Sophie Levaud has successfully built her multi-faceted life on survival tactics she uses on her Himalayan climbs. No stranger to adversity, she exemplifies the values of patience, goal setting, persistence, community and teamwork. We, as well, have learned over the years that doing things right requires these same traits and have incorporated them into our policies and practices.
Knowing When to Push Forward and When to Hold Back
The most recent peak Sophie reached was the 8162 meter high Manaslu. It wasn’t clear she would make it. The night before reaching the peak, at Camp 4 (7430 meters), the wind was blowing violently, making it impossible to even pitch a tent. Sophie had to decide: does she wait 24 hours or continue? On the one hand, the weather conditions might get better. On the other, if she waited 24 hours, she risked being too exhausted to climb. The weather forecast told of less wind up at the peak, which was reassuring, but there was no sign of calm where she was right then…
Sophie and her partner decided to try. They started climbing at 2:30 in the morning. At sunset, the wind calmed down. Sophie describes the exhilarating experience of reaching the top: “No one else was there; the peak was totally ours…”
But Sophie doesn’t just push ahead unless she’s made the careful calculation of whether it’s a risk worth taking. And no risk is worth endangering her health, safety and security, even when that means waiting – or retreating.
Sophie paints us a picture of her attempt to scale Kangchenjunga: “At 8200 meters, a logistical problem took place. Due to bad coordination of management, we were forced to do a U-turn and go back down the mountain, as I had to return to Geneva one week later to renew my visa to go to Pakistan. It was awful to climb back down… the top of the peak was so near, yet so far!”
So awful and frustrating – and yet Sophie did it. When she needed to, she turned around and came down. Her attitude: it needs to be the right peak, at the right time… and it’s never too late to try it again.
In fact, Sophie will try Kangchenjunga again, on an expedition starting this month.
Sophie’s Values Drive her Actions
For five years, Sophie was the ambassador of a Nepalese NGO called Norlha. The organization helped Himalayan populations, specifically woman, who are impacted by the harsh living conditions and consequences related to immigration and sexual abuse.
Her Everest climb in 2014 sold virtual ‘altitude meters’ to help finance a program relating to agriculture. Following the devastating 2015 Nepal earthquake, she created a fund to reconstruct the trail between the village of Rasuwa and the valley.
Sophie is also involved in the local management of the Sherpas (members of the Himalayan people living on the borders of Nepal and Tibet, renowned for their skill in mountaineering) to help them place more detection systems for avalanches.
Sophie’s values create her vision. They determine where she invests her time and resources. It is no wonder that she calls female mountain climber Nives Meroi her inspiration. Nives could have become the first woman to climb an 8000 meter peak, but instead she decided to delay her program… to support her husband who was fighting cancer.
That’s living your values. And that’s how Sophie lives, enabling her to find purpose and fulfillment in everything she does.
Sophie Doesn’t go it Alone
When you’re standing on a mountain summit by yourself or with one partner, it’s easy to see your climb as a performance where you are the star. Sophie rejects that view. She is keenly aware of being one member of a team, where all play an instrumental role in getting to the top. And it is that feeling that she finds the most pleasurable and fulfilling.
The human adventure – sharing experiences, discoveries and emotions – is deeply satisfying. The relationships of trust developed are extraordinary. Says Sophie, “I never go alone. I like the team spirit in the Himalayas. “
In the personal mountains we all have to face in life, it’s tempting to see ourselves as all alone in the climb, consciously or subconsciously cutting off the people around us.
Tap into the spirit of the Himalayas – develop bonds and connections with people you can rely on. You’re not alone in your journey. You’re one of a team, supporting one another and giving each other the strength and spirit you need to go on and succeed.
That’s what Sophie finds and embraces in the Himalayas. It is what has enabled her to conquer seven of the world’s highest peaks. It is what she will take with her to triumph over the next seven.
We salute Sophie Levaud and present her story, here, as an example for women everywhere. We all have our challenges, some arriving in the form of extreme tests. Using Himalayan smarts, values and intuition, even figurative mountains can indeed be conquered.