Karrimor sponsored climber Bonita Norris successfully summated Mt Lhotse (8,401m) at the weekend, making her the youngest British woman to achieve the feat.
Lhotse is the fourth highest mountain in the world, and Bonita’s third peak over 8,000m, breaking another record which also makes her the youngest British female to have climbed multiple Himalayan peaks over 8,000m.
Blazing a trail in climbing the world’s highest mountains, Bonita is an excellent ambassador for the sport and hopes to encourage more people, especially women, into climbing.
Lhotse is best known for its proximity to Everest; however it is a forbidding challenge in itself and arguably a more technically difficult climb, with the steepest south face of its size in the world. Conditions this year have exposed large amounts of dry, loose rock which would normally be covered by snow, greatly increasing the danger of rock falls and rock becoming dislodged underfoot, making for an extremely demanding, nerve-wracking ascent.
Speaking of the technical challenges she faced on the ascent, Bonita said: “I took the lead – and thus was the first target for any falling rock, which was a significant problem this year for Lhotse – with many people being injured by debris. Lhotse is usually covered in snow, but this year it was mostly a rock climb, with lots of dry loose rock that we had to step so delicately over so as not to cause it to crumble and fall off down the Lhotse face.”
As the summit grew closer, the challenges did not diminish, with an exposed 50 metre rock climb to the pinnacle. Speaking of this final climb, Bonita commented: “I never thought I would be actually rock climbing at 8,400m with the Himalayas spread out below me. Climbing with mittens, huge boots and an oxygen mask is pretty difficult – I stepped my feet down like I was walking on glass, so as not to dislodge the loose rock.”
The dangers of climbing at over 8,000 metres are significant, including entering the ‘death zone’, where an oxygen mask is required to prevent severe damage to the lungs, and the ever-present threat of altitude sickness.
Mindful of what has been a difficult season on Everest this year, especially with the most recent deaths due to “traffic jams” on the mountain, Bonita talked about the advantages of climbing a less popular peak.
“My summit day was completely void of other climbers – whilst on Everest there have been hundreds of people going up at a time. In fact, we could look out from our route on Lhotse and see the queues going up Everest – whereas we were totally alone with an entire mountain to ourselves which is what climbing mountains should be all about.
“This whole expedition had been very touch and go – never before has an Everest/Lhotse season been so marred by so much going against us. Our team and all those heading up Everest this season have been subjected to terrible conditions, weeks of waiting for jet stream winds to abate, colossal avalanches that wiped out camps along our route as well as a dangerous rock fall on Lhotse. This cumulated in days when too many climbers have rushed for summit on Everest on the same day which has tragically ended in the loss of far too many climbers this season.
“We passed the body of a Czech man on our route up Lhotse which is a tragic reminder of just how dangerous climbing at this level can be. We were lucky not to have encountered any problems on our climb and now it has all sunk in I can safely say that I am happy I am alive.”
Despite the threats the mountains pose, Bonita is eloquent about why the mountain environment is so inspirational. Describing the euphoric experience of reaching the summit, Bonita added: “The sun burst into view and the entire world seemed to be at my feet – huge Himalayan peaks so small in the distance, the clouds rolling below me like an ocean – and the beautiful colours of the dawn sky. I was the only person in the whole world who had this view; it was the most breathtaking moment of my life and moments like this are what make these trips worthwhile.”
The Women’s Sports Magazine