Youngest Aussie on Everest says “go for it” despite risks

By Richard Scott 9 June 2016
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Alyssa Azar recently became the youngest Australian to reach the summit of Mt Everest. AG spoke to her about her epic feat, amid increased controversy surrounding the dangers of taking on the world’s highest peak.

ALYSSA AZAR WAS given a hero’s welcome in her hometown of Toowoomba, Queensland, recently after the 19-year-old explorer became the youngest Australian to ever scale Mt Everest.

But with the recent death of Australian Maria Strydom on the mountain drawing attention to the perils of mountaineering, was she worried the risks might outweigh her own rewards, especially for someone so young?

“Look, I can understand why young women taking on dangerous pursuits might not sit comfortably with some,” Alyssa says. “But [adventuring] has been my whole life. It’s normal for me. Should my age affect what I do? Not at all; I put the work in.”

Alyssa Azar

Alyssa at South Col (camp 4). (Image courtesy Alyssa Azar)

Third time lucky

Alyssa’s journey hasn’t been without its pitfalls. She reached the world’s highest peak on 21 May this year, on her third attempt, having been thwarted twice before. In April 2014, she survived an avalanche at the Khumbu Icefall that killed 16 Sherpas, and she was doing acclimatisation climbing at Base Camp when the earthquake hit Nepal in April 2015, claiming 18 climbers and Sherpas on the mountain and the lives of 3218 others across the region. 

And in May this year, Alyssa passed Maria on the Melbourne University lecturer’s way back down, between camps 3 and 4.

“[Her death] really affected me,” says Alyssa. “At the time, I wasn’t sure who she was, but I was able to piece it all together from the reports and that’s when it really hit home. In hindsight, I wish there was something I could have done, given her oxygen, or tried to get her down to camp for a rescue.”

SEE ALSO OPINION: Another unnecessary death on Everest?

But altitude, says Alyssa, is a significant concern for all mountaineers. She highlights in particular the dangers of high-altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE), a life-threatening form of fluid accumulation in the lungs that can occur in otherwise healthy climbers above 2500m.

“Anything can happen on a mountain, at any time” says Alyssa. “At Everest, you run the risk of ice falls, crevasses, avalanches. It’s hazardous; you just need to prepare for it all.”

Alyssa Azar

Alyssa rests on the Lhotse Face. (Image courtesy Alyssa Azar)

Impressive record

Alyssa’s own preparation began as a four-year-old bushwalking with her father, Glenn, in the Toowoomba hills. She would later complete the Kokoda Trail at age eight, Everest Base Camp at 10, Australia’s top 10 peaks at 12 and Kilimanjaro at 14. Now 19, Alyssa is the youngest Australian to ever reach Mt Everest’s 8847m summit. The youngest Australian before her was Rex Pemberton, aged 21, in 2005. (The youngest person to have reached the summit was 13-year-old Jordan Romero from the USA in 2010.)

No surprises, then, that Alyssa feels most at home on the mountain. Alyssa says she enjoys the solitude, “being in my own head, on my own”.

“Well, myself and a Sherpa,” she adds.

“On a sea of clouds, with the peak sticking out, you feel a long, long way up. It’s another world.”

With her accomplishment coming a month after fellow record-breaking Australian teenager Jade Hameister skied to the North Pole, does she have any words of encouragement for future Antipodean adventurers?

“Go for it,” says Alyssa. “It’s great to see young Aussies, and young women, out there pursuing their goals and dreams. I support that all the way.”

Next, she’s looking to complete the seven summits (she has five to go) and is hoping to get out to Mt Aconcagua, South America, for her next climb.