“After four hours of climbing, I reached an ice peak. From there, I carried my baggage onto my shoulders and begun to trudge upward through the deep snow. My baggage might have been about 40 to 50 centimeters taller than me and I could barely walk as my knees wobbled.
“I climbed up and down along the mountain ridge where a chain of tall mountains and hills were covered in snow. At the peak of the second ridge, I saw another pencil-like tall and white hill at a distance. Everyday, the mountain reminded us that it was Denali [the highest mountain peak in North America] and that climbing to its peak wouldn’t be easy. I got goosebumps as an approximately 600 meter tall ice wall, slanted around 60 to 70 degrees to the side, started to appear right next to us.
“I traveled day and night in the rain for half a month. This is Denali Pass….with a cry of ‘No’ and a bow of exhaustion, I climbed on top,” wrote State Honored Athlete B.Gangaamaa four years ago to celebrate her conquest of North America’s highest summit, Denali, elevated 6,190 meters above sea level.
Executive board member and professional board member of the Mongolian National Mountaineering Federation B.Gangaamaa said, “Every mountain is my teacher” after stepping onto the highest podium of mountain climbing, the summit of Denali. She has devoted the last 25 years of her life to mountaineering, and in just five years, she achieved to conquer six of the Seven Summits of the World, namely Mount Everest (8,848m), Mount Aconcagua (6,962 m), Mount Denali (6,194 m), Mount Kilimanjaro (5,895 m), and Mount Elbrus (5,642 m). B.Gangaamaa became the first Mongolian to raise the state flag of Mongolia on the Carstensz Pyramid (4,884 m) earlier this month.
Below is an interview with B.Gangaamaa about her amazing and inspirational adventures.
Congratulations on becoming the first Mongolian to stand on top of Mount Kosciuszko, elevated at the height of 2,228 meters in the Australian Alps National Parks and Reserves, and Carstensz Pyramid in Indonesia.
Carstensz Pyramid, also known as Puncak Jaya, is said to be one of the more demanding climbs of the Seven Summits peak-bagging list. Were you successful at reaching the summit on your first attempt?
It is one of the Seven Summits of the World, but not the hardest to climb. The only difference from my other climbs is that it’s pure rock climbing experience. Since no other Mongolian reached its peak, I became the first Mongolian to conquer it. It was my first attempt. It takes around five days through Mount Carstensz’s jungle to reach the base camp at an elevation of 4,300 meters. That part was the most challenging.
…I really wish to inscribe a Mongolian name as clearly and distinctly as possible in the world list of climbers who have reached the Seven Summits…
How did you prepare for the climb? Have you had rock climbing experience beforehand?
I’ve been training in this sport for 25 years; since I was a child. I have stood on top of the seven highest peaks of six continents so far. I led and organized many mountain climbing expeditions both in Mongolia and abroad. From that, I’ve gained a little bit of experience.
How is the weather condition? Did you face many hardships and difficulties while climbing Mount Carstensz?
It constantly rains at Mount Carstensz because it is located in the tropical Pacific Ocean. I traveled in the rain day and night for two weeks. Every morning, I would wring and try to dry my wet clothes.
When is mountain climbing season?
Every mountain has a specific period that’s appropriate for climbing. Overall, mountain climbing season is when the mountain has the most suitable weather conditions for climbing, the glacier and ice are firm or less, and when it’s safest to climb.
Did you climb Puncak Jaya alone? In general, how difficult was the climb?
Twelve mountaineers from nine countries climbed as a team. Two other groups were also attempting to reach the summit as well. The climb was good. The only difficulty was the rain, mud, and route to the base camp through the jungle. It’s said that the route is the most difficult climbing route in the world.
When did you set your goal to climb to the highest peaks of each continent and region?
[Conquering the Seven Summits] is one of the two biggest achievement of the world. It is the dream of every mountaineer on this planet. Of course, I hope to achieve this goal and dream as I’m also a mountaineer. I really wish to inscribe a Mongolian name as clearly and distinctly as possible in the world list of climbers who have reached the Seven Summits.
Mountain climbing is viewed as a sport for men by many. In that sense, many believe that only men make significant achievements in this sport. Do you agree with this?
Not at all. Any person can succeed if they sincerely desire to achieve something and work hard for it. People who step foot into this sport have to sacrifice something to succeed. For women, mountain climbing tends to be quite challenging, though.
Which of the Seven Summits was the hardest to climb, the most unforgettable or even most educational experience? Which one helped you advance as a climber?
Each and every mountain is my teacher. I learn a lot from every climb and it helps me improve my skills. The most heartbreaking climb was the ascent to K2 (8,611 m) in 2013 because many climbers lost their lives at the time. I also learned a lot from the climb to Mount Denali. I was amazed and felt proud of how much courage and persistence I was able to draw out during that expedition. Sometimes, you just have to do what you have to do.
When do you ever feel like giving up?
I don’t think that I have ever been on the verge of giving up. If I were to stop halfway through, I wouldn’t have started in the first place.
Your first attempt to reach the summit of Denali ended quite regrettably. Were there many times when you had to climb back down without reaching the summit?
We decided to climb back down when we were 60 meters from the peak of the 6,190 meter tall mountain. I regretted it so much afterwards. Still, I became more confident that I could do it the next time. There were numerous times when I was forced to stop climbing and go back not because of myself but due to weather conditions or other factors.
You once said that you loved bread and that you were “a child of bread”. Can you comment on this? How do you replenish your energy while climbing and how do you stay persistent on your goal to reach the top?
/Laughs/ “Child of bread” meant that I could sustain on anything. Since I went out to reach the top, I must fulfill that goal.
…Any person can succeed if they sincerely desire to achieve something and work hard for it. People who step foot into this sport have to sacrifice something to succeed. For women, mountain climbing tends to be quite challenging, though…
What do you think about when you reach a summit?
I would think, “I made it, I was able to do it.” But, right at the summit, I’m unable to think of anything because of the weather and other things. I can’t stay there for long because it’s required to go back down as soon as possible. My heart would swell with pride, almost not believing that I actually succeeded, when I return to safety at base camp.
Worshiping the mountains and rivers is a tradition in Mongolia. Do you follow this tradition?
I do. Only by worshipping and consoling mountains and rivers, I’m able to step foot onto their summits. I don’t necessarily consider that I was able to succeed thanks to my own strengths and skills. In my heart, I would pray to the mountain and land, and show my respect to them through my actions and words.I pay respect to the people living at the bottom of the mountain and try to make them happy.
You led others to the peak of Denali. It must have been hard to take responsibility over other people’s lives while going on a life-threatening quest, right?
Leading a team or being a guide requires you to be very responsible. It also puts incredible pressure on your mind. The change in the elevation influences everybody the same way. The main question is how well and how fast you can adapt to the change.
What drew you to mountain climbing?
It is the life and aspiration of an athlete. We, athletes, work hard to fulfill our goals and to reach our achievements.
How do you train and prepare for climbs and conquests?
I do the general training the same way as other athletes. As for technical and height training, I have to do it exactly at the venue because Mongolia hasn’t got very tall mountains. Since I’m a mountain guide, I spend nearly half the year on mountains.
You managed to climb to seven major peaks of five continents. The only summit left from the Seven Summits is Mount Vinson, the highest peak in Antarctica, at 4,892 meters. When do you plan to conquer this mountain?
Currently, I’ve reached the seven highest peaks of six continents. Now only one big leap remains. If I could, I want to go there as soon as possible. Most importantly, I have some financial problems. 40,000 USD is not a small amount of money.
What will you do once you complete your conquest of Mount Vinson? Can you share your future ambitions?
I think it’s too early to reveal that.
Mountain climbing has been rapidly developing in Mongolia for the past 10 years. Can you share a few words of advice to people just starting to train in this sport and amateur mountain climbers?
Choosing this sport means that you’ll have to train and work very hard. Your achievement and success depends on you.