Interview with Kristin Harila » Explorersweb

“On the Annapurna, we felt that the place was dangerous. On the Dhaulagiri loads and loads of snow to manage. And on Makalu, the start of the summit push was terrifying.

36-year-old Kristin Harila’s first notable mountain was a hike in Kilimanjaro in 2015. But the Norwegian athlete made a name for herself in the mountaineering world by climbing six 8,000m Himalayas in record time this spring.

She calmed down the skeptics who didn’t take her seriously at first. Still, she still has a long way to go before she completes her plan to top 14,8000 in six months.

Right after climbing Makalu, she was waiting at base camp for the weather to clear so she could take a helicopter to Kathmandu. Although she was about to fall asleep – and did two seconds after finishing this interview – Harila spoke to ExplorersWeb about her project. And she did not avoid some difficult questions.

“I’m physically great, I could climb another mountain tomorrow,” Harila said, open and enthusiastic, between bouts of coughing. She had caught a cough at Makalu base camp.

Harila and ‘Uncle Dawa’ on top of Makalu in bad weather. Photo: Kristin Harila

Harila admits she hasn’t had much time to plan or practice for this mega-company. “I just arrived with the project a few months ago, so there was no time for extensive preparations.”

“Still, I think being 36 is better than 20,” she said. “I’m more experienced and I have a long track record of good training that I can build on.”

A northern athlete

Born and raised in northern Norway, Harila’s athletic background unsurprisingly revolved around cross-country skiing. She competed nationally from age 16 to 23.

From 2013, she is totally focused on her career. “I worked so much…too much,” she said. “I was a manager in a large Norwegian company and I almost completely stopped training. Then in 2019 I decided I needed a change and quit my job. I went back to cross-country skiing (but I didn’t compete) and I did a lot of trail running.

Climbing was not one of his sports. “Northern Norway is completely flat. There are no mountains to climb!

Always cool on Annapurna, its first peak this spring.

After Harila ascended Kilimanjaro in 2015, she caught the climbing bug. She discovered the Himalayas in 2019 by climbing two trekking peaks, Lobuche East and Putha Hiunchuli (also known as Dhaulagiri VII).

“I decided I wanted to focus on the mountains and do something big,” she explained. His first idea was the Seven Summits. That’s when she started looking at Everest.

“Then came the COVID pandemic and all plans stopped, but at least I was able to train intensely in the Norwegian mountains,” she recalls. “They aren’t big but offer endless possibilities for long rides.”

She also managed to climb Aconcagua in 2020.

think bigger

In 2021, she joined a Madison Mountaineering team to Everest and Lhotse, which she summited. This is when the 14×8000 project began.

“Back at Camp 2, people were celebrating the summit, but I couldn’t help but be sad because it was over. So, I started thinking about new projects. Something greater than the Seven Summits.

Harila had seen Nirmal Purja sprint the 8,000m and decided she would take her record as a challenge. When potential sponsors moved on, she sold her apartment to fund the project.

“At the same time, I realized this sport and this industry [mountaineering] was far from equal,” Harila said. “On Everest, there were a lot more men than women. The story is pretty much all about men climbing mountains…I remember one brand I was talking to that was launching a new collection of super cool, fashion-forward, high-altitude clothing, and they were only available in men’s sizes.The message is that girls can hike but not climb at high altitudes.

Pasdawa, Harila and Dawa Wongchu were welcomed as heroes in Kathmandu.

“Similarly, on Everest, I noticed that the women in my team were well prepared mentally and physically, but not the men, because their attitude was: Of course I can do it.”

The sponsors didn’t believe me

When asked if Harila thought potential sponsors took her projects less seriously because she was a woman, Harila answered clearly: “Yes, I think so. When I pitched the project, they didn’t tell me. just didn’t believe it. And now that I’ve come to this, many of these companies are contacting me to resume negotiations.

Hence the motto “Women too” of Harila. This not only means that women can climb too, but that the outdoor industry should focus more on women.

“At the end of the day, I don’t care about breaking a record, I care about inspiring young women. It’s not about making the impossible possible, but about proving that women can do it too. they can do it even better.

While this empowering message is important, we have noted that the number of women climbing Himalayan peaks has increased dramatically.

“It’s true, I saw that, especially on Annapurna. This is great news, and some of these girls are remarkably young. [This is another] reason to put pressure on the industry.

With fellow climber from the 8K Purnima Shrestha expedition from Nepal.

Learn more about teamwork

Harila considers her project not only as an individual achievement, but as the result of coordinated and effective teamwork.

“In that sense, I have a different narrative than Purja’s film. It’s not about a person doing something amazing. There are so many people involved! For me, it is essential to show the work that the Sherpas do. I have Pasdawa and Uncle Dawa [Dawa Wongchu is Pasdawa’s uncle] with me… I want to share the record with them because they deserve it so much. I hope they can take up the challenge with me.

Besides her two Sherpa companions, Harila notes the work of everyone who works in the mountains, from the rope teams to the porters. And of course, the logistics teams, essential for this kind of project.

A team of three.

“Logistics were also a huge part of the project, and 8K did an amazing job. It’s a new company, but the leaders are experienced and the Sherpa guides are so strong. They were 100% committed to the realization of my project.

Not a walk in the park

Harila uses all the help that technology and human resources can provide: helicopters, O2 and support on the road.

” I’m not hiding anything. The most important thing is to be open from the start about what you’re doing,” she said. “For me, people can climb as they want but [should be] honest about how they do it. I use oxygen, I don’t carry loads, I rely on Pasdawa and Uncle Dawa.

Other factors cannot be controlled. “On the Kangchenjunga, I was so sick [likely a stomach bug]. I had a really hard push at the top and it was long. On Annapurna, we felt that the place was dangerous. On the Dhaulagiri loads and loads of snow to manage.

“And on the Makalu, the start of the summit push was terrifying. We walked out in complete darkness. It was snowing and the ropes were nowhere to be found. But Pasdawa and Uncle Dawa continued, blazing the trail in the deep snow, uphill, nonstop. I thought: Oh my God, there are no ropes, and if you miss the road, I can’t see anything… And then, after hours, there were the ropes. They knew exactly where they were going and eventually found them.

And on Everest?

“I don’t mean it’s a walk in the park but the roped trail on the upper parts feels like a highway!”

Upcoming challenges

Harila hopes to keep the same Sherpa guides for the entire project. The second phase begins in two weeks on Nanga Parbat, then moves to the Karakoram 8,000’ers.

Continuing the project will not be cheap. At present, sponsor Bremont pays one-fifth of the budget. Harila does the rest.

“We need more sponsors, but now I’m sure we’ll get them, and we’ve signed a deal to make a movie.”

For the third stage of the project, the most difficult obstacles are not physical but bureaucratic. China remains closed to foreign expeditions, which could prevent Harila from climbing the last two peaks, Shishapangma and Cho Oyu.

“We have started the process of applying for the special permit and I hope we will get it. Norway and China have worked together often in the past and I hope they will still find common ground. After all , Nirmal Purja got one, so I don’t see why I shouldn’t get equal treatment.

It might be possible to summit Cho Oyu from Nepal if Harila joins the teams trying to open a trade route on the SSW ridge. But that would still leave Shishapangma.

Arrive at base camp at night after reaching the summit of Makalu.

Time will tell if she can tick off the next 8,000 as quickly as the first six. Did Harila think it was going to work out as well as this spring, at least, is gone?

“Yeah, I was sure I could do it, although I was also aware that we had to be lucky with the weather. But actually, I didn’t give it much thought. I just went up a mountain at once. And I will continue to do so with the other vertices.

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