The mountain of the spirit

by | Oct 8, 2019 | Alumni Profiles, Fall 2019 | 0 comments

Mount Manaslu, located in the Nepalese Himalayas, towers 8,163 meters (26,781 feet) above sea level and ranks as the highest peak in the Gorkha District. Its name comes from the Sanskrit word manasa, meaning “intellect” or “soul,” and means “mountain of the spirit.”

It was the height and magnitude of the mountain that inspired Jeannette McGill MS ’07, PhD ’10 to make the climb in September 2018, becoming the first South African woman to summit the peak.

“I really just wanted to see if I could get up to 8,000 meters,” she said. “Manaslu was never really on my horizon—I was actually supposed to do another peak, but it was obviously meant to be because I ended up doing Manaslu as my first 8,000-meter mountain.”

Growing up in an outdoorsy family—and later becoming a professional geologist and global mining executive—McGill has always been drawn to the mountains and understands the value of women getting outside and experiencing nature because of how it facilitates confidence. She even described her Manaslu expedition as “a climb for women’s empowerment.”

Women’s empowerment is close to McGill’s heart and something she feels is closely tied to climbing. “As a woman in mountaineering, you can learn to dig deep, you can go for these big goals and these big goals are available to everybody,” she said.

Whether it’s an 8,000-meter peak or a hike to a high alpine lake in Rocky Mountain National Park, McGill believes that women can learn a lot from being outside. “I’ve really seen globally how women get treated differently in terms of opportunities and what’s possible,” she explained.

McGill has been collaborating with Saray Khumalo—the first black African woman to summit Everest—on Summits with a Purpose, an initiative to create a community of female mountaineers and promote literacy.

“To be able to talk to and coach some of the ladies in South Africa has been great,” McGill said. “They have always thought life is about children and family, but I want to show them even small things are possible to do themselves. I think it’s really important that every woman is empowered to go, ‘You know what, this is what I feel like doing. It’s valid, it doesn’t matter what anyone else says and it’s possible.’ My journey happens to be big mountains, but it doesn’t have to be the same for everyone.”

After Manaslu, McGill found that 8,000-meter mountains can be quite addictive, and her sights are set on others for the future. But don’t expect her to tackle Everest just yet. In climbing Manaslu, McGill learned the importance of choosing a goal that has personal significance—not just a mountain to check off a list.

Manaslu imprinted its manasa on McGill, seemingly appropriate for a woman whose spirit is so closely tied to the mountains. Just as she said, it must have been meant to be.