Kristin sold everything to conquer the Himalayas
Norwegian mountaineer and adventurer Kristin Harila and Tenjen Lama Sherpa set a new world record in 2023 for climbing the 14 highest mountains in the world in record time. They conquered Mount Everest, K2, Lhotse, and other prestigious peaks in the Himalayas and beyond faster than anyone else has ever managed. But Harila's dream had its price, and she had to sell everything she owned to realise it.
After 92 days of gruelling effort, Kristin Harila and her faithful companion and sherpa Tenjen Lama Sherpa had finally made it. They had now reached the top and descended the 14 highest mountains in the world, ten of which are located in the Himalayas. Spanning India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, China, Bhutan, and Nepal, the Himalayas are the world's highest mountain range. The range connects to a number of other mountains, including the Karakorum Mountains, home to four of the 14 highest peaks in the world.
A coincidence turned the Finnmark native into a mountain goat
Kristin Harila grew up in the far north, more specifically in Finnmark in Northern Norway. The area is mostly a broad open expanse, with reindeer, fish, crab and mullet — not 8,000-metre-high mountain peaks. As a youngster, she did a lot of cross-country skiing, and was pretty good at it. After Kristin retired from skiing, she started working in business. A senior position brought high pay and new challenges, but something wasn't right. Everything would change in 2015, when she happened to win a trip to Kilimanjaro.
"This was my first encounter with mountain and expedition life. The experience on Kilimanjaro sparked a passion in me for mountaineering and gave me an insight into its challenges and rewards. After completing the Kilimanjaro trip, I realised that I wanted to explore more of this world and set ambitious goals," says Harila.
In 2019, she took the big step and quit her job. After careful consideration, it was her inner drive to pursue her dream and passion that won out. Climbing high mountains became her new full-time job.
"I had long felt a strong attraction to the mountains and a deep longing to challenge myself in extreme environments. The final push came when I realised that I didn't want to live with the anxiety of regretting not having taken a chance on my dreams. I was willing to do anything to follow my heart and live a life that inspired myself and others, " she says.
Quitting her job thus became a big step towards pursuing her passion for mountaineering full-time.
A mental and physical challenge
Becoming a full-time mountaineer requires a lot of practice. Kristin herself rarely goes to the gym but spends most of her time outside. To prepare as best as possible for long and heavy expeditions, Kristin trains intensely in advance. She focuses on endurance training, strength exercises, and altitude acclimatization. She attaches great importance to proper nutrition and rest to ensure that her body is in the best possible shape. Growing up in Finnmark has also given her a good foundation for the harsh conditions one often experiences when climbing the highest mountains in the world.
"Growing up in Vadsø in Finnmark has definitely had an impact on how I deal with extreme weather conditions on expeditions. The harsh and demanding nature of the north has taught me to be resilient, adapt to changing conditions, and handle challenges with strength and endurance. I have become accustomed to dealing with strong winds and cold and harsh terrain conditions, which has helped strengthen my mental and physical endurance," says the world record holder.
Kristin has all the traits of a positive adventurer vibe who can somehow achieve anything. Although the Finnmark native has remained determined to reach her goals, there have been numerous challenges along the way. Being a mountaineer specializing in 8,000-metre-high peaks is both physically and mentally demanding. Altitude sickness, which has led to vomiting and temporary loss of vision, has been a problem in particular.
"Tackling the physical and mental challenges of altitude and potential side effects has been an ongoing process for me. To motivate myself to keep going when these symptoms occur, I focus on my overall goals and passion for rock climbing. I remind myself of that feeling of triumph and achievement when I reach the top," says Harila.
Comfortable being uncomfortable
It has taken time for her body and mind to get to know these sides of themselves, but with experience and time comes mastery.
" I have become more familiar with my body's signals and have developed strategies that include proper nutrition, adaptation to altitude, and listening to my body's needs. It's also important to note that my body handles these challenges better now and I react much less than I used to. Because of that, I don't get as stressed when it happens, and when it does occur, I know what I need to do to make things easier for myself, " explains the adventurer.
Being uncomfortable for long periods of time is part of the reality of mountaineering. We mostly see pictures taking at the summit, where the adventurers are smiling broadly, with snow in their beard or lashes, wearing massive jackets and with flag in hand. Naturally, it's a long way to the top — literally. Kristin prepares thoroughly to be able to withstand it.
" It involves being well prepared and having the right equipment, planning well for nutrition and rest, and maintaining a positive mental attitude. It's very important to be comfortable with being uncomfortable over long periods of time when climbing mountains that are 8,000 metres high."
A long way to the top as a female adventurer
Kristin has sacrificed a lot to pursue her passion. Before she became a household name in the climbing community, it was very difficult for her to get sponsors. Before finding happiness with watch brand Bremont, she actually sold her flat and possessions in order to start pursuing her dream.
– It's been difficult to get support as a woman in a male-dominated sport. It has taken a lot of hard work, persuasion, and awareness-raising to get sponsors to believe in me and my project.
In addition to the financial aspect, there is still some way to go for acceptance in the community.
– Being a woman in this area, I feel like I get more attention and criticism. There are many people who have strong opinions about this type of expedition, and some may think that women are not as suitable or strong as men. Unfortunately, there is still not complete gender equality in this community and sport. There is still a need to recognise and support female participants on an equal footing with men.
Harder for women
Among other things, it is very difficult for female mountaineers to find the right clothing. The clothes are made to fit men, so it is challenging to find suitable and functional clothing that is designed for a female body.
Today, Kristin is a household name and hopes that she has made a difference in the fight for gender equality.
– If not at a fundamental level, I at least hope that I've been able to show people all over the world that women can do it too, and that we are just as strong as men in many areas. Ultimately, I want to motivate people to do what they believe in and not let invisible limitations stop them from pursuing their dreams.
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.