Phunjo Lama Sets New Record for Fastest Female Ascent of Mount Everest

Nepal’s Phunjo Lama has just broken the world record for the fastest ascent of Mount Everest by a woman, completing the climb in 24 hours and 26 minutes without stopping to sleep.

Her ascent from Everest Base Camp to the summit took 14 hours and 31 minutes, followed by a descent lasting another nine hours and 18 minutes. Lama began her climb at 3:52 p.m. on May 23 and reached the summit at 6:23 a.m. the next day.

Due to the limited climbing season and challenging conditions on Mount Everest, the window to reach the summit is narrow. Every year, photos show long lines of climbers waiting for their chance to reach the top, with “traffic jams” sometimes lasting for hours. Climbing overnight allowed Lama to avoid these crowds. She estimates that between May 21 and 22, there were 6,700 people between Camps Two and Four. On the morning of the 24th, she was behind only “60 or 70” people.

Records for the fastest ascent are measured from Base Camp due to the need for acclimatization to the extreme altitude. Lama spent three weeks at Base Camp before her climb, accompanied by Samantha McMahon, who aims to become the first Australian woman to climb all of the world’s 8,000-meter peaks. Mount Everest stands at 8,849 meters (29,032 feet).

According to Guinness World Records, which considers the total time for a round trip from Base Camp, Lama first set an Everest record in 2018 with a time of 39 hours and six minutes. This record was broken in 2021 by Hong Kong’s Ada Tsang, who made the climb in 25 hours and 50 minutes. Lama’s recent ascent marks her second climb of Everest.

The fastest ascent by a male climber is 10 hours and 56 minutes, set by Nepali Lhakpa Gelu Sherpa in 2003. Despite her achievements, Lama says she isn’t driven by record-chasing or recognition from Guinness. Someone else contacted the record-keeping organization on her behalf in 2018.

Raised in a yak herding community in Nepal’s remote Tsum Valley, Lama lived most of her life at elevations of 4,500-5,000 meters above sea level. She moved to Kathmandu as a teenager, where she learned to speak Nepali and English. “Mountains are my playground and my home,” she tells CNN. “A mountain never says that you are a woman or a man. Which is why I like mountains, because a mountain is always equal.”

Lama, now a mountaineering guide, aims for gender equality in her field. Currently, about 75% of her climbing clients are male and 25% are female. She hopes to see this ratio become fifty-fifty someday. “I’m sure my dream will come true,” she says.

In addition to Everest, Lama has summited Alaska’s Denali, North America’s highest peak, and plans to climb K2 in Pakistan, the world’s second-highest mountain.

The 2024 climbing season introduced several changes on Everest. For the first time, all climbers were equipped with tracking chips to facilitate locating and rescuing lost climbers. Additionally, climbers were required to collect their waste in plastic bags and remove it from the mountain to address the growing problem of trash, including human waste, left by increasing numbers of climbers.

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