Meet the Record-Setting Woman of Everest 2024

In a year characterized by an uncertain Khumbu icefall, shifting weather patterns and a short climbing season, yet more woman than ever stood out in their achievements on Everest.

Though at some point she may have stood in more than a line or two to reach the top, Nepali climber Purnima Shrestha raced up and down to the top a record setting 3 times in the 2024 season.

Summiting first at the very start of the season on the 12th of May, she was blessed with a relatively rapid journey to the summit, climbing with Phura Temba Sherpa.

Photo journalist and professional Nepali climber Purnima Shrestha at Camp 3 on Everest.

On 19 May she was back up to the summit again with Pasang Sherpa, this time climbing in the very early morning, to again avoid the crowds, reaching the top by 3 a.m. Then while most climbers were still headed up the slopes, she galloped back down again – not a bad strategy.

And on 25 May, she was back up again for her record setting third ascent, summiting with Karma Gtyaljen Sherpa.

While Everest is being touted as more ego-tourism, this is a woman who with a further seven 8,000 metre peaks behind her, undoubtably knows which way to hold her ice axe.

To be confirmed is whether all these ascents started and finished at Base Camp, but in any case, the amount of up and down vertical in this record will be astounding.

With the shifting winds, endless lines, and a relatively low overall success rate, reaching the top of the world no less than 3 times in a single season, a record only matched by a few Sherpa men, is quite remarkable.

As ever on Everest, speed is the other record climbers often chase.

With all the ropes in, steps flattened out through the steeper icy sections on the Lhotse Face and a trail literally stomped hard to the top in the snow, it can be more akin to a mountain running track and a climbathon than much real climbing.

But the pure physicality, of climbing Everest up and down, in a single day is still rather astounding. Phunjo Lama reclaimed her record, with a 14 hour, 31 minute ascent, then ran back down to Base Camp, completing the round-trip journey in 24 hours and 26 minutes.

While others might tout their stair climbers and treadmill time with a pack on, her training regimen as a youth was climbing up to join her grandfather in the higher elevations where he herded Yaks.

Phunjo Jhangmu Lama celebrating her record setting Everest ascent time back in Kathmandu.

While multiple ascents in a season and new speed records accomplished with a host of logistics in place and liberal oxygen are  heavily reliant on support, the now age old practice of eschewing oxygen to reach the top seems to again be gaining ground.

In the past it was a sign of style, though now it has evolved to be a way to add to the challenge, for either personal or perhaps egotistical reasons. As if Everest isn’t enough of a challenge already.

Without oxygen you need to spend more time acclimatizing, you climb slower, get colder and it is hard to take on nutrition. And to sleep without oxygen at the highest altitudes, you are probably only dreaming.

Not to mention the fact that thinking clearly, never a strong suit on Everest anyway, is greatly affected.

However, Slovakian Lenka Polackova, (with a rather impressive set of Insta. photos) an actress and TV host turned ultra runner, climbing alongside her husband Jan Polacek, achieved the rare distinction of becoming the first from her country and the 10th woman to climb Everest without oxygen.

IFMGA Guide Prakesh Sherpa, Lenka Polackova and husband Jan Polacek in Kathmandu. Insta.

The very first woman up Everest without oxygen, New Zealander Lydia Brady posted:

“Congratulations to you and to Prakash – I summited Dhaulagiri with Prakash… and know how hard Everest is without O2! Mega congrats. 

Dean Staples, Lydia Bradey, first woman to climb Everest without O2, and an interloper, on the streets of Kathmandu last year. Photo: same

With more climbers doing the Everest-Lhotse double header, it is still an add-on that is both physically and mentally grueling. Doing the combo adds a challenge that having just climbed Everest, you then go for the top of the worlds’ 4th highest peak, having barely gone below 8,000 metres, as you trot across the South Col and head up the Lhotse Couloir.

This was accomplished by Nepali Nangsal Choedon Lama, climbing with Kusang Dorchi Sherpa, in a time reported at the Himalayan Times as being completed in 47 hours, EBC to top of Everest, to the South Col, then up Lhotse and back to EBC.

Having started as a porter in her village of Samagaun, Nangsal is another Nepali who probably spends less time in the gym and more time in the real mountains.

Nangsal Choedon Lama: first Nepali female to summit both Everest and Lhotse.

Perhaps most inspiring is three of these 4 record setters are Nepali woman, who for the first time are setting the records in their home country.

And while she didn’t climb this year, Nepali Lakpa Sherpani, holds the women’s summit record with ten ascents of Everest, 3 from the South side and 7 from Tibet.

Lakpa Sherpani – the record setting woman with the most ascents of Everest.

These records and the challenges go far beyond the simple physical accomplishment of being a woman on Everest and extend to the multitude of cultural and socio-economic barriers they face long before they reach the mountain at all.

If anything, they have broken through a host of barriers long before they have ever set foot on Everest, making their accomplishments all that more ground-breaking.