Adriana Brownlee sets record for the youngest person to climb 10 of the world’s highest peaks

Adriana Brownlee has climbed into the record books. At 21, she is now the youngest woman to scale K2, the second highest mountain in the world, which has a 25 percent mortality rate, according to NASA.

Her Karakoram mission took her from Nanga Parbat to Broad Peak and K2. All three mountains are deadly; The risk is extreme and the climbs are even more challenging in highly unpredictable weather. I had many questions for Brownlee as the climbing season in Pakistan was very controversial this year.

Many experienced climbers have chimed in to criticize the huge queues under the K2 Gorge and the massive amounts of rubbish strewn about the mountain. I found Brownlee in Skardu after she had finished her climbs to see if the negative press was justified. She has left G1 and G2 in Pakistan and Cho Oyu and Shishapangma in China to climb all 8,000 meter peaks in her quest.

Photo: Adriana Brownlee
Photo: Adriana Brownlee

Since we last interviewed you, you’ve climbed back-to-back some of the world’s deadliest and most challenging mountains, Nanga Parbat, Broad Peak and K2. You now hold the world records as the youngest woman to summit K2 and the youngest person to climb ten eight-thousanders. How does that feel?
It’s pretty incredible to be able to say these records out loud, but it hasn’t really caught on yet. I just got an email from Guinness World Records that they would like to feature me in their next book and get my certificates which is crazy. I used to get this book every Christmas and now I’ll be in it. It also gave me a huge promotional boost in the UK, which was long overdue. But all in all I’m glad to be back home and relaxing, really! I don’t think I will be fully satisfied until I complete the whole mission.

Which of the mountains did you find the most difficult and why?
They were all very tough. However, I think Nanga Parbat definitely surpassed it; I really thought my life was over when I got off; it was pitch black, our headlamps were empty, and all you could hear was the sound as they set off the spiraling fireworks, rocks and lots of them. The Kinshofer Wand is also amazing. It’s a 200 meter vertical rock face with very, very limited steps. At the end you crawl on all fours into camp 2.

There was a lot of criticism of all the rubbish and torn tents that were left on K2. Can you tell us if that was true or not? I’ve seen the media images with lines of people lined up at the gorge of K2. Did that catch you?
As with any mountain, there is definitely some leftover junk and old tents at the camps; with the number of people climbing 8000s now, it’s kind of inevitable. It’s a shame this has become the new normal. There was a cleaning team at K2 this year that cleaned up some of the mess, but most of it is permanent now. Not good. And it stinks. Once I finish my project and get back to some of those 8000s, I think my priorities will be changing this problem rather than reaching the top.

As for the queues, the photo was taken right at the most difficult point of the summit climb, so there would be a queue. It happens on all 8000s when there is a bottleneck. This year was very busy at K2 but managed well. No deaths were related to the number of people, and all reached the summit. I was at the top a few days after that summit so I didn’t have any queues. It was very peaceful up there.

Is the traverse under the gorge the scariest part of climbing K2?
The crossing is incredible. On the way to the bottleneck, you will be haunted by the huge serac, which could really break at any moment. It is the size of a three storey building, immense. Then the traverse itself was pretty intense too; You’re basically walking along a vertical wall with a 1,000-meter drop below you and a few ropes held up by sketchy anchors! This is when you really trust the physics of ice and screws – definitely the scariest part, but not the hardest.

Photo: Adriana Brownlee
Photo: Adriana Brownlee

How come you decided not to continue climbing G1 and G2 while you were in Pakistan?
In camp 3 of K2, Gelje [Sherpa] and I was mentally exhausted. Being the strongest Sherpa he always has to lead the way and we knew we had to do the same on K2 for the summit, which is very tiring. And so we decided on the spot that this would be the last summit in Pakistan this year. G1 was going to be particularly tough as it hadn’t even been climbed that season. I’m super glad we made this decision; I really needed the break.

What is the next climbing plan for your mission?
Next it’s back to Nepal for Manaslu and Cho Oyu. I am returning to Manaslu as I have not reached the true summit. In order to truly accomplish my mission, I must reach that true pinnacle. This time I’ll go back to try without the use of supplemental O2. At K2 I reached 8,000 meters without O2 and slept without O2.

Are you taking a well-deserved break now? And if not, what do you do?
Yes, I’m resting. And by rest I mean chilling on the beach in Menorca, so I guess it matters. Of course I will also train, but that has become my new normal.

They are British and Spanish; Which of the two districts supported you the most? Did the British press give you credit for this incredible achievement?
Now that I’ve had some contacts in the UK, they’re both equally supportive, which is amazing. This is now my time to really get out in the media and do some good wherever possible.

See also: Nimsdai Purja climbs three eight-thousanders in record time without supplemental oxygen; how did he do that?

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