Date: March 8th 2019 – International Women’s Day Location: Ojos del Salado, Chile. Depart 2am. Summit at 6,893m. Back at base camp 8pm.
Sounds like a standard, well-prepped alpine ascent (‘alpine start’ = obscenely early, obvs). This 12-strong team of women were not your standard alpinists though. Only a year before, none of them had any remotely relevant experience. I guess you’d call them ‘normal people’.
So, why the decision to climb the world’s highest volcano, in Chile?! Womenclimb chats to Holly Shinkwin (of Forces Wives Challenge)
Holly: The expedition to Chile was the flagship event of the Forces Wives Challenge (FWC). This budding organisation has been set up to bring together women who are partners of serving military personnel through adventure and challenge, in an attempt to combat the loneliness and isolation many of us have experienced / are experiencing in the military community. As the flagship event, FWC wanted something spectacular to grab attention and share our message… so we decided to climb the world’s highest volcano at 6,893m – why not!?
Despite a year of rigorous training for all things physical and skill-related, the concern about altitude & acclimatisation still remained. The fact none of the team had been to altitude before left a worrying gap in their knowledge and preparations. As it turned out, 6 of the team had to descend before the summit due to effects of altitude. The strength of the team though – as one unit – meant that it didn’t matter to them who summitted, only that they did.
So what motivated the remaining 6 women to reach the summit?
Holly: As a team we were absolutely committed to getting our Leaping Lady to the top of Ojos del Salado and getting our message out there that we care about looking after one another in the community which can be an incredibly tough place to live. For me personally, when things were getting super hard, I just thought about all the food I wanted to eat when it was over. Thinking about chicken and chips kept me distracted for quite some time!
As climbers/mountaineers/hill-walkers, most of us are probably familiar with the feelings of elation after summitting our particular goal. Poignant memories are created in such moments, which are often difficult to elucidate but remain in our souls long after the stories have been shared.
Holly: “There was a moment I had with my friend; sitting side by side with her on the latrines at Laguna Verde (see pic) in the dead of night, we turned off our head torches to just sit, do our business and enjoy the most incredible view of the sky I have ever seen. A thick blanket of stars above us and not another single light to spoil the scene while we were sat on the toilet – it was pretty incredible!”
Any words of encouragement to other women thinking of starting their own expedition?
Holly: Just do it! Life is so short but so full of opportunities. If you’re alone it can be super scary joining a group for the first time but I promise you those feelings of nerves will diminish in no time and before you know it you will have met some amazing people and shared things with them that not many others will get to do. If you have something on your mind, take the first steps in finding out more information, you’ll be surprised in how quickly ideas can turn into reality!