Peak Collectors in Modern Himalayan Climbing

As the Himalayan climbing season begins, the various professionals who make their living out of high-altitude mountaineering begin to gather: porters, guides, operators, helicopter pilots, Base Camp crews.

But in the last few years, a new profession of climber has also become a fixture. Typically, they are members of fully serviced commercial teams. Sometimes, they hop from one peak to the next, aiming for as many summits as possible before the season ends. They are the 8,000m peak collectors.

Sophie Lavaud will try to bag her 13th 8,000m this season. Above, on the summit of Dhaulagiri last fall with Dawa Sangay.

Some context

Not long ago, summiting one 8,000m peak was a mountaineer’s lifetime dream. That dreamed peak was rarely Everest: It was too high (back when oxygen supplies were limited) and already too expensive.

Rather, mountaineers built up their skills before attempting one of the “easier” 8,000m peaks. Typically, these were the lower ones — Shishapangma, Gasherbrum II, and Cho Oyu from the Tibetan side. Success on one of these giants might grant these climbers some local fame and sponsorship when they returned home.

Chain-climbing 8,000’ers

Those times sound quaint now. Few would-be pros are satisfied today with just one 8,000m peak, at least if they want to build a career. At the same time, few are patient enough to devote the many years that all the 14×8,000’ers used to take. But technology and logistics have allowed them to vastly accelerate the 8,000m career arc.

Antonios Sykaris will attempt Dhaulagiri after a failed attempt (due to COVID) last spring. Photo: Antonios Sykaris


Nirmal Purja showed the world his amazing strength and tactical skills when he climbed all the 8,000’ers within a few months. He also showed local businessmen and their potential clients how to make the most of available logistics in the Himalayan climbing season, especially in Nepal.

Helicopters, oxygen, and pre-fixed routes allow fit climbers to chain-summit two or three peaks in a single season. They only need to acclimatize before the first one, and limitless oxygen shortens even that process.

On subsequent peaks, the first weather window typically prompts a summit push. The logistics are already in place: base camp, higher camps, supplies, Sherpa assistance, and fixed ropes. When the monsoon ends climbing in Nepal, some travel to Pakistan, where the season is just beginning. There, they continue to tick off their list with Nanga Parbat, K2, or another Karakoram 8,000’er.

Viridiana Alvarez of Mexico summited the world’s three highest peaks in just under two years. In 2021, she climbed Annapurna and Dhaulagiri. This spring, she has set her sights on Makalu. “Mountaineer, public speaker, executive coach, and social entrepreneur,” declares her website.


From Seven Summits to 14×8,000’ers

Not long ago, completing the Seven Summits was enough to launch a career, but that is so yesterday. Now, an increasing number of climbers are targeting the 14×8,000’ers, once the exclusive domain of the most elite mountaineers. And they want to do it as quickly as possible, using all the advances in logistics to further their quest.

Many of them are trying to establish some kind of first, based on age, personal circumstances, or nationality. This is why so many come from countries without a long mountaineering tradition. And there are still many firsts available for women on the 8,000m peaks.

Grace Tseng of Taiwan poses on K2 this past winter. Photo: Grace Tseng


Age, nationality, gender

This season, for example, Sophie Lavaud will try to make of Lhotse her 13th 8,000’er. A citizen of France, Switzerland, and Canada, she can hope to claim records in three countries. Grace Tseng of Taiwan is ready to leave behind this winter’s failed attempt on K2 by notching Annapurna. She started on the 8,000’ers list just two years ago. This spring, she is again the only client of the Dolma Outdoor Expedition team, led by Nima Gyalzen. She has further announced that she will not use oxygen.

Adriana Brownlee of the UK seems to be following the footprints (and attitude) of her mentor, Nirmal Purja. Accompanying Purja’s powerful Elite Exped team, Brownlee first set foot in the Himalaya last year. She summited Everest, Manaslu, and Dhaulagiri (in a risky, 34-hour, non-stop push).

Currently just 21, she intends to become the youngest 14×8,000m summiter within a couple of years. This spring, she intends to climb Kangchenjunga, Lhotse, and Makalu. Just yesterday, she decided to add Annapurna I for starters. She calls it her “acclimatization peak”.

Ambitious young guns meet: Shehroze Kashif of Pakistan and Adrianna Brownlee of the UK. Photo: Adriana Browlnee


More all the time

Shehroze Kashif is not the only Pakistani climbing all the 8,000’ers, but he hopes to become the youngest. He acquired his “Broad Boy” nickname by summiting Broad Peak at the age of 17. Last year, he summited Everest, K2, and Manaslu. This year, like Brownlee, he plans on Kangchenjunga, Lhotse, and Makalu.

Of course, many other climbers are currently working the 14×8,000m circuit: Viridiana Alvarez of Mexico, Uta Ibrahini of Kosovo, Moeses Fiamoncini of Brazil, Juan Pablo Sarjanovich of Argentina, Jackson Groves of Australia, Arjun Vajpai of India, as well as Nepalis Purnima Shrestha, Pasang Lamu Sherpa, Maya Sherpa, and others.

Kills adventure but accelerates what is possible

The use of helicopters, fixed ropes, eight litres per minute of oxygen, and heavy Sherpa support obviously kills much of the adventure as it accelerates what is possible. It also increases the odds that people will make it down safely. Yet it seems a far cry from the lonely expeditions of the past or the alpine-style climbs of self-sufficient teams on virgin routes.

At the same time, it fulfills the requirements of impatient young climbers — or older ones — without much experience or technical ability. And for the thriving expedition business in Nepal, it’s working pretty well.

Uta Ibrahini is the first Kosovo woman to summit six 8,000’ers. She hopes Makalu will become her 7th. She also attempted Lhotse South Face in Hong Sun-Taek’s team in 2019. Photo: Uta Ibrahini