Editor: Our guest today is Nancy Hansen, winner of the 2014 Guy Lacelle Pure Spirit Award. Nancy Hansen’s quest to climb the 50 Classic Climbs of North America is amazing, and she’s already completed 46 out of 50!
Her absolutely stellar resume caught our eye, as did her desire to climb Everest from the Tibet side, the north face.
Thanks for giving us some of your time, Nancy. It is an absolute honor to interview you.
Nancy Hansen: The honour is all mine! Thanks for asking.
Editor: You will be climbing the north face of Everest to attempt the Norton Couloir in the spring, from the Tibetan side. This is sure to be an incredible climb.
Can you please share your feelings with us about this upcoming climb?
Nancy Hansen: Most climbers have probably given at least a passing thought to climbing Mt. Everest at some point. Even though Everest is a bit of a dirty name these days, it is still the tallest mountain on the planet! I’ve always been fascinated by the antics, drama, incredible feats and crazy personalities that the mountain attracts and supports. Are there more outlandish stories from any other mountain?
I never gave any real consideration to attempting it. It was too expensive, too busy, too high. Just four months ago, I was blind-sided with an offer to share this adventure by a handsome German man who happens to be one of the best and most experienced high altitude climbers on the planet. My original spring plans had fallen through. It seemed like a no brainer. The words that frequently run through my head when making decisions like this are “How bad can it be?” :-)
In early January, the reality and consequences of the financial commitment hit me hard. Because we’ll be just a party of two above advance base camp, the cost is as low as it possibly can be. But it is still ridiculously expensive! I panicked and about a gazillion people came to my rescue and cash and gear have been pouring in for the last two months. I am deeply appreciative of the incredible support I’ve received for this trip – it helps me both financially and psychologically. Go to the end of this article to see a list of the awesome companies who have supported this crazy dream on ridiculously short notice. They, and dozens and dozens of my friends are making it a reality.
Editor: Your partner on this climb will be the German climber Ralf Dujmovits, and neither of you will be using supplemental oxygen.
What is the genesis of this phenomenal climb: was it your dream or Ralf’s to climb the north face of the grandest and biggest mountain on earth without supplemental oxygen?
Nancy Hansen: An attempt of the Norton Couloir is all Ralf’s idea. He attempted to climb it, solo and without supplementary oxygen last year, but he was stopped by strong winds. Ralf was the 16th person to climb all the 8,000m peaks. He climbed them all without oxygen except for Everest. This will be his 7th attempt without oxygen! It would be a huge honour to stand on top with him after all the time, money and suffering he’s put into this project.
For me, there was never a question about whether to climb with supplemental oxygen or not. I’d rather try it and risk failure.
Editor: You are famous for climbing the Kallen 34 on Yamnuska as well as the 54 11,000’ers in the magnificent Canadian Rockies. Your achievements leave me at a loss for words!
What does it feel like to have climbed so many powerful mountains? You must have a singular love of climbing. Am I correct in assuming that, Nancy?
Nancy Hansen: “Singular love” is a nice way to put it. I became passionate about climbing on Day 1, 21 years ago. It continues to entertain, fascinate, challenge and inspire me. Climbing encompasses all of the best parts of life at a very intense level. The continual learning, problem solving and fitness requirements are engrossing. Climbers get to see some of the most spectacular landscapes on the planet. I’ve always likened climbing to playing chess: you need to have a strategy and plan before starting, you need to quickly change the plan on the fly, you need to consider the consequences of each move and when you hear "check" – you need to decide whether to run away or move forward in a different way.
I feel incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity to climb in so many beautiful places with amazing people over the last two decades.
Editor: How old were you when first became interested in climbing?
Nancy Hansen: My parents took me on a holiday to Banff National Park when I was a kid. As we drove past Cascade Mountain, I clearly remember looking up and thinking “I wonder how many days it would take to climb to the top?”
I was 25 when I moved to Canmore and was introduced to climbing. For the previous seven years I had been riding my 1975 Ducati 750GT on the twisty roads in northern Australia. Before that I was getting into all kinds of trouble in Edmonton. I didn’t know a single thing about climbing or fitness when I started.
Editor: Who was the person who gave you your first climbing lesson and where did this take place?
Nancy Hansen: There are many types of climbing, and I had different mentors and teachers in each discipline. My ex-husband’s childhood friend, Greg Heide, set us up on our first date at a tiny climbing wall in Banff. Through the Alpine Club of Canada, I met many incredible people who taught me about alpine climbing, glacier travel, ski touring, ice climbing, navigation, winter camping and more. One of the most influential people in my early days of climbing was Kelly Adams from Calgary. She continues to inspire me.
Editor: There is a purity and deep spirituality to climbing that some athletes feel strongly, while for others, it is merely a physical pursuit.
When you’re in the midst of nature, there is a silent connection that you make with the mountain that others may not even notice.
What is it that draws you so strongly to these beautiful mountains?
Nancy Hansen: The mountains are always changing. Sometimes they are warm and softly spectacular; other times they are cold and inhospitable. The mountains provide continuing education in geology, botany, zoology, astronomy, climatology, psychology, physiology and many other “y”s. Sometimes I feel like the luckiest person on the planet because I’ve just seen or experienced something unique and incredible. Other times I want someone to shoot me because I am in such a miserable situation. I like having to take the good with the bad. I’d be bored if it was always perfect and easy and the outcome was guaranteed. The mountains provide me with deep peace and huge challenges, mentally and physically. Two times in the last 21 years, I spent a month in a non-mountainous landscape. I felt uneasy.
Editor: So, here’s a really important question that I always ask climbers.
Why do you climb?
What does it give you emotionally?
Nancy Hansen: These questions were harder to answer when I first started climbing. I couldn’t say why I liked it so much, I just knew that I did. But two decades of continual climbing has given me the opportunity to figure out why I climb. I think I appreciate it and am thankful for it now more than ever. I don’t feel like I will ever get tired of it.
Something I haven’t talked much about is the powerful friendships that develop in climbing. Climbers often share intense experiences and are usually relying on each other for safety. I’ve climbed with dozens and dozens of different people on everything from short day trips to multi-week expeditions. Because of the safety-related trust that is required in climbing partnerships, it suddenly seems okay to share deep dark secrets, and hold other people’s secrets in trust. Climbing breaks down personal barriers. Good climbing partners may not always agree, but they always respect each other.
Editor: What are your thoughts on the preservation of nature and climate change?
(I ask because it directly affects the climbing profession.)
Nancy Hansen: Humans are messing up the planet in countless ways. I have a (rusty) degree in Geology, so have a rather pragmatic way of looking at our impact. Every living thing goes through cycles on this planet. When an organic being overstays its welcome, the planet has natural and effective ways of reducing its population and impact. Humans are putting up a bigger fight because we are “intelligent”, but our time will come. By adding to the planet’s natural current global warming phase, we are sealing our own fate. The disasters that come with rapid climate change will continue to get worse and everyone will eventually be impacted in some way.
Despite the doom and gloom statement I’ve just made, you can consider me an optimist. In this case, my optimism is for Planet Earth, but not for her humans.
Editor: On rest days, what kinds of books do you read and what kind of music do you love? What do you do to hit that reset button and relax?
Nancy Hansen: Music: Like most people, my musical taste is very varied. Red Hot Chili Peppers, theme song from Gilligan’s Island, Tragically Hip, Corb Lund, Flogging Molly, Julie Andrews and the Sound of Music, Wide Mouth Mason, The Cat Empire, Danny Michel, Dave Matthews, music from Rocky Horror Picture Show, Guns N’ Roses, Jane’s Addiction, etc. etc. etc.
I was an avid reader when I was a kid. Loss of spare time impacted the amount of time I spent reading, as did the requirement to wear reading glasses. A couple of years ago I fell in love with listening to audiobooks. Audiobooks are actually perfect for basecamps – you can listen to the book without freezing your hands, letting cold air inside your bag or using up your headlamp. Lord of the Rings might be my all-time favourite book. Other favourites: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, To Kill a Mockingbird, Huckleberry Finn, Raven’s End, the Harry Potter series.
On rest days during longer expeditions, I like to write in my journal. On rest days on any climbing trip, I like to potter around, fixing stuff around camp and enjoying hanging out in the mountains. Whenever possible, I wash my hair. :-)
Editor: Thanks for spending some time with us, Nancy. Please come by and talk with us again after the climb. We’re sending you tons of good luck, and are excitedly rooting for you and Ralf!
Nancy Hansen: Thank you! We’ll take all the wishes of luck we can get.
Nancy’s sponsors for her Everest trip are:
The Alpine Club of Canada (www.alpineclubofcanada.ca)
Canmore Coast Hotel (http://www.coasthotels.com/hotels/ab/canmore/coast-canmore-hotel-and-conference-centre/)
Crimson Imports (http://www.crimsonimports.ca)
Outdoor Research (http://www.outdoorresearch.ca)
Lake Louise Ski Resort (https://www.skilouise.com)
Onward Up & Petzl (http://onwardup.com)
Bow View Homes (http://bowviewhomes.com)
Yamnuska Mountain Adventures (http://yamnuska.com)
Gear Up Sport (http://www.gearupsport.com)
Grizzly Paw (http://www.thegrizzlypaw.com)
Skinny Skis (http://www.skinnyskis.com)
Dozens of friends and strangers!
Interview conducted by Vera Kaikobad L. Ac.
Editor of the Facebook Page: 'An Interview With'.
Editor-in-Chief of ClimbSkiBoulderMagazine.com
Interview © Vera Kaikobad L. Ac.
All images © of the designated photographer and used with Nancy's written permission.
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On the Cover:
Everest Ascent: Tibet, North Face
Cover Date: March 29th, 2015