Australian Geographic Society Gala Awards 2022: Young Adventurer of the Year, Gabby Kanizay

By AG Staff 28 October 2022
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It was during a family holiday to California’s Yosemite National Park in 2017 that Gabby Kanizay, then 14 years old, became enthralled by the idea of mountaineering, climbing and adventure.

Her dream to one day summit Everest began to take shape; five years later, on 14 May 2022, she became the youngest Australian to climb Mt Everest (8849m), aged 19 years and 68 days. 

Preparing for an Everest expedition is no small feat, especially with an upbringing in Melbourne. After mentioning her dream to her parents, Gabby spent the next four years making regular trips to Nepal to familiarise herself with the landscape, develop her mountaineering skills and test her body against the extremes of high altitude. 

In May 2018, Gabby and her mother, Jane, trekked to Everest Base Camp and summited Kala Patthar (5643m). In August the same year, Gabby travelled to New Zealand to complete a mountaineering course, where she learnt rope and harness skills, how to use crampons and ice axes, avalanche safety and other essentials. 

“The sun was rising, and it was just the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. It was a really emotional moment for both of us.”

Gabby then began building her mountaineering resumé. In October 2018, she returned to Nepal and summited her first mountain, Imja Tse (Island Peak), with an elevation of 6160m. The following May, she climbed Mera Peak (6476m) and Mt Baruntse West Col (6200m). By September, she claimed her first world record by becoming the youngest woman to summit Cho Oyu (8488m), the world’s sixth-tallest mountain. 

Cho Oyu was Gabby’s first “Eight Thousander” – a mountain with an elevation greater than 8000m. At such extreme altitudes, oxygen is only 34 per cent the concentration it is on the ground.   Gabby was ready to summit Everest in 2020, but the COVID pandemic delayed these plans. Once travel restrictions lifted, Gabby and her mother travelled to Kathmandu in March 2022, spending a week in Nepal’s capital to meet the team and organise gear. On 3 April, they began their two-week trek to Base Camp, making a detour along the way to do a false summit of Lobuche (6119m). 

Gabby spent a month acclimatising to the high altitude at base camp, doing two rotations through the icefall before the final summit push. She says she fared well against the high altitude, suffering only minor altitude sickness. 

“On the first rotation, I had semi-intense headaches which affected how I slept at night,” Gabby says. “That’s pretty normal – most people are going to have a headache. But aside from that, I was completely fine; I didn’t lose my appetite, on the bigger rotations I didn’t really get headaches and I didn’t have trouble sleeping. My mum probably suffered a little bit more.” 

Gabby and Jane reached the summit at 4.45am on Saturday 14 May 2022. “The sun was rising, and it was just the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen,” Gabby says. “It was a really emotional moment for both of us.” 

Gabby cherishes the fact she was able to share this moment with her mum. High-altitude climbing can be unpredictable, with altitude sickness, coordination of leaving times and other variables to be considered.

“Ever since we started planning the expedition, especially after we summited Cho Oyu, we just admitted to ourselves that we wouldn’t be able to stand on the summit together,” Gabby says. “But everything just came together and our amazing Sherpa guides timed it perfectly.”  

Related: Heroes all: Meet the 2022 Australian Geographic Society Gala Award winners