100% Women Peak ChallengeInspiration
We chat to Chemmy Alcott about the launch of the 100% Women Peak Challenge.
Produced in partnership with Switzerland Tourism
Imagine yourself peering up towards the summit of a snow-covered Swiss Alpine peak. Dawn is finally here, the blue light reflecting on the snow around you is brightening, and the sun is beginning to reach out from behind the jagged mountain range sprawling before you. You’ve already been climbing for two hours, by the light of your headtorch along with your team, aiming to make the summit just after sunrise and stand on top of Switzerland before most people are even going to work. The morning sun warms your skin, invigorating your final steps to the top.
At the summit, you are elated. You’ve achieved something that you didn’t know you could do, and after training hard and honing your mountaineering skills, your reward is a stunning sunrise view of the Alps. The dawn light makes the snowy peaks glitter, and you’ve never seen a better view – especially because you know you worked so hard for this one. You snap a few photos with your friends who helped you climb up here, and then begin the long descent to celebrate.
This is exactly what the 100% Women Peak Challenge is all about.
On July 22nd, 1871, British mountaineer Lucy Walker became the first woman in history to summit the Matterhorn, dressed in a cumbersome long flannel skirt. Her achievement was celebrated throughout Europe, and was considered one of the greatest advancements for women in alpinism in a generation.
She became an inspiration for many female mountaineers around the world, yet, 150 years later, there remains a gap between genders in alpinism, particularly in visibility. The 100% Women Peak Challenge aims to address this by promoting and inspiring women, and raising the profiles of role models who will encourage more women to pursue mountaineering.
Starting from March 8th 2021 (no coincidence that this is International Women’s Day), Switzerland Tourism, in partnership with the Swiss Alpine Club (SAC), Swiss Mountain Guide Association (SBV), and Swiss outdoor brand Mammut, are calling on all-women teams to climb Switzerland’s highest peaks from March 8th to September 8th. The progress for the challenge – which anyone can participate in – will be tracked through a landing page where climbers can add their summit selfies.
To launch the project, an impressive team of ambassadors with various mountain sports backgrounds will attempt the first international high-altitude ski tour on three 4,000m peaks. The team, which includes Caro North, Nadine Wallner, and Chemmy Alcott, will climb Allalinhorn, Alphubel, and Strahlhorn in Valais, combining their strengths in mountaineering, ice climbing, and ski touring. We spoke to Chemmy, four-time Winter Olympian and Britain’s most successful female skier ever, during her final preparations for the challenge about her hopes, fears, and training for the adventure.
‘I knew this would be totally out of my comfort zone, and I am going to have to learn some new skills to complete the challenge,’ Chemmy told us a few days before the challenge. ‘But I’m really proud of myself that I said yes to it immediately – even though I have no idea if I’ll really be capable of doing it’.
Talking about the group of high-achieving sportswomen, Chemmy was keen to stress the importance of teamwork. ‘There are a lot of really impressive women in this group, and we all come from very different backgrounds. I know how to downhill ski at a high level, but for the majority of the challenge I’ll be very much following, and I’m also certain that I’ll be the slowest one – I am retired, after all! I just plan to copy what the lead women do, and I’m really excited to learn from them. If we all just complement each other’s talents in the variety of skills needed to complete this route, then we’ll be successful.
‘I grew up looking at those peaks – I’ve been training on the glaciers below them since I was eleven years old,’ she continues. ‘I’m so excited to stand on top of them for the first time – it’s going to be an incredibly rewarding view.’
On the topic of the 100% Women Peak Challenge, Chemmy told us: ‘I’ve always gravitated towards strong and successful women. By inspiring and encouraging each other, rather than always competing against each other, we can go so far. And so it makes such a big difference when an organisation this big gets behind International Women’s Day, and especially coming from one of the world’s most influential countries – it’s such an incredible idea. Women, especially mothers, tend to put their lives on hold, or give up on some sports entirely due to the perception that they might be dangerous – or they simply don’t make time for themselves. I think that’s really sad. As a mother myself, I’m trying to work on this perception and inspire women to keep doing the mountain sports they love, especially after having children.’
A roster of renowned alpinism athletes join Chemmy as ambassadors to the 100% Women Peak Challenge, including mountain guide Caroline George, professional mountaineer Caro North, and the first Saudi woman to climb Everest, Raha Moharrak. The women selected to champion the challenge are all positive role models for mountain sports, and aim to inspire more women to consider alpinism in Switzerland.
A highlight event is the My First 4,000m Peak – a five-day introduction to mountaineering on Breithorn from June 1st-5th 2021. Caro North, Mammut ambassador and professional mountaineer, will host the camp and introduce participants to the basics of mountaineering. And Mammut is an official partner of the challenge. Along with women-only mountain sports offers from the Mammut Alpine School, Mammut are offering rewards for all participants, consisting of a high-quality carabiner, a Peak Challenge T-shirt, and a voucher.
Incredibly, there are 48 peaks in Switzerland that tower over 4,000m, the highest of which is Dufourspitze (4,634m). But arguably the most famous is the iconic Matterhorn (4,478m). Considered the most difficult classic climb in the Alps, an ascent of the Matterhorn typically requires an overnight stay in the Hörnli Hut (3,260 m), or a bivouac, in order to make a pre-dawn start in the dark towards the summit, where guides are highly recommended to avoid losing the route. The Matterhorn requires climbing equipment and skill, and is not without risk.
Or you could attempt the Dufourspitze, the highest peak in Switzerland and second in all of Western Europe. It’s surprisingly less popular, although offers some of the most impressive views anywhere on the continent. An ascent from the Swiss side (the other flank is Italian) requires considerable stamina, and climbers will have to account for acclimatisation to the altitude – leaving from the Monte Rosa Hut at 2,883m, this long, single effort to the summit at 4,634m will be a true test of endurance and resilience.
Using both historic and modern female alpinism as the inspiration, the 100% Women Peak Challenge is focused on encouraging women to achieve their full potential. At the end of the challenge on September 8th, the website will be filled with images of all-female teams standing on the highest points of Switzerland. And probably no cumbersome flannel skirts in sight.
This year, Switzerland Tourism are supporting women-only events around the country, where participants will have opportunities to learn and develop their skills in female-led environments. From yoga with hiking, to 24-hour hikes, the offering aims to foster a sense of community and build positive momentum for participants.
Produced in partnership with Switzerland Tourism
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