On January 23, 2019, five indigenous Aymara women from Bolivia climbed Argentina’s Aconcagua, the world’s highest peak outside of Asia. Their feat was physically remarkable: They had been trekking together at such altitudes for only a few years, and they did it wearing the colorful layered skirts emblematic of the Aymara instead of typical hiking garb. But it was historically remarkable, too. Until recently, women like them, known as “cholitas,” had been legally and socially discriminated against in Bolivia. They were prohibited from many public spaces, subjected to racism, and shut out from economic and educational opportunities. The 2005 election of Evo Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous president, brought a wave of change for Aymara women, who have taken advantage of their new freedoms to become television journalists, fashion designers, pro wrestlers—and some are even mountain climbers.
This group of climbing cholitas got the attention of London-based, New Zealand–born photographer Todd Antony, who was searching for his next photo project. Six months after he read about their milestone Andes climb, Antony found himself struggling to keep up with five of them as he photographed a trek on the Zongo Glacier (pictured).
Nearby towered Huayna Potosí, the first mountain the women had summited together. “They used to be mountain cooks at base camps. They were watching men climb all the time and finally decided, ‘Why don’t we do this ourselves?’” Antony says. “Their climbing physically reflects their rise from being racially marginalized and oppressed for the last 50, 60, 70 years. . . . as well as [their] rise in a male-dominated field.” The next mountain some of the women hope to conquer? Everest.