CLIMB LIKE A BUTTERFLY: Parvaneh Kazemi, the first woman ever to scale Everest and Lhotse in a week
Climber, mountaineer and the first woman ever to scale Everest and Lhotse in a week, Parvaneh Kazemi (whose name means butterfly in Persian) chats to ATC's Luxury Travel Expert Liz Weselby (Luxe City Guides) about her upbringing in 1970s Iran, her inspiration, her accomplishments and the benefits of mountaineering for women.
As ATC members and trekkers yourselves we thought you would like to read this first hand.
“When people aren’t as strong as you they feel jealous and try to stop you. But I had strong willpower, I really wanted to do it. I loved mountains. I closed my ears and eyes to these people and focused on my goal.” Parvaneh Kazemi.
Tell us a little about your upbringing, how did this shape your decision to become a mountaineer?
I was born in Tehran, Iran in 1970 to a traditional family. This means girls don’t normally do sport, they stay at home and there was a big difference in activities between boys and girls.
As a girl in such a family my parents asked us to study and nothing else. No sport, no art. This was an unwritten rule. I was a good student always the best in class. My family expected me to become a doctor, but in my last year I decided I loved physics and maths so I changed (and didn’t tell them!) and went to university to study maths.
After graduating I became a maths teacher and as i grew older I became more independent and tried out different sports – I tried volleyball, basketball, ping ping and found badminton interesting. I went to a club for around 10 years – I was a player, coach, referee – I loved it. And still I love it, I was a professional. But it was not a peaceful ambiance. It was competitive there was always fighting, in clubs and between clubs.
By that time I was 35 and went to Tochal, which is close to Tehran. I went to relax, to walk a little and think. I walked, I walked, I walked and people told me it was tough and I was surprised because I was already an athlete I had no problem reaching almost 4000m (the mountain is and 3960m). I loved being in nature, the calmness; this was a sport I enjoyed and so I decided to leave badminton and go hiking and trekking everyday.
Two or three months later a group of friends were going to the highest peak in Iran (Damavand) and I decided to go with them. The weather was not good it was very cold with a strong headwind but when I stood on the top of Iran it was incredible. It changed my life. I decided it was a new way to live for me.
What or who inspires you to climb mountains?
Nature. The beauty of nature. And the peace that I find in nature.
Hiking is changing people’s lives all over the world and through trekking people have great stories to share – what would you consider your most amazing trekking story?
I thought a lot about this as I have so many amazing stories – maybe the first high peak? Each time I go to the mountains I have an amazing story; each is remarkable, even when sad. That first climb (to Damavand) changed my life. It was cold, bad weather but a friendly group. We helped each other and most of us reached the top.
What’s been your greatest achievement?
For sure the world record – Everest and Lhotse in one week as a female climber. But even when I go to the local peak in winter, each time I take a different route and it’s an achievement.
What are your top three mountains you want to conquer next?
1. Kanchenjunga – beautiful – in Nepal. It’s very poor area and many of the sherpas are just kids. It’s 8586-metres-high and I tried it in 2013 and got to 8200m, but I had to return as I had an infection.
2. Pakistan – the Eastern Mountains – Gasherbrums
3. Matterhorn - It’s a beautiful mountain
How do you prepare for a climb like Everest?
I always train alone. [Being in Iran] I have to do everything by myself – I’m my own trainer, my consultant, coach, everything. On weekdays I do interval training, running and biking at home. It’s difficult for women in Tehran to go outside to run so I do it all at home. At weekends I am amongst the mountains, sometimes alone and sometimes with friends. And in the summer I am a mountain guide.
I read a lot and use other people’s experiences – from the Internet, books and I have made friends with other climbers and learn from their experiences.
Is mountaineering something you’d recommend to other women?
There are lots of difficulties for women, even in more democratic countries there are still lots of problems for women. In Asia, in my country and some other countries it’s more difficult. But I believe if you want something and have the willpower you will do it. I wanted to reach the top of the world and I did it despite boundaries. Even though I was old when I started climbing, I did it. As a woman in Iran without trainers or the benefit of support from government then it’s possible. You just need strong willpower.
What would you say are the top 3 benefits of trekking and mountaineering?
1. It builds self confidence
2. Health, physically and mentally
3. When you go to trek you lead such a simple life, and when you spend a lot of time in the mountains, then you can live easier in the city. You don’t look for luxury living, you look for real life.
What is your No. 1 piece of advice to ordinary women trekkers (like us) who want to dream mountains and achieve extraordinary experiences?
Follow your dreams. All of us have just one life. Women are maybe involved with family, children but they shouldn’t sacrifice themselves to follow their dream. If they do so [follow their dream], they become a better person for their family also.
Have you had any discouragements – how did you deal with them?
After my first 8000m climb I had lots of discouragement in my country. After 3 achievements in one year, there was still a problem for people in my country. Climbing organisations were annoyed with me. When people aren’t as strong as you they feel jealous and try to stop you. But I had strong willpower, I really wanted to do it. I loved mountains. I closed my ears and eyes to these people and focused on my goal.
Have you suffered from post summit blues? How did you deal with it?
If I don’t have the next goal, it’s terrible! A big emptiness. Something is gone. But always when I go up a mountain I think about the next project – and it stops the blues. The problem is the length of time between them – it brings a little depression.
My next big mountain was supposed to be Cho Oyu in Tibet – I wanted to go solo without oxygen last autumn but as an Iranian I didn’t get permission. I’m thinking about it for next autumn, but now Tibet is closed (by China) to all climbers in autumn.
Springtime, Nepal for Annapurna and Kanchenjunga
Summer in Pakistan
Summer is the high season for my job, I work as a mountain guide.
And what about your family, do they now support you?
Oh yes. They are very supportive, both my father and my husband.
We hope you enjoyed this interview with Parvaneh Kazemi. What an incredible strong woman with great interest in nature and adventure! Thank you to Liz Weselby for sharing with ATC.
Look forward to chatting with you on the trail about your next challenge.