Kristin Harila is the fastest person to climb the world's highest mountains
Kristin Harila and her friend and sherpa Tenjen Lama Sherpa reached their big goal in the summer of 2023. Namely, to become the fastest climbers to climb the world's highest 8,000-metre peaks, a total of 14 mountains, including iconic goals such as the top of K2 and Mount Everest. They spent 92 days on the feat, which was not without its challenges.
Finally reaching the 'true summit'
In order to climb the world's highest mountain, Harila had to travel to the Himalayas, where ten of the mountains on Kristin's list of mountains to climb are located. Several thousand people travel to what is the world's highest mountain range each year in the hopes of reaching the top of one of its many mountains. Some make it, while others fail. The Himalayas stretch across India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, China, Bhutan, and Nepal. The range is home to a variety of animal species and is very important for the Earth's climate. The Himalayas are connected to a number of other mountain ranges, including the Karakorum Mountains, where we find the remaining four highest mountains in the world that Kristin had to climb to secure the record.
The 2023 expedition was Kristin's second attempt at the record. In 2022, she and her team had to throw in the towel when she was unable to get a visa to Tibet due to COVID-19 restrictions.
"But I knew I couldn't give up, so I decided to pursue the goal again. We worked tirelessly to get the permit. And I'm very happy that we were able to start with the Tibetan mountains this year," she says.
For the record to be valid, transparency and documentation were key.
–We were focused on reaching the true summit on every mountain and climbing up from Base Camp to the summit and all the way back down to Base Camp.
Climber Nimsdai Purja held the previous record of six months and six days, but his record was overturned as he had not reached the 'true summit', the very highest point, on two of the mountains.
Nothing is impossible
Although Kristin thus already held the record of one year and five days, she never had any doubts about completing her goal of improving her time. She was determined to make it happen in three months.
And she did it. In 3 months and 1 day to be precise. Kristin now holds the world record, and is not only the fastest woman, but the fastest person to reach the 14 highest peaks in the world, ever, along with Tenjen Lama Sherpa. The last peak Kristin and the team climbed was K2 in Pakistan.
But what exactly is the goal of climbing so many dangerous and demanding peaks?
–The goal of this world record is to challenge boundaries and inspire others to follow their dreams. By climbing so many 8,000-metre peaks, I want to show that nothing is impossible when you truly believe in yourself and work hard for what you want to achieve. I also want to show that women can do it too, and that we can also stand at the top of the extreme sports world, says Harila.
Leave no trace
As with the role of the sherpas, the focus on the climate footprint of expeditions has also increased. Climbers often need to use helicopters to be able to climb the peaks fast enough and to quickly move on to the next one. The sport is also very expensive and is therefore often reserved for the rich. The project of climbing all 14 peaks, which has taken two and a half years in total, has cost over NOK 15 million. This has mostly been covered by sponsors, but much of the cost has also come out of Kristin's own pocket.
–The environmental perspective and the cost of such trips are important topics that must be taken seriously. It's true that climbing expeditions are often associated with high costs, which is part of the reason why it's often associated with those who are well off. But I think it's important to work to make this sport and experience accessible to everyone, says Harila.
She goes on to say that it is also important to respect and take care of the environment in which they operate and contribute to sustainable practices.
–When it comes to the locals and the sherpas, it's important to recognise their contribution and give them the attention and credit they deserve. I have great respect for the local people and their knowledge and try to work closely with them, support their businesses and culture, and be conscious of the social and economic impact of my expeditions, says Harila.
She also has deep respect for nature and the forces at work in the mountains. Both in terms of safety and the environment.
–I follow the principles of Leave No Trace and take care of the environment around me by being conscious of leaving no traces behind and not disturbing wildlife. I also take weather conditions and natural cycles into account when planning and conducting expeditions. Nature is at once both powerful and fragile, and it is important to respect and care for it in order to continue to enjoy and explore it, she explains.
Finding her Great Love
For Kristin, it's not just about setting records. Although she naturally experiences mastery when she challenges herself and reaches new heights, it's also about being in the moment.
–When I'm on a trip, it gives me the greatest joy to be in the moment and feel at one with nature. Being surrounded by beautiful nature, experiencing the peace and tranquillity the mountains can provide, and sharing these experiences with good friends and team members is truly a source of joy for me, she says.
That's when time stands still for the adventurer.
–When I'm fully present in nature and the challenges I face. When I'm climbing or out hiking, everything else can disappear and I'm absorbed by the experience. It's as if time stops and I feel a deep connection to my surroundings. It's a magical feeling of inner peace and contentment.
After a long expedition, it is also common to feel an emptiness, a 'come down'.
–It's a natural reaction to having invested a lot physically and mentally in a big challenge and then getting back to everyday life. I take time to rest, reflect, and let my body and mind time recover. I focus on taking care of myself and giving myself the necessary recovery time before I start planning new adventures, says Harila.
The 37-year-old has climbed many mountains and has always been aware of the risks involved. By making carefully considered choices and acting according to the weather, things have always gone well. Much to the joy of family and friends back home, who have had no choice but to put up with Kristin's choices in life. What made this expedition a little different was that she had now found the love of her life in Jens Kvernmo, a like-minded adventurer. But he stays mostly in the woods and mountains. In the future, the two may start their own family.
–Meeting someone who shares the same values as me, and who I feel so safe and connected to, has definitely changed my perspective on life. I have someone I know I want to be with both now and in the future, and it's made me want to come home as soon as possible. I now also have dreams that involve another person and I think that's beautiful, she says.
After this article was published it was later known that Muhammad Hassan, a Pakistani mountain porter, hired to facilitate high-altitude climbers on a mountaineering expedition, lost his life after falling into a ravine while climbing K2. This was confirmed by an official at Lela Peak Expeditions, the company he worked for. Hassan was climbing with other porters and sherpas, including Kristin and her team. Mountain porters play a crucial role in supporting expeditions and treks by carrying heavy loads through challenging terrains and high altitudes.