“I started climbing by accident really. In 2005, my husband and I were living in Finland, where we are both from. We had our summer holidays coming up and we didn’t have anything planned and couldn’t make a decision. We’re quite outdoorsy and active, so my husband suggested a two-week ice-climbing course in Sweden at Mount Kebnekaise. I said, ‘Sure. Why not?’ and we went.
“It was a really good two weeks. We learnt all about ice climbing, glacier travel, crevasse rescue, other safety measures and living in a tent in the cold. The first day was interesting... We only had a small tent and we had to do everything in there – cook our food, go to the toilet. But we enjoyed it a lot. While we were still doing the course, we decided we would climb Mont Blanc the following summer.
“We started climbing training at a climbing wall near where we lived, and camping in the middle of winter to get used to the cold. My husband and I are long-distance runners and triathletes, so we both train a lot anyway – we just added climbing to it. In the summer of 2006, we climbed Mont Blanc and loved it, but we didn’t have any plans at that point to do any more mountains.
“A couple of months later, we got married. We spent our honeymoon cycling from Lhasa in Tibet to Kathmandu in Nepal. Along the way, we visited Everest base camp. It was the first time I had ever set eyes on that mountain. I decided then and there that I wanted to climb it. It seemed like a big challenge, but my husband said to me, ‘If you want to do it, you will.’
“Everest is 8,848 metres high. I knew that if I wanted to climb it, I needed to climb some other peaks first. So my husband and I returned to Nepal each year to climb big mountains. In 2008, we climbed Chulu West, which is 6,419 metres high. Later that year, I climbed Kang Guru, which is 7,010 metres – it was a real preparation course for 8,000-metre peaks. In 2009, we climbed Tukuche Peak – 6,950 metres – together and in 2010 I climbed Everest. “To climb a mountain like Everest, you need about two months.
My husband couldn’t take that much time off work, but I work for myself – I have my own catering company and do outdoor training courses – so I could take the time. Two months sounds like a long time, but you spend about ten days trekking to base camp and then you spend a long time there acclimatising and waiting for good weather.
“There are four camps before the final summit, and acclimatising involves spending two or three days at base camp, going up to Camp One for a night, then back down to base camp for three nights. Then back up to Camp One for a night, up to Camp Two for a night, then back down to base camp for another three nights, and so on. It can take a lot of time – especially if the weather is bad.
“It’s OK at base camp, because you have books, music, email, good food and there are lots of people around to talk to. But it can get boring when you are waiting for good weather... I think this is one of the hardest parts of climbing big mountains, and it’s the part that people often don’t prepare for – boredom is really disheartening. You go there excited about the climb and then you are just waiting.
“Also, while you are waiting, you are socialising with other climbers and you start hearing stories about accidents and people dying, which can get you down. But if you want to climb big mountains, you really have to mentally prepare for that. I think to myself, ‘OK, this is part of the climb. If you want to climb this mountain, you just have to take it.’
“It gets even harder once you start getting higher up. By Camp Three, it’s so cold that your iPod doesn’t work anymore – it gets down to about minus 35 degrees – and if it did, it would probably be out of battery anyway. We have really good gear, which keeps us warm, but you can’t let your skin become exposed. If you want to take a picture, you take your mittens off to use the camera but leave your glove liners on.
“I’ve got heaters for my shoes, which I charge at base camp and save for the summit push. You can get all sorts of heating pads and devices, but if you aren’t moving, you get cold within ten minutes. So when you’re on the summit push, you just have to keep moving. If someone stops, you have to carry on. Of course, if they are having problems, you stop and help them, but if someone is struggling to keep up, you have to go on at your own pace.
When I climbed Everest, there were eight of us in our group. I normally do my climbs with a company called Altitude Junkies and they employ one sherpa per climber, so there is always someone around you.
“Cooking and going to the bathroom is difficult, as everything has to be done in your tent. We melt snow and pour the hot water on to packaged meals to eat. We also eat a lot of chocolate and museli bars and drink a lot of hot soup and energy drinks. But by the time you get to Camp Three, you don’t have any appetite and you don’t need to go to the bathroom as much, which makes it easier.
“When we did the summit push on Everest, we left Camp Four at 10pm and climbed through the night. We reached the summit early in the morning and then climbed back down to Camp Four. We were gone for 14 hours in total. It was an amazing moment to reach the top, but by that point, you are so tired and you know you have still got a long climb back down to base camp. The great feeling of achievement comes a lot later.
“The best memory was getting back to base camp two days after I had reached the summit and my husband being there. We had a date at Everest base camp and I was one day late. I will always remember the moment when my husband gave me a long hug when I finally reached base camp safely.
“Climbers say that when you get back from climbing a big mountain, you should rest for a month. But when I am climbing, the thing I miss most – other than my husband – is running. So when I get home, I go straight out for a run. That’s when you realise how much your body has been through. When you are at altitude, your body uses your muscles for energy. So I always lose weight when I am climbing and come back with no muscle left. I have to take it easy for a couple of weeks until I’m back to my full strength.
“Emotionally and mentally, it takes a little while before you can say you are back to your normal life. You’ve spent two months with a small group of people living in a different world. You can get really close to them – on the first day you think, ‘OK, this is my crew for the next two months’. Life on the mountain is so different from life at home, and coming back is strange. I think it’s because the feelings you have on the mountain are such big feelings, it takes a while to get over them.
“It’s very important that my husband is a climber, too, and knows what I do so he can support me emotionally when I get back. I don’t know what he thinks about how I am when I return, but I guess he must know by now and think, ‘OK, she’s going to be like this for a while and then she’ll be normal again.’
“I was the second Finnish woman to reach the peak of Everest. The first reached it just one week before me. But it’s not about that for me – it’s something else. I don’t know what it is that got me so hooked... I think about it all the time. My childhood was spent growing up in a forest. I was a keen girl scout and we used to go trekking and camping all the time.
“Nature is so important to me. It is very close to my heart. Of course mountains are beautiful – and the scenery takes your breath away – but there is something else about being in the mountains. Something spiritual. I get it every time I am there. I think it is a feeling of being connected to nature. I feel like climbing has made me much stronger mentally, too. I have a lot more patience and I don’t get frustrated as easily as I did before.
“I have two climbs scheduled for this year. Lhotse, which is 8,545 metres, in the spring, and then Ama Dablam, which is 6,812 metres, in the autumn season with my husband. My goal now is to do all my climbs without using any supplemental oxygen. I used oxygen at the top of Everest and it really helps, because it makes you feel so much warmer and stronger. In 2011, I climbed Mount Manaslu, which is 8,163 metres, and it was harder for me than Everest because I didn’t use any supplemental oxygen. I think that is real climbing.
“I’m sponsored by Finnish outdoors brand Halti, but climbing is still very expensive. Climbing Everest costs about Dh160,000, and most of that goes on the climbing permit. But the other big mountains – meaning more than 8,000 metres – cost about Dh40,000. If I could be fully sponsored and I could just climb whenever I wanted, that would be very nice! But right now I just want to try to climb at least one big mountain every year.
“I definitely want to continue climbing. There are always more mountains to climb. Everest is high, but it is not the most difficult to climb. There are others that are more technical and more challenging. So climbing still holds many goals for me to achieve.
“As for other sports and activities, I still run marathons and do my triathlons. I like competing in races – the adrenaline and the satisfaction. Running is like my daily life – my style of living – and is a very important part of my life, but big mountains are my real passion. Climbing is definitely my thing.”