Hailing from Iran, Nasim Eshqi is a larger-than-life personality with ascents of 8b sport and E5 trad to her name. Her fearless approach to life, combined with a nomadic life style that sees her on the road for six months of every year, means we’ll be hearing and seeing a lot more of Nasim in the near future.
Unlike many elite climbers, Nasim did not come to the sport at an early age. Kickboxing was her first passion, fired by the Bruce Lee films shown on television when she was growing up. Nasim proved a natural, becoming Iranian champion ten times in a row. In fact, it was this dominance that led her to look for other outlets for her energy.
“I was champion of Iran 10 times in a row, so I was getting bored" says Nasim. "I also trained some other sports like track and field, swimming, handball, shooting, roller skating, badminton, table tennis...even to the level of coaching, but they were not enough. And then I started mountaineering, met some rock climbers and started rock climbing right away. You could say I got the disease, a strong rock climbing virus!”
Nasim came across climbing by chance. While studying sports science at the University of Tehran, her tutor placed her on a university expedition to climb Iran’s highest peak, Mount Damavand (5,610m). Despite the failure of the expedition, Nasim was recommended rock climbing as an activity by some of her team mates. Despite a relatively late start at age 23, Nasim applied the same enthusiasm and determination to climbing as she had to kickboxing:
“I started climbing in 2005. I did not even know even climbing exist as a sport. I was a kick boxer and very fit but when I got on the rock, I was not able to do what I should do. That was what I needed. A new challenge. Going up vertical was so exiting that I was addicted… From the first day I started climbing, I thought 'that's what I want to do for the rest of my life'.”
Despite Nasim’s enthusiasm, partners proved difficult to come by. Iran’s climbing scene is relatively young, despite a well-developed mountaineering culture. Climbing gyms are springing up across the country, but it is still relatively rare for their users to venture outdoors. This fact, coupled with Nasim’s reluctance to train indoors, meant that a lack of partners stifled her desire to climb on real rock.
Travel to countries with well-developed climbing cultures also proved challenging. Of course, there are countries where access is no issue: Nasim has climbed and new routed in Georgia, Armenia, Oman, Turkey and India. However, Europe and America, with their developed, diverse and accessible climbing scenes, remain remote and challenging to access.
A turning point came when Nasim visited the Geyikbayiri cliffs in Antalya, Turkey.
“At the middle (beginning of the real climbing) of my climbing life, I went to Turkey for one week to climb in Antalya," says Nasim. "When I got there I was so surprised and exited. I could not imagine going back to Iran (where I don't have enough partners to climb). I skipped my flight and stayed there for three months. I just wanted to climb more!”
Her association with Geyikbayiri continues to this day: Nasim spends three months of every year at the renowned Jo.Si.To campsite, climbing, new routing and expanding her network of international contacts for future adventures.
As well as travelling to climb new rock and meeting new climbing partners, the other driving force in Nasim’s life is coaching people to climb. And, as with travel, her motivation for this was born from a lack of climbing partners in Iran.
While outdoor climbing has no restrictions in terms of partners, indoor walls are segregated by gender in Iran. Add to this that the sport is in its infancy there, and the potential pool of both women and men operating at Nasim’s level is relatively small – certainly not enough to satiate her burning desire to be out on rock. In response, Nasim has made coaching in the sport a personal priority. This process has been an incredibly rewarding, despite initial reservations:
“My most memorable climbing experience was taking young girls outdoor climbing. I only wanted to take them once because of the responsibility. But they were so excited that I could not stop taking them out.”
The relative lack of partners in Iran hasn’t held Nasim back, as evidenced by her performance on some of her country’s hardest rock routes. Iran-Swiss (previously rated 8b+ but downgraded by Nasim to 8a+ when she climbed it in 2014), at Polekhab, just outside of Tehran, had received just three ascents before Nasim turned her attention to it.
"Iran-Swiss is a beautiful route, bolted by a Swiss climber," says Nasim. "Only three guys had climbed it before me. After I climbed it, many strong climbers who would never have imagined themselves on this route, brought their rope to the crag and try to send this route. For me it was a big success to motivate all these guys to touch the impossible in their brain. They were thinking if a girl can do it, we can do also. I see this as a positive!”
Her 2016 ascent of Pink Panther (8b) also at Polekhab, saw the same reaction, bringing others in the climbing community to try routes they had previously thought impossible. Indeed, you get the sense that Nasim is happiest when she’s inspiring others to push their limits. Her latest project, a potential 8b+ roof crack at Baraghan called Mr Nobody, is open to all, with Nasim describing the line as:
“A different route from what we have in Iran so far, with lots of heel and toe hooks and knee bars. Lots of climbers from all over the country have come to try it. It makes me happy to see them getting inspired and psyched with what I’ve opened.”
Another personal highlight was the bolting and first ascent A Girl for All Seasons in 2016, a 260m 7b+ on the magnificent Bisotun Wall (one of the centrepieces of Iranian climbing, with a biennial climbing festival that draws a vibrant international crowd) with one of her students, Shiva Noorbakhsh. This has special significance as it represents the fruits of her efforts in coaching young women to climb.
For someone who climbing at a high level and with a coaching background, Nasim’s approach to training is quite surprising:
“I can't train. It's hard for me to stay indoors. I know training gives faster progress, but I can't stand a roof above my head. Sometimes I go to the gym and boulder with friends. The rest of the time, I am only happy to touch real rock.”
She splits her year, spending six months coaching and climbing in Iran, and the remainder on the road in search of new rock to climb, people to meet and places to see.
“Whenever I have a partner, I open a new line," admits Nasim. "I’ve opened more than 60 lines (trad and sports) in different places.”
Somewhat surprisingly given her impressive achievements in sport climbing, she is also a self-confessed trad addict.
“For me, climbing IS trad climbing," says Nasim, "the rest is just training. Pushing my limit physically is fun, but when it comes to the mind games, that's reality. I love this game. What inspires me is when I believe in myself and it works! I like to make this feeling stronger.”
Nasim is obviously driven by a desire to climb as widely as she can (and circumstances allow), while also striving to raise the standard of the domestic scene in Iran. An important part of Nasim's travel involves giving presentations, showcasing Iranian climbing and culture to help build "a bridge between Iran and Europe" and break "the big fear of Iran which media spreads in [Europe]".
"It has been always an important part of my climbing trips," says Nasim, "and also very successful because It made many climbers visit Iran after every presentation."
“It doesn't matter if I am a girl or boy, black or white, Iranian, German, American or British," says Nasim when asked about her philosophy towards climbing. "Gravity pulls us down with the same force.”
In 2018 Nasim was awarded with the prestigous the King Albert I Memorial Award, in recognition of her exceptional, sustainable services in connection with the mountains. The award, which is presented to individuals ranging from climbers to scientists to artists, recognises those who promote ethical and responsible and respectful conduct in the mountains; thos who have made “an important contribution towards preserving the mountains as a majestic, beautiful and safe place – as a living environment for mountain people, a leisure environment for mountaineers and as a heritage of our world.”
"Nasim Eshqi surpasses her own limitations on rock as well as those set by the environment," said the award body. "She gained recognition on the international climbing scene and is a source of inspiration for young athletes worldwide".
"It was a big surprise for me," says Nasim. "It showed that borders and also media can't stop mountain people from communication and to be seen."