'Not just the fastest woman': Norwegian mountaineer eyes speed record

AFP - [email protected]
'Not just the fastest woman': Norwegian mountaineer eyes speed record
In this picture Norwegian climber Kristin Harila holds a flag during an interview with AFP at a hotel in Kathmandu. Photo by: Bikash KARKI / AFP

When Norwegian climber Kristin Harila stepped onto the summit of Cho Oyu this month she became the fastest woman to climb all 14 of the world's 8,000-metre peaks.


But she made no announcement of her new title and has no interest in it.

"I think it is very important that it is not just the fastest woman but it's the fastest person," Harila told AFP.

"Women can also take the fastest person record, not just always have the fastest woman record."

Now, the 37-year-old is bidding to do exactly that.

Male climbers and guides far outnumber females in mountaineering's top tier, with only a handful of women garnering attention and sponsorships for their expeditions.

More than 40 people have summited the world's top 14 peaks, only a few of them women.

Last year, despite her proven climbing prowess, Harila struggled to secure sponsors, forcing her to sell her apartment to fund her climbs.

"I think to do this project if I was a man would be much easier," she said.

"It is just different to be a woman in the world, not just with the sponsorships."

This year, though, Harila is backed by several firms, including Bremont watches and backpack manufacturer Osprey, for her new attempt, which she calls the "She Moves Mountains" expedition.

The record itself meant little to her, she said, but she wanted to change perceptions of women mountaineers.

"I think that is important and hope that the project will inspire and make it easier for girls after me," she said.

"To see that we can actually go and break records and that we can get sponsorships and that we can earn money on this."


Furniture shop

Harila is a native of Vadso, on the Barents Sea in Norway's northernmost reaches, where the highest point is just 633 metres (2,000 feet).

She did not take to climbing from an early age, dedicating herself to football, handball and cross-country skiing.

It was only in 2015 when she won a trip to Kilimanjaro in Tanzania from her employers - a furniture shop chain - that she discovered her passion.

She made headlines in 2021 for becoming the fastest woman to travel between the summits of Everest and Lhotse in Nepal, and last year mounted a bid for the 8,000-metre speed record, but her attempt was stymied by Chinese officialdom.

She climbed five of the 14 highest peaks in just 69 days, but after 12 summits she was unable to secure a Chinese climbing permit due to Beijing's coronavirus restrictions.


One of the 8,000-metre mountains - Shishapangma - is wholly in Tibet, while another - Cho Oyu - is normally climbed from the Chinese side.

This year she began with those two.

If her Cho Oyu summit is counted as the 14th peak in the cycle she began in 2022, it took her a year and five days to complete the set.

But starting from her Shishapangma climb in April, she has until October 31 to surpass Nepal-born British adventurer Nirmal Purja's record of six months and six days, set in 2019.

By the end of June, Harila aims to cross off from her list all eight of the 8,000-metre peaks in Nepal, including Everest.

"My goal was to do it in less than six months," she said. "So when we didn't get a permit last year I decided to do it all over again this year."


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