Reaching the Peak, in Every Challenge
The Norwegian athlete, Kristin Harila, shattered the record for climbing all 14 of the world’s highest mountains in just 92 days. As she prepared to begin her awe-inspiring challenge, she discussed determination, overcoming adversity and the life-changing power of setting goals.
Kristin Harila has re-written the mountaineering history books. Having only discovered the sport in 2015, she has claimed the record time for summiting the 14 highest peaks on Earth, making her not just the fastest female, but the fastest mountaineer of our time.
In April, Harila, supported by her climbing partner Tenjin “Lama” Sherpa, began her second attempt at completing the Bremont 14 Peaks – climbing the world’s 14 highest mountain peaks above 8,000m in one season. Harila had set herself the highly ambitious goal of completing the challenge in just four months, which would smash the record of six months and six days famously set by ex-Gurkha Nirmal (Nim) Purja in 2019. In the end, Harila and Lama summitted K2, the 14th and final 8000m peak, on 27 July 2023, and in doing so set a new True Summit World Record of just three months, 20 hours and 45 minutes. “Harila and Lama’s collaboration has showcased the essence of mountaineering unity, transcending borders and cultures to achieve greatness together,” said her sponsor, Bremont.
“Get up and walk! As human beings, we have walked for thousands of years and now we sit around so much and don’t get up and walk enough. Walking your body and moving your body is the first step to any good training.”
The 14 peaks, located in Nepal, Pakistan and China, have obsessed mountaineers for decades, representing the literal summit of human physical endurance. Only 45 people are thought to have climbed all 14, and only a handful of women. Summiting each peak takes the climber into the ‘death zone’, so-called because human life cannot exist at that altitude.
What makes Harila’s achievement all the more astonishing is that it was her second attempt in under a year. In 2022, Harila successfully climbed 12 of the 14 summits in just 147 days before her goal was thwarted as China’s Covid restrictions denied her entry to complete the final two mountains, Cho Oyu and Shishapangma, in Tibet. But what would have been a crushing disappointment for most served only to galvanize Harila. “I decided immediately that I was going to do it all over again; it was not so hard to find motivation because I like to complete goals I have set,” Harila told us matter-of-factly as she prepared to begin her second attempt.
For Harila, setting – and achieving – goals is her raison d’etre. She grew up in the far Northern reaches of Norway where life is lived outdoors in challenging conditions. A former cross-country skier, Kristin only came to mountaineering in 2015 yet quickly showed her prowess. In May 2021, she set a world record becoming the fastest woman to climb Mount Everest and Lhotse in less than 12 hours.
“Summiting Everest and taking my first world record taught me that everything is possible and we are much stronger than we believe,” says Harila. “We can do so much more if we just believe that we can do it.” How does she prepare for such gruelling challenges? “I think the best preparation I had is what I did last year – you get good at what you train for,” she says. “If you want to run fast, you need to run. If you’re going to climb mountains you need to walk uphill with a heavy pack and do it for many hours, because that is what you’ll be doing.” Harila advises her 155k followers on Instagram (and counting) that when preparing for a physical challenge, it’s important to increase training slowly, “especially if you are injured. Your body is adaptable but be careful because an old injury will often be replaced by a new one,” she says. “Get up and walk! As human beings, we have walked for thousands of years and now we sit around so much and don’t get up and walk enough. Walking your body and moving your body is the first step to any good training.”
Mindset and self-belief are key to Harila’s success at realising her own potential. “I think that something that drives me and motivates me is having a goal to work on. Not being afraid to have a very high goal and talk about it makes you work harder and more to actually reach it.” Harila learnt important lessons from her previous attempt. “The main thing that I learnt is that the mountains will always decide how hard it is. It is very important not to underestimate any climb or any mountain – it will always be different from one climb to another. And I have learnt to use my helmet more than last year!”