• Accomodation
  • 07 July, 2023

Chasing Records in The Death Zone – Interview on Mountaineering with Kristin Harila

Chasing Records in The Death Zone – Interview on Mountaineering with Kristin Harila
Kristin Harila on her way to break world records. Image credit: Manish Maharjan, Field Production

Kristin Harila is on a mission: her goal is to climb all fourteen 8000-meter peaks in a breath-taking time of less than six months. She came close to this feat already in 2022, but in the last moment she was denied climbing permits for Cho Oyu and Shishapangma, the two final peaks missing in her quest to finish this project. This year she has started climbing the fourteen highest peaks of world all over again. Inside Himalayas met the 37-year-old Norwegian athlete during her brief stay in Kathmandu in between one mountaineering expedition and the other, in early May 2023.

Inside Himalayas: Kristin, you just got back having climbed two 8000ers in Tibet. How are you feeling?

Kristin Harila: It was very challenging, because we were a small team, and obviously it is a lot more work than when you are with a big team. Cho Oyu was particularly hard, because we did it in just two days, and I was really tired after that.

kristin harila, female mountaineer on the sumit of cho oyu
Kristin Harila on the summit of Cho Oyu.

Inside Himalayas: From your personal experience, which mountain was hardest so far?

Kristin Harila: I would say Cho Oyu.

Inside Himalayas: Really? Cho Oyu is often considered one of the “easier” 8000m peaks.

Kristin Harila: Well, it always depends on the conditions of course. Last year, I found climbing on K2 very easy. The fixed ropes were there, and the weather was great. On the other hand, Manaslu last year was one of the hardest, because there was so much snow. This year on Cho Oyu, we had a very long summit push. We went from Base Camp to Camp 1, rested there for a few hours, and then went directly to the summit and all the way back to Base Camp. It was a grueling ascent of 1800 meters from Camp 1 to the summit. 

Inside Himalayas: Why are you trying to climb all 8000ers in such a short period?

Kristin Harila: I tried to climb them all in less than six months last year already, but we didn’t get the Chinese permits for the peaks in Tibet, so I decided to try again this year. I know that the “6 months and 6 days” record of Nirmal Purja is the record that most people know, and my goal is to beat that time. 

Inside Himalayas: What are you going to do differently this time compared to last year?

Kristin Harila: This time we started with the Tibetan peaks (Shishapangma and Cho Oyu) and got those mountains done first. It was important for us to get those permits finally. That is the main difference from last year. 

Kristin Harila with her team on the summit of Shishapangma
On the summit of Shishapangma.

Inside Himalayas: What is the atmosphere like during your expeditions? Do you feel close to other expedition members?

Kristin Harila: It always differs from expedition to expedition. In Tibet for instance, we were a very small group, and everyone was going to the same summit at the same time. Now we are going to Makalu, and we won’t be together with other climbers very much, because once we get there, we go climbing and going to the next mountain immediately after that. The ropes have already been fixed and hopefully we won’t spend much time on the mountain. It is always important to be a good team, whether it’s just for a few days or for longer expeditions. This holds true for our company (The Expedition Outfitter), our sherpas and other teammates. In base camps you keep meeting familiar people, friends from previous expeditions, or people you know from social media. It is always nice to meet familiar people and spend time with them together during expeditions. 

Inside Himalayas: When you are not climbing during expeditions, what do you do? Are you able to relax at the camps on the mountain? Can you give us an idea of what expedition life is like? 

Kristin Harila: If you do a project like this, it is extremely important to rest well whenever you can. You have to be good at resting on the days you have in between climbs. 

Inside Himalayas: What do you do when you rest?

Kristin Harila: I sleep a lot. I’m very good at that. It’s important to be comfortable in your tent. Some people get stressed with tent life and the lack of hygiene on expeditions. Last year I spent 200 nights in tents, and I always try to make my tent my home as much as possible, because that’s so important for me. I don’t need to be super social at the camps, so I sleep a lot and just rest physically.

Inside Himalayas: Do you have a close connection to your sherpas? Or is it more of a professional relationship?

Kristin Harila: You do get very close to them. Last year I climbed 12 mountains with the same two sherpas. It is very important to trust each other and to work together as a team. They do such a great job, and really help all climbers to reach the summit.

Kristin with her trusted team of Sherpas, Lama, Lakpa, Nima and Pasang in Dhaulagiri.
Kristin with her trusted team of Sherpas, Lama, Lakpa, Nima and Pasang in Dhaulagiri.

Inside Himalayas: Is being in the mountains something you have been doing since childhood? Is it in your family?

Kristin Harila: Where I live in Norway, we don’t have mountains, it’s totally flat. I’ve done cross-country skiing and other sports before taking up mountaineering. I have started spending a lot of time in the mountains only since the last few years, especially in the high mountains. 

Inside Himalayas: What is your general motivation to climb? Why do you go on 8000m expeditions? 

Kristin Harila: I have always loved to be out in nature. And I have always loved the mountains. When I first heard about the latest record, I decided to try and beat it. So now, because of the record my motivation to climb is a little bit different, I want to get this project done. 

Inside Himalayas: Do you have a role model in the world of mountaineering? A favorite climber from the past maybe? 

Kristin Harila: What Simone Moro, Hilaree Nelson and Melissa Arnot did was very inspiring to me. And if I think about the climbing history in Norway, I need to mention Cecilie Skog, whose husband perished in the big K2 tragedy in 2008. I first read about 8000m peaks when Norwegian media wrote about her expeditions. This influenced me a lot. 

Inside Himalayas: So far you have climbed the normal routes of the big peaks. Would you ever like to do a new ascent or a technical climb on the world’s highest peaks? 

Kristin Harila: I don’t think so. I think after this season I’ll be done with 8000m peaks. I’m 37 and I feel it’s about time to go home, have kids and lead a normal life. I have spent so much time in the mountains since I quit my job in 2019. When I finish this project, I will move on to other things life has in store for me.

Inside Himalayas: What did you use to do for a living before? 

Kristin Harila: I was a leader in an furniture company. It was a different life. I decided to quit this job and take one year off from work. It has been four years now. I will continue to do things outside in the mountains after this project, but at home, in Norway. I miss home. And I want to spend more time with friends and family. 

Inside Himalayas: Do you feel pressure, either from yourself or from external factors?

Kristin Harila: No, I really don’t. For me, only the project is important. I don’t feel pressure from sponsors, etc. Obviously, I was very disappointed last year, when we didn’t get the permits from China, and I couldn’t finish the project. But we tried everything we could and ultimately it was out of our hands. 

Inside Himalayas: Are you planning on shooting a Netflix series about your expeditions as well, similarly to Nirmal Purja?

Kristin Harila: Yes. We are filming now, and I think a documentary is important for the project because if you look back at the history of climbing, all the records, films and books have been mostly about men. So, with my documentary I want to show how it really is inside this community to be a woman. Whether it will be a Netflix, an HBO production or something else, we shall see. 

Inside Himalayas: How is your relationship to Nirmal Purja? Do you talk to him sometimes?

Kristin Harila: We met once in K2 base camp and that’s it. We have a very different style and a very different perspective to climbing. 

Inside Himalayas: So how would you define your style or perspective?

Kristin Harila: It’s the opposite to a lot of the most famous climbers’ in my opinion. I realize that the sherpas with me are so important, and I would never achieve what I’m achieving in the mountains without them.

Kristin Harila with her sherpa
Kristin and Lama on Everest.

Inside Himalayas: This season there were reports about lots of trash on the big peaks. What do you think about the trash problem on mountains?

Kristin Harila: I think there are two mountains with a real trash problem: Everest and K2. I think those mountains need a big clean-up and there need to be some regulations from the authorities. Maybe an additional fee, that companies must pay and only get back when people bring down the trash. There need to be strict regulations and a strict control system of this at base camps. 

Inside Himalayas: What action steps do you personally take when it comes to the trash issue?

Kristin Harila: I make sure that on my expeditions, we always dispose of the trash in a responsible manner. We certainly don’t leave it laying around, and bring down most of it. When its possible for my team, we also bring down some trash we find along the way, but sadly, not as much as we would like to.

Inside Himalayas: Should there be some regulation by the government that people wanting to climb Mount Everest should have some prior experience? Or should it be free for everyone regardless of the prior experience? What’s your stance on that?

Kristin Harila: I personally think it is good and important to have some prior experience. I for instance had climbed many high mountains before I went to attempt Everest. In my opinion, it should be the expedition leader’s and company’s job to check and prepare their clients for the climb. I know some companies have certain checking systems and they do proper training in base camp before the summit push. Most of the companies take this quite seriously because they don’t want to have any accidents on the mountain. 

IH: Thank you Kristin, for your time. Good luck for your upcoming expeditions. 

portait of a mountaineer
A beautiful portrait of Kristin Harila as she gazes into the Himalayan landscape. Image credits: Matias Myklebust, Field Productions

As of June 26th 2023, Kristin Harila summited Nanga Parbat in Pakista, bringing her tally to ten out of fourteen 8000 meter peaks. With only K2, Bread Peak, Gasherbrum I and Gasherbrum II left to climb, she is perfectly on schedule to break the world record within the month of July.

  • Leave a reply

  • Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *