Cheryl Nikki and Everest

In 2008, Nikki Bart and her mother Cheryl became the first mother and daughter to climb Everest. 

Originally from the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney, Australia, the adventurous family elevated the concept of a 'mother-daughter trip’ to new heights when they conquered their final peak of the Seven Summits, Mount Everest, on 24 May 2008 at 4:50 a.m. local time.

“We are very proud of the achievement but are most proud of having done it together,” Nikki says now, 16 years after their record. Many things have changed since their record, but their bond remains special: unwavering, and blooming from a lifetime of shared adventures. 

“Being the first mother-daughter team is the icing on the cake, or the summit of the mountain, so to speak.” 

They've always been passionate about sports, and Cheryl remembers that they started to tackle Everest prior to the record attempt by trekking to Everest Base Camp when Nikki was 16 years old. 

That was the beginning of their record-breaking journey – together.

mothers day banner

Nikki and Cheryl

“After completing Kilimanjaro a few years later, we decided to do a few more training expeditions. We went to New Zealand and learnt to climb with ropes, crampons, and other technical gear. From there, we thought we would give Mt Elbrus a try, and were successful.”

Then, after completing six of the Seven Summits together, Everest started to appear like a reachable goal. It seemed like a daunting challenge, with Everest being the tallest mountain in the world, but it had become a concrete possibility and the two record holders were ready to face the new challenge. 

Despite their busy life and commitments - Cheryl was working full-time as a Company Director and Nikki was studying medicine full-time  – they decided to give the record-breaking feat a shot. 

“We started to discuss that if Everest were to be a goal, we would need to climb another 8,000 m peak first," they say.

"This would mean seeing how our bodies handled the 'death zone'- the area above 8,000 m were your body is experiencing the same oxygen levels as a critically unwell intensive care patient. It would also mean practicing with the 8,000 m gear including oxygen masks and full down suits.” 

After successfully climbing Cho Oyu (the sixth-highest mountain in the world) in 2007, they started planning for Everest.

Nikki and Cheryl on the Khumbu Icefall

“The beauty of mountaineering is that it takes you to some exceptional places on Earth,” the duo explains. 

“The extreme temperatures and weather events we have been experiencing recently, and the impossibility of travel during COVID-19 have made us even more grateful for the experiences we have had.” 

Although a big part of their shared passion for mountaineering is the opportunity to try new experiences and discover new cultures, they also cherish the possibility to create new memories together: “the precious time that we will never get back,” they say.

Everest with sun

Training for Mount Everest

Both Nikki and Cheryl took time off to properly prepare for the challenge. 

“As with most sports, the best way to train for climbing is through climbing,” they say, looking back on the training regime they used in 2008. In addition to their expeditions, they would also take long treks, walking for more than 10 hours carrying a heavy pack and ankle weights.

They also incorporated simulation and mental training into a comprehensive programme that involved cardio, strength and stretching.

“Coming from Australia, for specific training we had to think laterally. To train for dragging a heavy sled we would drag a weight up and down Bondi Beach," they explain.

“Simulation was important for us, so for practising for the Khumbu icefall on Everest with all that moving ice and deep crevasses we strung ladders up trees and across swimming pools and practised again and again.” 

However, their preparation was interrupted by an unexpected incident that forced them to take a step back, heal and re-evaluate the risks involved in the challenge.

“Nikki got frostbite while we climbed Denali in Alaska,” Cheryl remembers. “This was a huge setback, and in the end, we decided to take a year off climbing then re-evaluate the risks and strengthen our bodies and minds.” 

Nikki and Cheryl climbing

Conquering Mount Everest

Despite the difficulties and delays, the training and the challenge in itself were full of exciting moments: other than an expedition, this record-breaking adventure was a chance to reflect on their bond, as well as on their relationship with Mother Nature. 

“We think that climbing is not about 'conquering' a mountain but rather our relationship with it. You can’t control the weather, the conditions, or your health, but you can control the choice to be there and remain in the present. Our relationship with the mountains, even when the summit was not achieved has given us so much joy.” 

Remembering the record with fondness, the mother and daughter team recounts plenty of good memories from the expedition. 

“We have spent more time in a tent together climbing the Seven Summits than Nikki spent in Cheryl’s womb,” they say, explaining why the record has cemented their already strong bond. 

“Laughing in the tent at the end of the day, crying over foot blisters, learning new skills together, achieving something especially when it looked impossible,” they carry on.

We also love the deeper understanding of each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and the sheer pleasure that comes from working towards a big goal as a team.

Mount everest

The road was tough, but being together made everything sweeter. 

"We have always been very close, and this has only made us closer," they say.

“My mum inspires me,” says Nikki. “She pursues her dreams to the fullest and doesn’t see opportunities like climbing Mount Everest as a 'death wish' but rather as a 'life wish' and pursues every possibility to its fullest.”

A feeling that is wholeheartedly shared by Cheryl who is, in turn, inspired by Nikki every day.

“She’s amazing,” she says about her daughter. “On the mountains, Nikki was the best partner I could ever dream of!”

Since becoming a mum myself and seeing the juggle in real time, I am in utter awe of everything she has done for me and the people around her. - Nikki

Everest also offered the two mountaineers an occasion to learn more about themselves, and how to approach different cultures. 

This expedition was a chance to see their daughter (and mum) in a unique and new light, experiencing the breathtaking beauty of the wild mountain but also learning together how to manage adversity, commitment, teamwork and resilience.

“Like the weather or avalanches: you can’t control your mother or daughter here," they continue.

"Our relationship with the mountains has given us so much knowledge, wisdom and joy. We have experienced awe and wonder.”

Nikki and cheryl smiling

The Future

To this day, despite their demanding day jobs (Nikki works as a medical doctor, while Cheryl is a lawyer) they still love mountaineering. They also adore to go skiing together with the rest of the family – not only with Nikki’s dad and brother but also with her young daughter.

“When Nikki was little, her grandpa, Opa used to come along too. This has come full circle with Nikki’s daughter enjoying her first-ever ski trip this year with her family,” says Cheryl.

However, the duo still tries to embark on special adventures every time they can: “In 2018 we climbed the tallest volcano in Antarctica - Mt Sidley,” they explain. 

More than a decade after the record, they are still extremely excited and proud of that first, amazing achievement. “We still have to pinch ourselves to believe it,” they confess. “Sometimes, we think “did that really happen?”, “Is that really us they are talking about?”

Although Nikki and Cheryl are not planning any new records for the future, they mean to continue exploring the world and taking on new adventures as a team.

“We have lots of mountaineering adventures still on the cards and hope to be able to enjoy them as a mother-daughter team,” they promise. 

 And, to the families who want to embark on an adventure – no matter how ambitious – they say: yes, do it!

If you are asking the question, no matter what the adventure… DO IT.

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