This week saw enthusiastic climbers all over the world celebrate International Mountain Day.
It gives us a great chance to revisit this Inspiring Lives article on Mollie Hughes, the youngest woman to climb Mount Everest from both the south and north sides.
Mollie has just been named the first female president of Scouts Scotland, too!
This article was written for “The People’s Friend” by Chris Cope.
FOR most of her life, Mollie Hughes has – quite literally – dreamed big.
She achieved her latest goal last May after becoming the youngest woman in the world, at the age of twenty-six, to climb Mount Everest from both its north and south sides, following her first trip five years earlier in 2012.
Although she never imagined she would have climbed the 8,848-metre Himalayan mountain twice before she even reached thirty, Mollie has long held an interest in exploring.
She started climbing at the age of seventeen. And a dissertation she wrote on Everest climbers while she was studying sports psychology set her on a path towards scaling the world’s highest mountain herself.
Her record-breaking climb last year saw Edinburgh-based Mollie leave at the beginning of April before reaching the summit in mid-May. Although a number of weeks were used to acclimatise to the harsh surroundings.
The “death zone”
“I felt more confident than the first time I was there. Like a better mountaineer. I was five years older and I had been climbing for five years more,” she said.
“It took everything to get up there, both physically and mentally. But I don’t think there was any point where I thought I couldn’t do it.”
The final climb includes a trip through the worryingly titled “death zone” – an area past 8,000 metres where oxygen is in short supply. It can be particularly dangerous in poor weather.
“We had been climbing all through the night and we were completely exhausted,” Mollie reflected.
“By the time you get up there, the sun is just rising. You can see out over the whole of the Himalayas. It’s pretty magical. But it’s not really the time to celebrate, because you’ve got to get all the way back down again.
“The feelings of achievement come in when you’re back down at base camp and can properly relax.”
Mollie explained that getting down from the peak is actually harder than getting up it because of fatigue. That’s when most accidents happen.
“You’re just so exhausted getting down because you’ve been climbing for five or six days to get to that point, and you’ve been climbing the death zone, too,” Mollie explained.
Mollie has also climbed in the likes of South America, the Alps and at home in the UK, and she’s keen to inspire others, regularly holding talks with youths and at corporate events to inspire the mind.
What makes a mountain climber?
So what qualities does someone need to become a successful mountaineer?
“It’s all down to the psychology of it, really,” Mollie replied. “Anyone could get up there if they trained physically, but you need to have the right mindset.
“You definitely need a huge amount of resilience – the ability to push yourself as far as you could have imagined pushing yourself, but then five more. And obviously a lot of perseverance and self-belief that you actually think you can do it.”
The adventurer describes herself as someone who was “super shy” throughout school and university. But it seems that, through mountaineering, Mollie has found a way to express herself – and in perhaps one of the most striking ways possible.
“I always had this deep down belief that I could do something and hopefully achieve something in life,” she said. “I try to tell younger people that they don’t have to be the loudest, the cleverest or the most confident kid in the class.
“If they really want to achieve something, then they can.”
You’ll find more Inspiring Lives in our Lifestyle pages.