‘I was able to dream big’: 62-year-old Canadian becomes oldest woman to summit K2 in Pakistan

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A woman from Oakville, Ont., has become the oldest woman to climb the world’s second-tallest mountain at the age of 62, after learning alpine climbing at age 50.

Liliya Ianovskaia not only managed to successfully climb Mount Everest in Nepal, but she also climbed two other mountains above 8,000 meters a few weeks later.

Although Mount Everest is the highest mountain in the world at 8,849 meters, K2 in Pakistan, the second highest peak, is known to be one of the most dangerous and difficult treks due to avalanches, the slope and unpredictable weather conditions.

But Yanovskaia said that didn’t stop her, and neither did her age.

“I don’t really see age limits, I feel strong…and I’ve been able to dream big,” she said.

“And yes, maybe it’s daring at times, but so far I’ve been able to pull it off. I think age is not a limit, it’s just a number.”

Mount Everest base camp. (Submitted by Dasha Ianovskaia)

On July 22, Yanovskaia and her climbing partner, her youngest daughter Dasha, scaled the 8,611-meter mountain in the Karakoram Range in northern Pakistan.

“Climbing K2 was amazing. I always wanted to go to Pakistan,” Yanovskaia said.

“For years I thought about [it], but I thought, no, it’s too difficult. It’s too dangerous, too complicated [but] everything is possible.”

Ianovskaia is the oldest woman to climb K2 and the first Canadian woman to reach the top of the mountain, according to German researcher Eberhard Jurgalski and his team at 8,000’ers.com who study mountains above 8,000 meters.

“If someone had told me back then that we were going to climb Mount Everest together, I would have thought they were crazy,” said Dasha Ianovskaia, left. (Laura Pedersen/CBC)

On August 8, Yanovskaia tackled her fifth peak over 8,000 meters, Gasherbrum II in the same region as K2 and is the 13th highest mountain in the world at 8,035 meters above sea level.

Ianovskaia, inspired by her youngest of three daughters Dasha, set out a list of goals to achieve in one year on her 50th birthday. Not only did she surpass her initial goal of running a marathon, but she ran three in the span of six weeks.

She also climbed Mount Kilimanjero, a dormant 5,895m volcano in Tanzania with her daughter in 2009.

“It was the start of everything and after that I realized that I could really push myself harder,” Yanovskaia said.

Since 2019, Ianovskaia has climbed a total of five of the 14 mountains above 8,000 meters: Cho Oyu, Manaslu, Everest, K2 and Gasherbrum II.

The International Mountaineering and Climbing Federation (UIAA) recognizes the “8,000ers” as the 14 mountains that exceed 8,000 meters.

Dasha Ianovskaia inspired her mother to start rock climbing when she was 50.

“If someone had told me back then that we were going to climb Mount Everest together, I would have thought they were crazy,” Dasha said.

Shifting ice, deep crevasses and frequent ice falls are one of the most dangerous parts of the team’s ascent of Everest, she said. But that didn’t stop the mother-daughter duo from rocking out.

“Sharing the moment on top of the world, when we’re both very short people…we were the tallest people,” she said.

Ianovskaia said it took the expedition team six weeks to acclimatize to Mount Everest’s altitude before attempting to climb the peak on May 14. She said climbers had to keep climbing and descending for weeks before taking five days off before the official summit day.

Liliya Ianovskaia on a ladder during the passage through the Khumbu Icefall at Mount Everest in May, the most dangerous part of the Everest climb due to moving ice, deep crevasses and waterfalls frequent ice cream. (Submitted by Dasha Ianovskaia)

Ianovskaia plans to return to Nepal next spring to traverse the third and fourth highest mountains in the world on her list: Kangchenjunga and Lhotse.

She said she had never felt so motivated in her life.

“I feel like at this point in my life I can do so much more than I was able to do in my mid-30s,” Ianovskaia said.

“Keep training, stay positive, set goals and go for it.”

Dasha Ianovskaia, left, and Liliya Ianovskaia, right. (Submitted by Dasha Ianovskaia)
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