Tenjen Sherpa and Kristin Harila: Number twelve of 14

Kristin Harila in the ascent
Kristin Harila

The Nepalese Tenjen Sherpa and the Norwegian Kristin Harila continue their time chase on the eight-thousanders. Today the two – with five other companions – reached the summit of Gasherbrum I at 8,080 meters. Three days ago they had scaled Gasherbrum II. G I was the twelfth eight-thousander success for Tenjin and Kristin in just under three months. They now still need Broad Peak and K2 to achieve their goal of ticking off all 14 eight-thousanders in a few months.

After their summit success on Nanga Parbat, Harila and Tenjen had themselves been flown from the town of Skardu to Gasherbrum base camp in a military helicopter. According to reports, such a flight currently costs up to 20,000 dollars. In Skardu, Harila had asked her fans via social networks for donations so that she could complete her project in the face of skyrocketing costs.

Not a pioneering act

The German magazine “Alpin” had asked me for a statement on what I thought of Harila’s eight-thousander hunt. This was my answer:

Gasherbrum massif
The Gasherbrum massif

I can already see the headlines: “Kristin Harila pulverizes eight-thousander world record” or “Norwegian power woman is the new eight-thousander queen”. And most will be seriously impressed: “All 14 eight-thousanders in just three months? Wow, what an unimaginable achievement!”

The headline just stays in the memory, the details in the second and third paragraphs are no longer of interest to the masses, if they are mentioned at all: That the Norwegian was partly on the way with six Sherpas, that they all used bottled oxygen, that they climbed on the normal routes, that helicopters were used to bring equipment to the high camps?

According to unconfirmed information, probably also to drop off Sherpas there, who broke the trail up and down (!) – all this will be overshadowed, ousted, swallowed by the lurid headlines. And despite the climate crisis, hardly anyone will ask what ecological footprint such an action creates. Or even whether this doesn’t trivialize eight-thousander mountaineering: that it gives the impression that it’s possible for anyone to climb the world’s highest mountains if they just provide the right conditions.

I respect Kristin Harila’s performance. If she wasn’t physically strong and had a lot of determination as well as stamina, she wouldn’t be able to cope with the rigors. Even in her style, eight-thousander mountaineering is anything but a Sunday stroll.

I just won’t be infected by the rampant record fever. Records in the mountains are simply nonsense for me, because there are almost never identical conditions there. They can change from minute to minute. Besides, people are on the move in completely different styles. So an eight-thousander ascent on the normal route, with bottled oxygen and six Sherpas as support, cannot be compared with a solo ascent without a breathing mask on a route that is rarely or never climbed.

For all I care, Kristin Harila’s fastest time in ticking off the 14 highest mountains in the world – should it come to that – can end up in the Guinness Book of Records, but please not in lists of alpinistic pioneering achievements. Nor should the 2019 eight-thousander hunt of the Nepalese Nirmal Purja within in six months and six days, who will probably not hold the “best time” for much longer.

Purja and now Harila merely demonstrate what is possible when you push the means of commercial expedition climbing to the extreme: Gather a team of extremely capable Sherpas around you, optimize time management, equipment and – not to be forgotten – infrastructure, and the hunt can begin. This reminds me a bit of Formula 1, where the best car, the best engineer and the best technical team play an almost more important role in the awarding of the title than the best driver.

Mountaineering as a sport is thus taking more of a step backwards. The adventure, which essentially involves an uncertain outcome, is being replaced by a carefully calculated project. This, in turn, makes it interesting for sponsors, because it is easier to market successes than failures.

In real alpinism, on the other hand, failure is more the rule than the exception, because it’s about imaginatively pushing limits, daring to do the previously unchallenged, opening up new routes, setting new standards in terms of sport and style. And turning visions into reality. Kristin Harila’s eight-thousander hunt is all about beating a time.

Update 23 July: Today Kristin Harila and Tenjen Sherpa – with five other companions – also summited Broad Peak. With this, only K2 is missing for them to successfully complete their project.

2 Replies to “Tenjen Sherpa and Kristin Harila: Number twelve of 14”

  1. I totally agree with this article. The whole record breaking thing takes away all the joy of being in the mountains. I have never broken any record except my own and love every minute(sometimes in retrospect!) of my expeditions!

  2. Agree with everything you have written. The mountains should be respected and revered, not conquered or crushed. Chasing records takes away from the experience of being amongst them. This crass chasing of records is part of the commercialisation of the outdoors, that’s crept in for the last few years. Social media hasn’t helped either. Good luck to those taking part in this “show” but it isn’t for me and I certainly don’t look to them as being part of any mountaineering history.

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