Eighty women from around the planet recently set a world record on the Swiss mountain of Breithorn (4,164m), forming the longest ever all female rope team on their way to the summit. The attempt was part of Switzerland Tourism’s 100% Women initiative, aimed at raising the profile of women in mountain and outdoor sports. We chat with a member of the record-breaking mountain climbing team, Singapore-based CHRISTINE AMOUR-LEVAR.
How did you hear about this mountain climbing initiative, and why were you keen to get involved?
I was first contacted by a journalist friend of mine who put me in touch with the Switzerland Tourism folks here in Singapore. They thought I would be perfect for this initiative given my climbing/trekking experience and my passion for female empowerment. Because I love mountains, from the onset, I was keen and very excited. The 100% Women Peak Challenge with its goal of encouraging more women to push their limits on Swiss mountains and with the added objective of putting more women on top literally and figuratively, is right up my alley and very much in line with my values and interests.
Finally, being part Swiss on my father’s side, I have a deep love for Switzerland and all things Swiss, so I had a strong connection to this project from the beginning. Ultimately this was a big part of why I was thrilled to collaborate on this inspiring initiative and share this unique world record with other talented and courageous women from around the world.
Who took part in the climb? Were you the only Singapore-based representative in the team of 80 women?
The other women who took part were from 25 countries and it was a mixed and eclectic crowd. We had a professional skier from India, a singer from France, a mountain guide from Iran and also one from Kazakhstan, a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador from Thailand, an activist from Egypt, a Swedish actress, a philanthropist from South Africa, a travel blogger from Canada, to name a few. The guides, organisers and photographers were also all women. Everyone was inspiring in their own unique way.
Yes, I was the only participant from Singapore – and very proud, of course, to represent our Lion City on this challenge! Having lived here for 16 years, being a permanent resident, and having raised my four children here, it felt wonderful to be invited.
You’ve faced plenty of outdoor challenges on expeditions with Women on a Mission and HER Planet Earth in the past, which we’ve enjoyed documenting. How did this one stack up?
This world record was particularly exciting and different because we were so many participants. Normally, the teams I take on expeditions are composed of 10 to 14 women. This time, as you know, we were 80! And, luckily, no one was left behind, everyone summited and we helped and supported each other, every step of the way. We succeeded in setting a world record, and, to me, this achievement, combined with the strong spirit of sisterhood on such a large scale, really made the 100% Women Peak Challenge so amazing and exciting.
We came together for three days in total, and it took us one day to summit and come back down. So, in that sense, it was shorter than my other expeditions, which usually last 10 to 12 days and sometimes even longer, but the climb itself was quite intense and challenging.
Lastly and most importantly, this initiative demonstrated that there is no force greater than women determined to rise, and it challenged the gender stereotypes and boundaries women still face not just in outdoor sports, but in society.
We know you’ve been to Everest Base Camp before; is this the highest mountain you’ve climbed?
The highest I’ve climbed is Kala Patthar (5,644 metres) in Nepal, which is very close to Everest Base Camp (5,364 metres). I’ve also climbed Mont Blanc in the French Alps, which is higher than Breithorn, but I had to turn around close to the summit because of bad weather at about 4,450 metres.
How were the conditions on Breithorn on the day? Any particular challenges with the climb or with forming the rope team for the record?
The conditions were spectacular. We couldn’t have asked for a better day to summit. Blue skies, barely a cloud in the sky, and some wind but not too much, mostly on the summit ridge. We were very well organised and prepared; we roped up with a guide in teams of four, and then proceeded on the trail one group at a time, in close formation, to make the longest rope team in the world!
But here’s the thing, summiting a mountain, pursuing a new life change or simply following through with a commitment you’ve set are not that different. The upward climb is easier when you have someone in front who has set the course, and someone behind following in your footstep. Indeed, this was a truly challenging, very meaningful and empowering experience.
Any other missions or challenges on the radar for you?
Absolutely! This month, I’ll be taking a Women on a Mission team to the mountains of Kyrgyzstan to raise US$100,000 for women survivors of war. The group is made up of 13 intrepid women of diverse nationalities and backgrounds. Most are based in Singapore but some will be coming from Dubai and Europe. While they are all incredibly well accomplished in their careers, they’re equally passionate about supporting charitable causes and helping the less privileged.
The funds we raise will go to support programmes run by our charity partners Women for Women International to fund education programmes in Ukraine, Syria and Afghanistan. And, with over 20 brutal armed conflicts across the globe right now, and unprecedented levels of violence against women, there has never been a greater need to support such initiatives that change the world, one woman at a time.
This article first appeared in the September 2022 edition of Expat Living. You can purchase the latest issue or subscribe, so you never miss a copy!