This week I’m sitting down with Marta Misztal, an accomplished mountain climber who’s committed to becoming the first woman, and man, to ascend both the Seven Summits and the Crown of Europe.
She’s well on her way to reach her goal having already reached 21 out of Europe’s 50 highest peaks and 5 out of the 7 summits.
Born and raised in Poland, Marta’s always had a love for climbing. As a young girl her father would take her out climbing in the Polish mountains so she remembers always being very adventurous but it wasn’t until years later when she embarked on the Inca trail in Peru that this hobby would transform into a full-fledged passion for our female mountaineer.
I sit down to talk to Marta about what drives her, future plans, the importance of ambition in pursuing your passion and what it means to be a female climber in a wildly male-dominated sport.
The more countries I saw, the more countries I wanted to see. Along the way, my style of travelling changed; I started having even bigger accomplishments on my agenda. And finally I set myself two goals: to climb the highest mountain on each continent, the challenge known as 7 Summits; and to reach the highest peak of each European country, which I call The Crown of Europe.
Denali summit – The highest mountain in North America, Denali, also known as McKinley, 6190m, located in Alaska. “It was the toughest mountain I have done so far, during the summit we climbed with a speed of 1 step very 5 breaths because of the lack of oxygen on this altitude.”
APRIL: Marta, what does climbing mean for you?
MARTA: It means pushing yourself to the limit, and proving that you can do whatever you want if you put your mind to it. At the start of my mountain climbing journey I had very little confidence in myself, but as time progressed and I gained more experience, I’ve learned that everyone can do FAR MORE than what we think we can. We just need to set our minds to it.
APRIL: How did you discover the climbing passion that takes you to the climbing wall? Who or what encouraged you?
MARTA: I think my personality is really what encourages me the most. I’m quite competitive by nature, therefore, I’m always up for a challenge. And climbing is a great interest to have, as there are endless number of mountain related challenges that you can pursue.
APRIL: You said your personality is a driving force – tell me about yourself?
MARTA: I come from a small town in Poland called Pila. Growing up I was raised by a single mum; I had a good but humble upbringing, I always loved the outdoors and hanging out with my friends. My childhood in Poland was a happy time in my life, but after my first trip to London as a teenager it all changed. I realized very quickly that living in Poland wasn’t for me anymore; I had big dreams and ambitions that I knew I couldn’t pursue in my hometown. I spent one more year living in Poland, learning English and saving ready to finally enter the ‘big world’… then I moved to London. Taking this chance opened up so many opportunities for me. I got a good degree, good job, I travelled the world and had some awesome adventures whilst doing so.
Ireland – the highest peak in Republic of Ireland, Carrauntoohil, 1039m, and one of the peaks of The Crown of Europe.
APRIL: Climbing has really been a ‘no woman’s land’. It’s only as of recent that we have seen a steady increase of female climbers. Do you think it is rare for women to participate in mountain climbing as a sport?
MARTA: Yes, it’s quite rare. Only about 10% o women take on such enormous challenge as climbing Everest. Unfortunately, a lot of women don’t believe in themselves, just as I didn’t when I started mountain climbing. Women tend to think that we are a weaker gender hence mountains are not for us. And yes, I agree that on average men are faster and stronger, but the reality is that in order to reach a summit, you need to be only reasonably strong physically, but incredibly strong mentally, and that’s something women excel at. The good news however, is that the number of women climbing high altitude mountains increases each year, and hopefully sharing my story will encourage even more of the tough ladies out there to take on this challenge.
APRIL: Which female or male mountain climbers do you look up or are inspired by and why?
MARTA: The most inspiring female mountaineer that I have looked up to ever since I remember is Martyna Wojciechowska. She is not only a mountain girl, but a real adventure seeker and traveller. Over the years she’s done so many incredible things one could only dream of. She’s climbed 7 Summits, was the first Polish woman to complete Paris-Dakar Rally, and travelled to the most remote place in the world documenting her adventures in series called The Woman At The Edge Of The World. All that while being a single mum. What an incredible women and inspiration she is.
The most recent inspiring male ountaineer has to be Nims Purja. He came up with seemingly impossible challenge to climb all 14x 8000m peaks in less than a year. Ironically he called this challenge Project Possible, and hell yes, he’s proven to the world how possible it was! He completed it in less than 7 months beating the previous record of almost 8 years by the greatest Polish mountaineer, Jerzy Kukuczka.
APRIL: What do you think can be done in the climbing community to encourage and support more female climbers such as yourself?
MARTA: I believe number one thing is raising awareness. A lot of women don’t believe in themselves and wouldn’t even think of such challenge purely because they think they’re too weak. But the reality is different. I’ve proven that women can also climb mountains, even though I’m not stronger than any of them. The only difference between me and women who think they are too weak is that I HAVE TRIED. No women will ever succeed without trying. But even if you do try and don’t succeed you will learn exactly why you failed. Then you work on it and try again. This is applicable to absolutely everything that we do, not just moutains, so we have to spread the message… WE MUST TRY!
APRIL: Could you tell us about your achievements in your mountain climbing career so far and what you hope to achieve in the future?
MARTA: Out of the 7 Summits, I’ve already completed 5, the highest one in Europe, Africa, North and South America, and Antarctica. The only two left is Everest and Carstensz Pyramid. I will be climbing Everest in March 2021 while Carstensz I’m leaving until last. A lot of people don’t make it to the top purely for political reason… their trips just get cancelled because of rebellious activities in the area, and they loose their money. Therefore, it’s not worth the price, unless you want to complete the full 7 Summits challenge.
Out of 50 countries in Europe I have reached the highest peak in 21 of them. The two toughest one, Elbrus in Russia, and Mont Blanc in France and Italy, I have already completed, so now it’s almost downhill. Though there are a couple of them still reasonably challenging.
I’m hoping to complete these two challenges by the end of next year, and be the first person to do so. There are of course many people who completed 7 Summits and few who’ve done the Crown of Europe but no one has done them both. I know of one person who’s also aiming for it, but I’m hoping to be first.
APRIL: What was your biggest mountain climbing achievements in your career? What are your favorite routes?
MARTA: Denali, the highest mountain in North America! Without a doubt, it is my biggest achievement so far. It is the toughest mountain I’ve done (though not the tallest). We had to carry 60kg up the mountain. That’s more than my body weight. Half of it we carried on the sledge and the other half in a backpack. It is a tough mountain. I met a couple of girls that claimed it to be more difficult than Everest, though I wouldn’t quote that. There are too many factors that go to it. You may be very lucky on Everest and less so in Denali that can make you feel this way. But I guess I’ll see for myself in March 2021 when I will be climbing Everest.
Apart from the gorgeous Denali, my favourite route is Vinson, the highest mountain in Antarctica. It is so remote, that there are less than 200 people a year that get to stand on top of it. And it’s an incredible feeling knowing that you are one of those very few people.
APRIL: What do you feel when you reach the top? Exhaustion? Euphoria? A bit of both?
MARTA: I cry. It’s become almost ritual by now. About 2 meters from the very summit when I know that I’ll definitely make it to the top, I start weeping like a baby and I cannot stop it no matter how much I try. But after about 2 mins there is this joy and that great feeling of accomplishment. I then miss all my friends and family and really wish I could share my joy with them.
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