Kristin Harila was six months in and two summits away from making history when powers beyond her control forced her to stop. 

“In the end, it was COVID.”  

Not because she contracted the virus, but because the Chinese government’s strict zero-COVID policy meant it would be very difficult for visitors like Harila to enter the country. 

In spring of 2022, the 36-year-old Norwegian XC skier-turned-mountaineer extraordinaire and Global Rescue Mountain Advisory Council member had set out to break the record for fastest time to climb all of the world’s 8,000 meter (26,247 feet) and higher peaks. There are 14 of them. Pandemic restrictions kept her short by only two.  

“The Chinese government refused the entry permits that my team and I needed to get into Tibet to climb Cho Oyu and Shishapangma in time,” she said. “We made every effort, including working with the Chinese Ambassador to Norway to try to get a Visa and the necessary permits to climb, but in the end, time ran out.” Game over. 

Or maybe not. After months of planning, climbing and traveling, only to come so close to achieving the goal, most people would roll up their down suits, stash away their carabiners and take in the views from 8,000-plus meters from the relative comforts of an airliner’s window seat. But Kristin Harila isn’t most people.  

“When I got the phone call from home to tell me that my attempt was over, I told myself right away that I was doing it again.” 

Doing Things a Little Differently This Time 

If climbing close to 150,000 vertical feet in six months on some of the planet’s most treacherous terrain will teach you anything, it’s how to do it more safely and efficiently for the next attempt.  

“First of all, I’m going to use a helmet this time,” laughs Kristin, “because there have been some close calls.” 

Kristin Harila (4th from left) at Base Camp with climbing team and friends.

Like when she was hit in the leg by a falling rock while descending Nanga Parbat, the world’s ninth tallest mountain at 26,660 feet (8,125 meters). Luckily, the rock only caused some bruising and a couple of recovery days thanks, in part, to a fortuitously placed smartphone which took the brunt of the impact.  

But perhaps her most surprising tweak is that she plans to summit all of the mountains without supplemental oxygen. 

“I know this is stupid to say,” she confesses, “but I didn’t feel challenged enough. The mountains and climbing are challenging in the moment, but I want to try something else. It’s the challenge that keeps me motivated.” 

Despite her unaided inhalation aspirations, Harila says she will bring oxygen with her just in case bad weather rolls in and she needs to move more quickly in order to take advantage of a climbing window or avoid a potentially dangerous situation.  

There are some changes to logistics, too. For starters, she’ll start this year’s attempt in Tibet to mitigate the risk of a repeat of last year’s issues with the Chinese government. She’ll also partner with a commercial climbing operator that will shuttle her via helicopter to the start of each successive climb. This means that if all goes to plan, Harila, who was only able to scale six mountains during last year’s early climbing season, will be able to climb 11 mountains in the spring alone, putting her well within reach to summit all 14 8,000-plus meter peaks in four months. 

And then there are a few videographers who, depending on what mountain she’s scaling, will climb with her to capture the story on camera, the goal to produce a docuseries to showcase the attempt.  

Scaling Spires To Inspire 

Despite mountaineering’s precarious and sometimes calamitous public image, Harila isn’t into climbing for the thrill. Instead, she climbs because she enjoys the simple process of it all, of taking one step at a time, surrounded by the mountains in which she feels most at home. Ironically, the higher she goes the more grounded she feels. 

Lately, however, Harila, who is a recent newcomer to the sport, also draws motivation from a role she’s made for herself as an ambassador to growing women’s climbing.  

“Women can climb, too, and are often better at it than the men are,” says Harila. “I’m proof of that. It’s very important that we have some role models for young girls to see that it’s possible for women to climb these mountains, too.” 

Kristin Harila making one of many presentations advocating mountaineering for women.

She’s become quite the public figure over the past year. Several institutions have invited her to share her story, and she’s also involved in a project with a Norwegian climbing brand to produce equipment specifically made for women. Once this year’s attempt at the world record is over and she has time, she plans on tackling these projects the same way she does her climbs.  

Speaking of time, only it can tell if she’ll break the world record for fastest time to climb the world’s 14 tallest mountains. But after talking with Harila, it’s easy to sense that she measures success not by summiting mountains, but by setting goals and going after them.  

“It’s good to show you have big goals,” she says. “Sometimes you don’t achieve them, but it’s important to realize it’s possible to come back and try again.”  

For Harila, the process is the reward.