Breaking Barriers and Conquering Peaks: Mountaineer Naila Kiani Tells All

Standing in the Death Zone 8516m high on the summit of Lhotse, Naila Kiani takes out her Insta360 X2 for a breathtaking 360º view from the peak. Mount Everest, summited just two days earlier, towers in the background. The ridges are sharp and narrow, dropping down toward vast amounts of snow and rock. You can feel Kiani's sense of achievement despite supplementary oxygen covering her face that, without, could have deadly consequences. It almost makes you wonder how anyone has time to think about grabbing their camera after a grueling climb, but the views are simply too astonishing to miss.

Lhotse is one of the ten 8000m+ peaks that high-altitude mountaineer Naila Kiani has climbed in just two years, making her the first Pakistani woman to do so. In a sport dominated by men, Kiani works closely with the BARD Foundation to inspire women in Pakistan to participate in extreme sports, a mission close to her heart. We sat down with Kiani to talk about who she is, the message she wants to deliver and how she captures her feats with Insta360 X2.

Defying and Inspiring

  1. Hi Naila! Please can you tell us a bit more about yourself? Who you are, where you're from, and what you do.

My name is Naila Kiani. I'm from Pakistan, but I live in Dubai right now. I'm an aerospace engineer, a banking professional, a boxer and a mountaineer. I'm also a mother of two young girls aged 3 and 4.

  1. When did your incredible dream start? Have you always been interested in mountaineering?

I started climbing nearly three years ago. Growing up, I never thought I would be a climber—I became the top female mountaineer within two years of starting my mountaineering career.

Mountaineer Naila Kiani climbs a steep mountain face.
  1. What inspires you to keep going? Has there been anything that happened in the past that contributed the most to your personal growth?

I've had depression for most of my life, and being outdoors really helps to pull me out of that depression. I'm from Pakistan, and married women and new mothers are not encouraged to do extreme sports. I want to be a role model for my daughters. I want to show them they can do whatever they want, regardless of what society tells them.

  1. As the first Pakistani woman to climb ten 8000m+ peaks, what message would you like to share with other women hoping to follow their dreams?

You can achieve anything you want, no matter how big others think it is. Always dream as big as you can, and never, ever give up. As a mother of two young girls and a working professional, what I've achieved was considered impossible, but I made it happen. I was juggling work and family, finding financial support for my climbs, and preparing my body for the harsh conditions. If I can do it, anybody can.

  1. What are your future goals and aspirations?

I'm on a mission to complete all 14 peaks higher than 8000m, and I aim to inspire youth and women to follow their dreams.

High-altitude mountaineer Naila Kiani gives a thumbs up from Lhotse summit.
Naila Kiani gives a thumbs up from the Lhotse summit.

Reaching New Heights

  1. What kind of thoughts go through your head when you're climbing?

I go through multiple emotions. I feel alive when I'm outdoors in the mountains: I love the amazing views and landscapes. I get to see sights that not many human beings see, and I consider myself so lucky. But at the same time, it's very physically, mentally, and emotionally challenging.

  1. What challenges do you face as a mountaineer, and how do you overcome them?

Simply put, climbing a mountain is exhausting. We often face difficult terrain like rockfall, avalanches, ice, and issues such as lack of oxygen, extremely bad weather, very low temperatures, etc. Emotionally, we are away from our families for days. I try to focus on my goals when climbing: getting to the top safely, climbing all 14 8000m+ peaks and being a role model for my daughters. Keeping those in mind helps me overcome the challenges I face.

Naila Kiani and her team climbing with the view of the mountain range.
  1. What physical and mental preparation is required to tackle these 8000+ peaks?

I had a very challenging life compared to people around me and generally people my age. Those challenges in the past made me strong enough mentally and prepared me to climb these challenging peaks. Physically, I live in Dubai, so I can't climb high mountains to prepare myself. But I do endurance, strength and cardio training.

  1. What has been your favorite climb?

My favorite climb has to be Nanga Parbat. It's one of the deadliest mountains, but I had no major issues reaching the peak.

  1. Any hairy moments?

When we climbed from Camp 2 to 3 on Everest, I saw hundreds of rocks falling at around 7000m. Everest is not well known for this rock fall, but changes in weather loosened them from the slopes. I saw those rocks hurling towards us and thought, "This is it; I'm going to die." Luckily, the distance between the rocks was big enough for us to dodge them. It was the scariest few minutes of my life.

Rocks falling down a steep mountain cliff face.

The Pinnacle in 360º

  1. What made you decide to use Insta360 X2?

I'm not a professional photographer, but Insta360 X2 is easy for anyone to use. I just have to film a 360º video and not worry about where I'm pointing it. Then, I edit the video from any angle afterward.

High altitude mountaineer Naila Kiani with Insta360 X2 at Wadi Dahir, Fujairah, UAE.
Naila Kiani with Insta360 X3 at Wadi Dahir, Fujairah, UAE.
  1. Where have you taken your Insta360 X2? Is it able to withstand extreme conditions?

I've taken my X2 to a few 8000m mountains, including Mount Everest. I've used this camera in very extreme weather conditions, and I've never run into issues.

The view of a mountain peak.
  1. How easy is it to use X2 when you're up so high? Setting up the camera must be the last thing on your mind!

As I said, I'm not a photographer, but since X2 records 360º, I don't have to worry about setting up or getting the right angles. I literally switch it on, hit record, extend the Invisible Selfie Stick and boom!

  1. Would you recommend Insta360 X2 to other mountaineers?

Definitely! It's so easy to use and shows angles that are impossible to film with other action cameras. I tried other action camera brands, but Insta360 is my go-to. Soon, I will start using my brand-new Insta360 X3!

You can follow Naila's incredible journey here. We wish her all the best in her mission to complete all 14 peaks, and we can't wait to see what incredible footage she captures!

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WRITTEN BY @Laura Nellis
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