Attempting Makalu and K2/Broad Peak in 2014 | Interview with Chris Burke

On October 2nd, 2013, an audio message in female voice reached us, announcing, “Our team summited Manaslu, today”. She was Australian/NZ climber Chris Jensen Burke from Manaslu C2. It was her fourth eight-thousander ascent in less than six months. Chris Burke had previously climbed Lhotse in May 2013 and the two Gasherbrums in July.

After spending the Himalayan winter in Australia, Chris is back in Kathmandu. Her life in Nepal's capital has been interesting; she attended a wedding and was stalked by a tiger.

Chris Burke is now getting ready for Makalu and will attempt Broad Peak/K2 in Summer, this year.

1. Tell us about your passion for climbing. When and how did it start?
Chris: I grew up in a small town in NZ, the youngest of 8 kids. I had parents who in their younger days were considered quite adventurous for their generation. Many of our adventures as kids saw our Dad taking us on ridiculously long walks and rock scrambling in and beyond our town and also into the hills of Central Otago in the South Island of NZ.

As I got older, I found that I was taking myself on similar adventures. After a 1998 trip to Nepal and with injuries from my high impact sports mounting up, I decided that maybe it was time to change to a low impact activity. Since I was already spending lots of time in the mountains, I decided to take it up a notch.

Chris at Lhotse BC in 2013.

2. At what point, did you realize that you are going to Himalayas and climb the big peaks?
Chris: I experienced a few life-changing events in 1999-2000. So, I re-evaluated. The changes I decided on took time to implement. While I was getting money together to get back to the Himalaya, I spent my time in the bush around Sydney pounding trails and climbing, knowing that I would be heading back to the Himalaya on a much bigger mission.

3. 4x8000ers in 2013; must have been a great feeling!
Chris: I’m really grateful for the outcomes, Lakpa Sherpa (Himalayan Ascent) and I had in 2013. I was pretty blown away, [when] we made the summit of Lhotse because the weather on our summit day got pretty fierce. But, we kept checking in with each other and we both felt we could continue safely and get down.

I had not planned another expedition after G1 and G2, thinking I would need a rest. But, when Lakpa and I got back to Kathmandu, we felt good and decided to return to Manaslu. We had some unfinished business there since we left after the tragic avalanche in 2012. We had a fantastic expedition - it was a particularly fun team.

4. An orthodox question, how do you finance your climbs? You have been climbing/traveling all the time, in past couple of years.
Chris: I have taken a slightly unorthodox approach to reaching my climbing goals. I spent 5 years saving up money in order to take a period off working in an office to climb full time. In that 5-year period, I had 4-5 months off work each year, plus weekends, in order to climb intensively. I sold up nearly everything I had. I try to spend extra time in Kathmandu in the lead up to climbs because it is more budget friendly for me than Sydney. I also have some sponsorship for certain climbs, and I do public speaking engagements.

5. Your plans for 2014 include Makalu and K2, which are considered more challenging than 8000ers you climbed, last year. Is it part of some long term strategy?
Chris: I think it is a sound strategy to have a good number of peaks behind me before considering going to Makalu or K2. The more you have in your toolkit the better. Also, having a regular climbing partner in Lakpa has been part of our strategy - we know each other’s strengths and we do not need to spend time and energy on a mountain second-guessing each other.

I would not say a long-term strategy, though, simply because of my age for the big mountains. But, certainly, we have a strategy - I keep in my head to help me quietly focus.

Makalu as seen from Baruntse C1; Photo from Chris' 2009 expedition

6. Your team for Makalu?
Chris: Lakpa Sherpa and I are climbing together again on Makalu. We did have a few others but their plans have had to be deferred for various reasons. We now plan to team up again later this year and/or in 2015.

7. Will you be using bottled oxygen?
Chris: I have a history of 2 bouts of pneumonia at sea level in 2009 and 2011. After one bout of pneumonia in 2009 I nearly ‘fell off the perch’ after then going on an expedition to Cho-Oyu. I learnt my lesson the hard way. I’m also quite atopic. So, I have to manage that too.

All credit to those who can climb 8,000ers without O’s - its no easy feat by any stretch of the imagination - but my physiology and risk profile dictates that I will use O’s on Makalu and in Pakistan. The best thing about O’s for me is the warmth, as I’m not so good in the extreme cold!

8. About summer 2014, you plan to climb Broad Peak and K2. The K2/BP double header is a challenging one. Given the circumstances, which mountain will be on priority?
Chris: I will focus on one at a time - that is how I talk to myself about the climbs. If I am lucky to reach the summit on Broad Peak, feel strong and healthy when I come off, I will move across to K2. But, if timing dictates we need to move across to K2 before any summit push on Broad Peak, then that might happen as well. I’m not underestimating the challenges to be faced on either peak.

Gasherbrum II Camp-2; Photo: Chris Burke

9. Are you targeting 14x8000ers, too?
Chris: If I were 30 years old, I would hope that I would say ‘Yes’ to that question. At 45, I have to think very carefully. Most important to me is to take one mountain at a time and to make sure I am climbing each mountain for the right reasons. If I feel good after the last one and am still enjoying the mountains then I will move onto the next one, and so on. I’m not aiming to be the first, fastest or to tick boxes or anything like that. I’m on this adventure for the sheer pleasure of experiencing the mountains, being able to set challenges for myself and then try to achieve them.

10. Any other message?
Chris: I’m a strong advocate for the mountains being there for everyone. It’s just a matter of building up the knowledge, skills and experience - and that is all part of the fun and adventure – choose your mountains having regard to what stage you are at, which mountain will provide you with a fun experience, and have the right team around you, as required. So long as you are climbing safely and responsibly, having fun and having regard to protecting the environment then why not enjoy the mountains?

Chris Burke is an Australian/NZ mountaineer currently based in Sydney and Kathmandu. She has completed the Seven Summits and has climbed five eight-thousanders, so far.

In 2013, Chris along with Lakpa Sherpa (Himalayan Ascent) became one of only a small handful of people in the world to reach the summit of 4 x 8000m peaks in a 12-month period.  Of dual nationality, she is the first Australian or NZ woman to reach the summit of the 4th highest peak in the world (Lhotse), and to complete the ‘Gasherbrums double’ in Pakistan.

She is also the first Australian or NZ woman to complete the Carstensz ‘7 Summits’ list and the 4th and 1st respectively to complete the Kosciuszko ‘7 Summits’ list.
Since 1998, Chris has climbed mountains in more than 12 countries, including reaching the summit of Mt Everest in 2011. Chris is passionate about mountaineering and for mountains to be open and accessible to all who wish to experience them.

She supports charitable endeavours in Nepal, including the Australian Himalayan Foundation. She is an ambassador for 2 Australian charities, the Eggtober Foundation and Streetwork.
 Chris' weblog:
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