kristin harila
Kristin Harila and 'Uncle Dawa' Wongchu Sherpa at the Makalu summit; (photo/courtesy of Kristin Harila)

New Speed Record in the Himalayas: Six 8,000-Meter Peaks in 29 Days

Kristin Harila, Pemba Sherpa, and Dawa Wongchu Sherpa made history last week on Makalu (27,766 feet), the world’s fifth-highest peak.

Climbing fast is one thing; summiting multiple 8,000m (26,246-foot) peaks back-to-back as fast as possible is another.

Just ask Norwegian climber Kristin Harila and her two 8K Expeditions sherpas, Pasdawa Sherpa and Dawa Wongchu Sherpa. On May 27, the trio summited Makalu and broke a legend’s record.

The only other person who knows how hard it is to summit six mountains that size in 29 days is Nirmal “Nims” Purja. He pulled off the feat in 31 days in 2019, on his way to obliterating the speed record for the fastest ascent of all 14 8,000m summits.

Unlike Purja, Harila and her team climbed with full support and supplemental oxygen.

“I am hiding nothing. The most important thing is to be open from the start about what you are doing,” the 36-year-old told ExplorersWeb’s Angela Benavides. “For me, people can climb in whatever way they want but [should be] honest about how they do it. I am using oxygen, I don’t carry loads, I rely on Pasdawa and Uncle Dawa.”

Consistent high-altitude climbing demands not only massive stamina but also a strong capacity for logistics. If there’s a cheap way to get between base camps in the Himalayas or the Karakoram, where most of the world’s other tallest peaks tower, it’s generally not going to be fast — think trekking. And if it’s fast, it’s not going to be cheap — think helicopter rides.

Harila’s team managed to put it all together for their quick ascents, at one point breaking her own female speed record for a Lhotse-Everest linkup.

 

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A post shared by Kristin Harila (@kristin.harila)

They also repeatedly caught favorable weather windows, which is equally important for efficiency. You can’t afford to sit in base camp for 2 weeks waiting for storms to stop if you’ve got five other objectives to cover in a month.

ExplorersWeb reported that Harila and the 8K sherpas experienced weeks of solid weather leading up to Makalu. But there on the world’s fifth-highest peak, storms lashed the trio.

“The climb today has been really tough because of relentless, heavy snow,” 8K’s Lakpa Sherpa told ExWeb. “However, they wanted to break the record and they knew they had to go in front of the rest” of the pack on the mountain at the time, which lagged behind by a day or two.”

One photo 8K’s field operations manager, Pemba Sherpa, provided paints an especially clear picture of the conditions they faced.

 

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A post shared by Pemba Sherpa (@pemba_explorer1999)

What’s Next

Now, Harila plans to travel to Pakistan to keep ticking off peaks. Purja set a prohibitive benchmark in 2019, summiting all 14 of the world’s “8,000ers” in 6 months and 6 days. When he did it, he smashed the previous speed record by over 7 years.

Harila’s attempt will hinge on finding equal efficiency in Pakistan, where objectives introduce more technical and logistical challenges. Helicopter rides can be scarcer in the Karakoram, and volatile weather can prevail on peaks like K2 (28,251 feet).

For Harila’s part, she said she’s more concerned with setting a positive example than breaking records.

“In the end, I do not care that much about beating a record; I care about inspiring young women. This is not about making the impossible possible, but proving that women can do it too. That they can do it even better,” she said.

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Sam Anderson
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Sam has roamed the American continent to follow adventures, explore natural wonders, and find good stories. After going to college to be a writer, he got distracted (or saved) by rock climbing and spent most of the next decade on the road, supporting himself with trade work. He's had addresses in the Adirondack Mountains, Las Vegas, and somehow Kansas, but his heart belongs in the Texas hill country.