Testimonials

Sissel Smaller

Sissel climbed from the North Side having decided that she wanted to avoid the risk of travelling through the notoriously tricky Khumbu ice fall on the South Side. Climbing Lhotse this year will mean that the ice fall is unavoidable, as climbers take the same route as the Everest approach.

What is coming next and after all that she has done what can possibly phase her with her next challenge of Lhotse?

To go to the South Side is a fantastic opportunity, although I am nervous about Lhotse. I have massive respect for the mountain - its technicality and its steepness, I know it will be a huge challenge. I researched the North and South side a lot when I was thinking about climbing Everest and I felt happier with the more calculated risk of the north side. I didn’t want to do the ice fall of the south side – going through it four times concerns me. The unknown worries me greatly, which is why I am nervous about Lhotse as I have to take the same route. I know I am in the safest hands possible but I rely on myself and the knowledge that I have trained enough to make the goal physically realistic. I have to know that I am at the peak of my possible fitness. I rely on and trust Himalayan Experience’s decision making implicitly, but I don’t rely on them to get my up the mountain. That’s up to me.

Sissel Smaller picture

How have you prepared for Lhotse?

I always keep fit - I train for ultra marathons so although I have upped my training over the last 5 months, it hasn’t been a huge extra commitment. I have just completed the Haute Route, the classic Chamonix-Zermatt ski tour, which has been a great end to my training. It is a week of slow, steady and constant 8 hour days of ski touring carrying 20ks a day. It was wonderful.

How did your love of mountains begin, and what does mountaineering mean to you?

I am a lover of the mountains, but I do not consider myself to be a mountaineer. I have huge respect for purist Alpinists and their beliefs, but I don’t pretend to be one of them. I have different aspirations. I am a woman that needs a challenge. If there are more things that I want to do, experience and see than I have time for, then I am happy. I have never been bored – if I am then its time to do something about it. I feel the mountains do something special to me, and I hope to be able to inspire other people, especially women, to get out there and aim to achieve wonderful things. Reaching summits makes me feel good. Its personal, and I don’t care if the mountain is 2000m or 8000m, its an instinct to want to reach the top and to know that I have achieved that myself.

The satisfaction of getting to the highest point and doing the most you can is wonderful. I don’t think it matters if you are a trekker or a Alpine style mountaineer, everyone is in the mountains to enjoy them, and we are all part of a team together.

How did the Seven summits come about, and tell us a little about them?

I climbed Elbrus first as the opportunity was offered to me, I had not set out to climb the seven summits when I started with that challenge, it just happened. Climbing the Seven Summits has been the most fantastic way of seeing the world, and a way of doing what I love doing. Every one of them has been a challenge in its own way, irrespective of the height of the summit. Kilimanjaro was a huge challenge in itself – I arranged a group of fourteen women who had all experienced the effects of, or been sufferers of Breast Cancer. Standing on the summit with the group and seeing what they had done to work towards achieving such a huge personal challenge was a really special and inspirational time for me. I now enjoy talking to others about personal goal setting and achieving dreams – it is a way for me to give something back. I am really grateful to those who inspired me so I hope to be able to do the same for others too.

Everest was the hardest psychologically. It is a life and death situation, and the emotional and mental preparation for that is massive. The seriousness of what I was embarking upon was with me and in the back of my mind all of the time.

enali was the hugest challenge physically – it was the coldest of all of the places I had been to, and I was pulling a 30k sled as well as carrying a 20k pack. We had no help, no porters, and it was scary going out into a minefield of crevasses.

Have you ever suffered from altitude sickness?

I have been very lucky with all of my trips and the only symptom of altitude which I always suffer from is a bad cough. I broke 3 ribs on Everest from the dreaded ‘Khumbu cough’ in the lead up to the summit bid, I didn’t realise that until I got home though. If I had known that at Base camp there is no way Russell would have allowed me to go, so I am glad that I didn’t know!

Why Himalayan Experience?

I bought a house in Chamonix in 1998 and met Russell soon afterwards. I quickly gained a lot of respect for Russell during the run up to my North side Everest trip in 2004. I was booked onto the trip and he called me say that another woman had applied for a place, wanting to become the first Scandanavian female to summit Everest. Russell was concerned that any competitive feeling could put people at danger, he didn’t want two people competing. Seeing as I had booked already, he wanted to voice his concerns and to give me the chance to go if I wanted to. Everest was important to me in terms of a personal goal and achievement, but I was not worried about it becoming a ‘first’. It was a challenge and an aspiration for someone else, and I wanted the other member to give it her best shot. I withdrew from the expedition that year and joined instead for the following season.

Russell’s sensitivity and concern really struck me then- he is a very authoritative leader, but is equally remarkably gentle, kind and aware of situations and feelings surrounding him. I think this is why he is such a strong a leader in his field.

Russell knows so much about everything... I trust him and his expedition. Its not just good from the outside appearance, but it’s a complete operation. That is really important. I’ve been with lots of organisations in the past doing the seven summits, but I go with what I trust and what I know. I would never go back to the Himalaya with any organisation other than Himalayan Experience. I also know that the other operations respect Russell and his company hugely- and that says a lot in itself.

I always feel very proud to be a part of the Himalayan Experience team. Everyone is there with their own individual aims but we all have a great time together - the Himalayan Experience crowd is fantastic at creating a bonding and positive atmosphere. That feeling in turn makes expedition members more at ease, happier at base camp, and therefore more likely to have success. I have fond memories of many long card games and whisky.. I know Himalayan Experience is well known for both of those!

I have been very lucky with all of my trips and the only symptom of altitude which I suffer from is a bad cough. I broke 3 ribs on Everest coughing in the lead up to the summit bid, I didn’t realise that until I got home. If I had known that at Base camp there is no way Russell would have allowed me to go, so I am glad that I was unaware!

What next?

Lhotse is enough of a challenge for now, so while I am no way saying that something else wont follow, it is certainly enough to be focussing on for now!

The Matterhorn is the only mountain that I have tried to climb but that I was unable to on my first attempt– we were turned back due to weather at about 4,300m in 2010. It was wonderful seeing the mountain again whilst completing the Haute Route, I definitely felt an urge to return – it is a beautiful mountain.

Sissel is also taking part in Racing the Planet in November 2011 – a 250k race in the desert in Nepal.

At the age of 50, an ultra marathon runner, a seven summits success story and a strong Lhotse contender, Sissel is a fantastic inspiration to many and we are proud to have her on the Himalayan Experience team.