“It was the hardest mental push I have ever made in my life,” says ski-mountaineer Hilaree O’Neill of becoming the first woman to climb two 8,000-meter peaks in 24 hours — in this case, Everest and neighboring Lhotse. “My mind had to completely take over beyond the physical. I learned a lot about the power of determination.”
The idea came to O’Neill in 2012 when she made her first ascent of Mount Everest on a National Geographic expedition to honor the 50th anniversary of the first American Ascent on Everest. “Everest was a beautiful summit but also an incredibly frustrating climb, always bumping up behind another climber,” she says. It wasn’t until she was descending, and looking at Lhotse, that the double summit seemed possible. “I stared and stared at that beautiful mountain, realized we could climb another mountain and be by ourselves, which was more in line with what I am used to when climbing.” So, naturally, she went straight to Lhotse after coming down from Everest and bagged another peak that day.
Last summer O’Neill added to her mountaineering and skiing credentials, running an ultra marathon, competing in an Ironman, and climbing a big-wall in Zion. No surprise, she placed very well in these events. “I look at the whole season as my biggest adventure ever,” O’Neill says. “I like knowing that I still have the will to try new things and fail and to try again.”
- 1996: European Women’s Extreme Skiing Champion.
- 2002: First ski descent of all five of the “Holy Peaks” of the Mongolian Altai.
- 2005: Skied from summit of Cho Oyu.
- 2012: First woman to summit two 8,000-meter peaks in 24 hours (Everest and Lhotse).
- This summer O’Neill will attempt to ski to 21,000-foot Papsura in India.
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