Girls of Everest, part 4

Bonita on the summit of Ama Dablam

Over the last week, we’ve been speaking to some of the young women who are heading off to the Himalayas this spring to attempt Everest, and today we chat to  the young woman who’s already been there and done it, Bonita Norris.

Bonita came to prominence after summiting Everest in 2010 at the age of 22, and has since climbed Ama Dablam (6812m) and will shortly be attempting the world’s fourth highest peak, Lhotse (8516m). We started off by asking Bonita why she thinks there seems to be lots of young women now attempting these big peaks: “Girls are still outnumbered on Everest by the boys. It would be great to see more experienced female climbers attempting the peak and gradually I think this is happening.”

Having preceded her attempt on Everest with an ascent of Manaslu (8516m), Bonita had experience of an ‘easy’ 8000m peak, while none of the current crop of would-be summiters have that experience behind them. What would she say is the ideal preparation for young climbers aspiring to climb Everest? “It’s different for everyone. I would say for a young person with little to no climbing experience setting their sights on Everest, they should have the goal of climbing a smaller 8000m peak first with an experienced team who can properly prepare them. I was really lucky to have this with Rob Casserley and Henry Todd on Manaslu in 2009.”

There’s been a few raised eyebrows in recent times about the young age of some of the climbers attempting Everest, and it’s not now possible to get a licence from either the Tibet or Nepal side for anyone under the age of 16, but where does Bonita stand on this issue: “I think it should be based on experience – Jordan Romero was only 13 when he climbed Everest but he was a strong climber with many years of experience. People treble his age with no experience are far more dangerous on a hill like Everest.”

But onto Bonita’s own climbing plans this spring, and the first question has to be, why Lhotse? “Lhotse because while on Everest in 2010 I looked up to that summit so may times, saw the incredible couloirs and lines of weakness heading to the summit and thought, ‘wow, to be up there climbing that would be insane!’ So it has been in the back of my mind ever since. For me it’s also about catching up with familiar faces, our sherpa team, who are great fun.”

If successful on Lhotse, Bonita will have ticked off three of the world’s 14 8000m peaks, and it begs the question, is it a long-term goal of hers to complete them all? “The 14 would be an amazing challenge but also very dangerous. It would be a matter of taking on one peak at a time. I am not thinking beyond Lhotse right now – my focus is there.”

That sounds tantalising like a ‘maybe’ to us, but not wanting to put any pressure on Bon’s shoulders, we’ll move swiftly on. As many of you will know, much of the normal route up Lhotse is shared by climbers attempting Everest from the south side, as Bonita explains:  “The route after C3 climbs through the Yellow Band and then separates from the Everest route. We have our C4 below the Lhotse Couloir, which is the line of weakness that leads up to the summit.”

And how does she think the challenge of climbing Lhotse will compare to her previous climb here? “This will be a challenge on par, and if not arguably harder, than climbing Everest. I am ready for the expedition, but perhaps far more aware of the dangers ahead considering I have climbed much of the route already. I do not relish returning to the [Khumbu] Ice Fall – it’s beautiful but… pretty dangerous too!”

We wish Bonita all the best of course, and look forward to publishing her account of the expedition in Trek & Mountain in a few issues time. But we should leave the final word to her, on the challenges posed by Everest and other big peaks, to women in particular: “I wouldn’t say there were any challenges specific to women in mountaineering. The mountains are a great leveller – it all comes down to experience.”



Leave a Comment