts and a top. “I had learned that no matter what I did, I would be called a ‘whore,’” she says.

After the violent death of Mahsa Amini, which she learned about in the French Alps, Eshqi and her partner, Sina Heidari, did not return to Iran. They found a new home in Italy. “Only once I left Iran,” says the forty-one-year-old, “could I give Iranian women a voice.” To do this, she works social media, lectures and gives interviews. She presented the film Climbing Iran at the Cannes Film Festival, and her portrait has appeared in glamour magazines such as Vogue and Madame.

Together with local developers, Eshqi is opening routes whose names are intended to indicate that climbing is about far more than difficulty levels. On Le Minaret (3450m), a granite tower above the Argentière Glacier, she opened the multipitch route Rise Up for Human Rights (5.11b) with the legendary Michel Piola and Heidari in September 2023—one year after the death of Mahsa Amini. “The mountains,” says Eshqi, “give me the strength to fight against tyranny and for freedom.”

Author Tom Dauer in his office. Dauer is a journalist and climber who lives in the foothills of the Bavarian Alps, Germany. [Photo] Moritz Attenberger