Perspective: Kristin Harila’s Speed Record on the 8,000’ers

Kristin Harila of Norway and Tenjen Lama Sherpa of Nepal have completed a remarkable feat. The client-guide team has just summited all 14 8,000’ers in 92 days.

Harila will likely spend the next few weeks giving interviews, negotiating with sponsors, and collecting enough Guinness Record certificates to cover a wall of her home. Yet she is a magnet not just for attention but for criticism.

Kristin Harila and her sherpa team on Dhaulagiri last week.

Kristin Harila and her sherpa team on Dhaulagiri last week. Photo: Kristin Harila


Most critics focus on the logistics, the heavy support, the use of ropes which she herself has not fixed, and the helicopters to gain time in a sport that formerly reveled in long weeks immersed in the wilderness. That’s not adventure, some say. Others conclude that she wouldn’t be able to do anything in the mountains without her team.

“She is not an alpinist,” has been a common phrase. It’s true that Harila is not Wanda Rutkiewicz or Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner. She might not even know who these women were. But to be fair, she has never compared herself to mountaineering’s female pioneers.

A target

Kristin Harila has become a symbol for the expansion of commercial mountaineering. New methods, goals, and styles have taken over our highest mountains. Harila is a target for those frustrated by the replacement of traditional mountaineering with experiential tourism.

But Harila didn’t start this process. A well-developed industry was already there. For young climbers, this is the only Himalayan scene they know.

Harila entered this scene not to pioneer a new record, but to break an existing one set by Nirmal Purja, using the same methods.

Climbers in foggy weather on their way to Camp 3 on K2., 2023.

Climbers in foggy weather on their way to Camp 3 on K2. Photo: 8K Expeditions/Summit Karakoram



Kristin Harila has a strong athletic background in cross-country skiing, but not in mountaineering. She was first attracted to the Seven Summits, most of which are no great alpine challenge, and she always traveled in guided groups.

Harila climbed Kilimanjaro, Aconcagua, and two trekking peaks in Nepal, before signing up with Madison Mountaineering for Everest in 2021. There, together with a sherpa team, she summited Everest and Lhotse back to back, without returning to Base Camp or taking off her oxygen mask. She completed the trip in 12 hours from summit to summit. It was then that she came up with the idea of beating Nirmal Purja’s 14×8,000m speed record.

Harila and Tenjen holding the Sami flag on the summit of Annapurna.

Harila and Tenjen holding the Sami flag on the summit of Annapurna. Photo: Kristin Harila


Purja was not an experienced mountaineer either, but rather a military veteran with a sudden interest in summits and feats. Purja saw starting his own expedition company as a great way to put his leadership skills to use and surrounded himself with some of the strongest sherpas of the moment.

But he also needed something spectacular to enter Nepal’s highly competitive expedition operator market. His Project Possible quest fulfilled that role.

What 2019’s Project Possible meant for the market and Harila

Purja climbed all the 8,000’ers in 189 days (sort of — it’s generally accepted that he didn’t reach the true summits of Manaslu or Dhaulagiri). He astonished the climbing community with his logistical ingenuity and physical strength, and general audiences with a carefully curated superhero persona.

Purja was the first person to come out of nowhere and actually try to climb the 14 peaks in one year. Other climbers had considered or announced that they would attempt it, but no one started the challenge. Observers doubted Purja’s chances at first, but the skepticism turned to interest as he succeeded on one summit after the next.

His methods were shocking to mountaineering’s old guard: changing tired sherpas for fresh ones as if they were horses, having everything done for him, and helicoptering rather than trekking from one base camp to the next. But he showed that he was not interested in the means but in the goal. And with it, Purja reshaped the market for chain-summiters.

If there is something that Harila cannot take from Nirmal Purja, it is the glory of being first. She is the first woman, but Purja was the only reference and record to beat. Harila has many supporters, but they are a fraction of Purja’s.

Record smashed and improved

But Harila has not only beaten Purja’s record, she has smashed it. Purja took 189 days and Harila needed just 92. She has proven that 2019’s Project Possible was very possible.

She also demonstrated that, if she had managed to get Chinese climbing permits last year, she would likely have completed the challenge on her first attempt. That setback only motivated her to start over. Once the Chinese permits were solved and the Tibetan peaks were climbed, she upped the game by going for an even tighter deadline.

In many respects, she improved Purja’s project, from transparency to the optimization of logistics.

the climbers on soft snow, walking with poles and heavy backpacks.

Kristin Harila and Tenjen Sherpa. Photo: Seven Summit Treks


But in 2019, few climbers expected to climb several 8,000’ers in one season. Purja had to find a way to move efficiently from base camp to base camp, hire helicopters, deal with permits and red tape, cooperate with other teams on each peak, and efficiently use his limited human resources. In pursuit of his personal goal, he set a trend for the expedition market.

In 2021, after the COVID closure, Nepalese expedition operators jumped at the possibility of selling multiple climbs to the same clients. By the time Harila decided to do the 14×8,000’ers in six months, she had a whole system ready for her.

Change of outfitters

Harila changed her outfitter in 2023 because she needed a company capable of getting her permits to climb in Tibet. Seven Summit Treks provided that, and more. The Himalayan outfitter with the most clients at the moment, Seven Summit Treks (7ST) was already sending teams to all 14 peaks, had nearly endless resources, and ample practice moving clients, sherpas, and gear from one mountain to the next faster than anyone.

It was a win-win situation for Harila, who could use the contacts, human resources, and logistics that 7ST had established for their other clients. In exchange, 7ST would use Harila’s project to put more clients on top behind her and benefit from the visibility she would provide to the company and its staff.

Harila attaches a sleeping mat to a bulky backpack, a small yellow tent behind.

Harila during a climb in Pakistan this season. Photo: Kristin Harila


Transparency and generosity

Harila’s critics point to the lack of recognition given to Tenjen (or Tenjin according to his social media) Lama Sherpa, who has climbed with her on all 14 peaks. But Harila has never concealed the names of her supporting team.

One could argue that Harila has been generous to accept sharing her record by including Tenjen in all her summit pushes. After all, she is footing the bill and Tenjen is a professional hired for the task. Harila could easily have demanded that 7ST change the members of her summit teams to ensure she was the only person holding the record. She has shared the record, something that Nirmal Purja chose not to do.

Harila and Tenjen in the night. look at each other.

Kristin Harila and Tenjen Sherpa. Photo: Seven Summmit Treks


Equally, Harila has been transparent about her skills and methods. She has posted her live tracker on every ascent, shared summit videos, and published reports as soon as she had a moment during her crazy race. She has never been alone with her team on the mountain. There were always other clients from different teams around.

Though we don’t have much information regarding her last three peaks, her team will surely provide documentation soon. In terms of transparency, her accomplishment is crystal clear.

Another (dangerous) trend?

Is Kristin Harila a role model for mountaineering values? As we said when we analyzed Purja’s 2019 quest, Harila is an extraordinary athlete with amazing strength, and a motivated woman focused on a distant finish line. She is also a driven person capable of overcoming difficulties and failure. But she is not an elite mountaineer.

Her communication campaign had some hiccups too, especially during the early stages. Her “women can too” line raised eyebrows because of her reliance on a strong, male sherpa team. Likewise, her remarks about carbon emissions and environmental concerns were quite unfortunate, considering that her success depended on the overuse of helicopters. For this, she was criticized, not by eco-youngsters at home in Norway, but by other Nepali expedition guides.

Tents all sizes and colors spread on a snow and rock plain.

Everest Base Camp from a drone. Photo: Pasang Rinzee Sherpa


Will someone beat her 92-day record? It’s very likely. But what is not in doubt is that an increasing number of clients will aim for more peaks in less time. Will climbing all the 14 8,000’ers within a year become a fad in commercial mountaineering? Tibet has opened to foreign expeditions and the big Nepal-based companies are there, ready to facilitate trips to as many peaks as you can afford.

Speed can kill

Yet the companies cannot ensure safety, and speed can kill. Harila finished her race by storming up K2 during a very small weather window with the mountain in an unsafe condition. This is not an exaggeration. There were two avalanches during the summit night, and Pakistani climber Muhammad Hassan, working with the rope fixers, was killed.

Harila also took risks on Manaslu last fall and on a snow-loaded Nanga Parbat. In both cases, the mountains took lives a few days after she summited. Harila has admitted that she is not skilled enough to assess and manage objective risks in the mountains. Instead, she put her trust in her sherpa team.

Needless to say, guiding sherpas are under significant pressure, especially if their clients pursue records or promise their guides large summit bonuses. Companies also have a lot to gain. In the end, they’re all equally invested in the challenge. But unlike cross-country skiing competitions, the price to pay for a poor assessment of conditions in the high mountains goes far beyond missing a medal because you’re using the wrong wax.

This leads us to a final warning for Harila wannabes: Kristin Harila and Tenjen Lama Sherpa have been very lucky. Lucky to summit all the peaks on their first attempts and lucky to make it down all of them safely. But you cannot count on always having fortune on your side.

No company, no matter how much you pay, can guarantee good luck on an 8,000m peak. If Harila and the Seven Summit Treks team had crossed K2’s Great Serac area at 2:30 am, this story might be very different.

Angela Benavides

Angela Benavides graduated university in journalism and specializes in high-altitude mountaineering and expedition news. She has been writing about climbing and mountaineering, adventure and outdoor sports for 20+ years.

Prior to that, Angela Benavides spent time at/worked at a number of local and international media. She is also experienced in outdoor-sport consultancy for sponsoring corporations, press manager and communication executive, and a published author.