Q&A: The 7 summits with Alexandra Nemeth

Alexandra Nemeth is the first Hungarian to climb the 7 summits – the highest mountain on each continent: Mt. Elbrus, Kilimanjaro, Mt. Vinson, Denali, Aconcagua, Carstensz Pyramid and, lastly, Everest.

We chat with Alexandra about her incredible challenge, the Everest experience, and the role of cycling and running as part of her training programme.

The interview:

Hi Alexandra, please introduce yourself.

Hi, I’m Alexandra. I’m 35 years old, working as a marketing manager for an expedition company called 360 expeditions. We take people on incredible trekking and climbing adventures, from the Alps to the top of Everest. This job is a match made in heaven and I’m so lucky I can combine my passion for the mountains and outdoors with my experience in the marketing world. 

I live and breath the outdoors. When I’m not on my laptop, I can be found riding my bikes, running or climbing up mountains!  

Tell us about your 7 summits challenge.

The 7 summits (climbing the highest mountain on each continent) idea was born in April 2014. I wanted to set myself a challenge that would push me out of my comfort zone and test me in every single possible way. It did! 😀 I managed to climb all 7 mountains within 4 years, on the first attempt.

What inspired you to do it in the first place?

I was enjoying photography at the time and I really wanted to do an epic project that would take me to all these amazing and completely different mountains.

What have been your best experiences?

My best experience was climbing Mont Blanc on my own. It’s not one of the 7 summits (the highest mountain in Europe is Elbrus in the Caucasus) but I was longing for a solo climb (I was always part of a group during the 7 summits expeditions). I flew out to Geneva on a Friday, climbed up to the Gouter hut on Saturday, summited Sunday morning and I was back in my flat in Wimbledon that evening. I had perfect conditions on the summit, and the 360-degree views of the Alps were absolutely breathtaking.

Mont Blanc Summit
Mont Blanc Summit

Out of the 7 summits mountains, each has a very special place in my heart for various reasons. Elbrus (Russia, Europe), because it was my first. Kilimanjaro (Tanzania, Africa), because we had an A-team! Vinson, because climbing in Antarctica …it doesn’t get cooler than that (-50C to be exact!). Denali (Alaska, North America), because it was a bad-ass expedition carrying 20-25kg, pulling a 12kg sled and keeping up with a very strong group of 7 men on the rope team. Aconcagua (Argentina, S. America), oh.. that was a physical and mental battle but I made it! Carstensz Pyramid (Indonesia, Oceania), because it was completely different from all the other mountains (think rock, no acclimatisation and traversing on a rope above 4000 meters with nothing below you). And, of course, finishing the 7 summits on the summit of Everest.

Summiting Everest is one of those things most people dream of but will never attempt, what was the Everest experience like?

Everest was something else! 😀 I had been to Base Camp before (I did a solo 3-week Gokyo Lakes – EBC trek back in 2012) so this time I decided to pre-acclimatise at home and fly up to Pheriche where I met the rest of the group. We were one of the last teams to roll into Base Camp but it meant we didn’t have to wait for too long between the rotations.

The first rotation through the Khumbu Ice Fall went well; we slept at Camp 1 and tagged Camp 2, returning to Base Camp. During the second rotation, we slept at Camp 1, then at Camp 2, climbed up the icy and steep Lhotse Face to tag Camp 3, hung out there for a bit before descending back to Base Camp for 5 days of R&R. We had a Phuja ceremony with our Sherpa team – our climbing gear and us were blessed by two lamas. It was an incredible experience and slightly nerve-racking, the next time we went up the mountain was the summit push!

I had one of the most stunning sunsets on Camp 3, just before I tucked myself into the sleeping bag sucking on oxygen for the first time. Early up the following day, we climbed the rest of the Lhotse Face, the Yellow Band, and the Geneva Spur, making our way to Camp 4, which is the last camp on Everest before the Summit.

We got there in the afternoon, and I felt great! Had a bowl of noodle soup and put my head down for a couple of hours before leaving for the summit the very same evening. It was 8.30pm, the stars were blanketing the sky, and you could see the headtorch snail up the mountain. First stop was at the Balcony where we changed our O2 bottles, then again just below the Hillary Steps. We had a couple of slow climbers not far from the summit, so my Sherpa buddy signalled me, unclipped us from the main rope and we free-climbed to the top.

Words can’t describe the feeling when we reached it. You can’t prepare for that overwhelming beauty that surrounds you. We radioed BC, took a few quick pictures, I recorded a few short videos and spent 40 minutes on the summit without my oxygen mask just taking it all in. It was around 7.30am on the 18th of May 2018 and we had nice weather, blue skies and a long way back to Camp 4!

It was my birthday the day after, so we decided, after a 16-hour summit climb, to attempt descending all the way back to Base Camp after a night’s sleep at the Death Zone. We made it, and I got to celebrate my birthday with the team at Base Camp. The amazing kitchen crew even baked me a birthday cake! I’m forever grateful for our expedition leader and mountain guide legend, Mike Hamill. I met Mike when I climbed Vinson (he was my guide) in 2014 and we kept in touch ever since. When I heard he was starting his own business, I knew I wanted to finish the 7 summits on Everest in his team. 

How did you feel when you were standing on top of the world?

On every summit I felt quite emotional, and it was the same on the top of Everest. But above all, I felt ALIVE. Even now when I close my eyes, I can feel the cold biting my cheeks, hear the sound of the prayer flags flapping, see all those stunning peaks around me and my heart beats faster from the excitement. I still have to pinch myself sometimes to believe that it happened, and it wasn’t just a dream.

How do you train and prepare for something like that?

During the 4 years of climbing the 7 summits, I learnt so much about my body, both strengths and weaknesses. I was so lucky that a local gym in Wimbledon village, fit8, let me train there and I even got to work with their brilliant PTs. The majority of the preparation was spent on my own; long back to back runs and rides, hours upon hours on the treadmill at the max angle with a 20kg rucksack, and every time I had an opportunity, I was out in the hills. I even set my alarm at work to get up every hour and speed walk up the stairs.

I knew I had to introduce new things for Everest training… Once a week I set my alarm for the middle of the night, grabbed a backpack and went walking up and down the hills, then home, back to bed for a couple of hours of sleep before work. I did this to teach my body and brain to perform when all they want is sleep. The summit pushes always happen at night (most of them were in the dark except in Antarctica and Denali where the sun doesn’t go down) so I thought this would be a useful exercise.

I also spent a month in an altitude tent (in my own bed!) leading up to Everest, which I hired from the Altitude Centre. Each day I set the generator higher, reaching 6,500 meters for the last week. It meant I could fly from Kathmandu to Lukla, and straight onto Pheriche with a heli to join my team without any altitude problems.

Looking back, if I had to train again for Everest, I would do everything the same way. You want a variety of training but also to enjoy it. It was pretty tough sometimes juggling all that and a full-time job, and the biggest challenge was to stay injury-free and healthy for the big E.

Did you find the challenge more physically or mentally harder?

I was going through a really rough time in a relationship leading up to Everest but had to stay focused. Sometimes life just throws another challenge in when you don’t need it! I believe the entire 7 summits challenge, 4 years of training, saving up, planning, working, climbing, and all the other life events made me stronger. The support I received from my close friends was incredible.

You also do a lot of bike touring, what is it you love about cycling?

I was introduced to bike touring about 6 months before the Everest expedition. I loved the idea of the simplicity of it; load up the bike and off you go! The first thing I planned when I finished the 7 summits project was a solo bike touring trip up in the Norwegian Arctic circle last August.

Since then, beyond the short weekend adventures, I’ve done the Sierra Nevada mtb loop, rode the TransPyrenees, crossed the Alps North to South on my mtb, completed the Routes des Grandes Alps on my road bike and toured up in Scotland. All solo and unsupported. Which doesn’t mean lonely and I met some amazing people along the way! ;-).

I love how you can be connected to nature and the world riding your bike. You also realise just how little you need in life. Exploring the roads and the mountain paths on two wheels is such a rewarding way of adventuring, and pitching your tent up somewhere stunning and watch the sunset is very special. The freedom of it all as well.

Finally, what are your goals for the year ahead? 

One of the things I’d love to try next year is testing myself at an ultra-distance bike race (couldn’t sleep last night so signed up to one!) and, of course, I’m already planning more cycling and mountaineering adventures! 🙂 

If, like us, you feel inspired, check out Alexandra’s channels below:

Website | Instagram (@alex7summits)

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