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Lotta Hintsa, a 31-year-old Finnish native, won the Miss Finland beauty pageant title in 2013. In 2020, she was a team member on an expedition to make the first ascent of Broad Peak, the twelfth-tallest summit on Earth, during meteorological winter.* The world of beauty pageants, modeling, and televised entertainment seems a far cry from high-altitude mountaineering; even so, Hintsa is drawn to the high peaks with fervor and ambition.
“Climbing sort of grew on me little by little throughout my life.” Hintsa said. “I spent my childhood in Ethiopia close to the mountains, hiking and climbing trees, and we’d also often fly past Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and I’d look at the snow top and decided I’d climb it one day with my dad.”
Hintsa’s family moved back to Finland when she was 11, where her main sport became cheerleading, with hiking, skiing, ultra-running, and gym climbing mixed in. She was always drawn to pushing her physical limits, a trait that her father instilled in her. Hintsa also took up modeling. After winning Miss Finland in 2013, numerous modeling and TV opportunities opened up for her.
“Then in 2016, my dad died of cancer,” she said. “A few months before his death I went to climb Kilimanjaro so I could share the experience with him through stories and pictures before he was gone. Even though Kili is not that high [Ed. The summit of Kilimanjaro is 5,895 meters] I felt really comfortable with the altitude, and from then on have been hooked on challenging myself at higher and higher elevations.”
Hintsa went on to climb some lower mountains in the Alps to gain experience, including Mont Blanc from the Italian side, and in 2018 decided to attempt Aconcagua, which, at 6,960 meters, is the tallest summit in the Americas. Through researching the climb and logistics on the Internet, Hintsa linked up with Canadian alpinist Don Bowie, who was also planning a trip to Aconcagua that season to scout for a sea-to-summit biking/running mission.
Hintsa and Bowie teamed up and climbed the peak with relative ease, making quick time from Camp 2 to the summit despite a nasty storm. Bowie, a veteran climber with 20 Himalayan expeditions, was impressed with the performance and drive of his novice partner, who had no issue with the altitude. He agreed to mentor her.
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“I took his advice and made the adjustment in my life and shifted my focus to climbing instead of the entertainment industry,” Hintsa said. “Within a few months I made my first trip to Nepal to climb in the lower Himalayas. It’s now become a full-time endeavor for me, training and preparing to see where my limits are.”
In summer of 2019, Hintsa and Bowie attempted Gasherbrum II (8,305 meters), the thirteenth highest peak on Earth, without supplemental oxygen. They climbed up to 7,300 meters, through the most technical sections of the mountain, when Bowie was roped into a rescue mission to save an Italian climber on G7 who had survived a 450-meter fall. The rescue was successful, but the team missed the weather window for their summit bid. Nevertheless, Hintsa learned from the expedition and got a true taste of climbing an 8,000-meter peak.
“On G2, during our final push the ice fall was in such a bad condition that we had to jump over and navigate a minefield of open crevasses, and we continually broke through snow bridges over seemingly bottomless black holes in the glacier.” Hintsa said. “Even though I knew something might go seriously wrong, I was able to accept the fear and continually told myself that this is just a part of climbing 8,000-meter peaks, and the entire reason I was there.”
This winter, Hintsa was on a team with Bowie and Russian-Polish climber Denis Urubko to attempt the first winter ascent of Broad Peak (8,047 meters). Illness, poor weather, and dangerous conditions prevented the team from making a serious attempt at the summit.
“My learning curve was definitely accelerated on Broad Peak, and that was the entire point of going on that expedition. It does bother me that I never had the chance to even try for the summit,” Hintsa said. “Still, I’m very satisfied with making it to 6,600 meters for a few nights and climbing on an 8,000-meter peak in the Karakoram in winter, and I enjoyed the experience (and the suffering) immensely.”
The contrast between the life of a supermodel and the life of a Himalayan mountaineer is drastic to say the least—a well-lit dressing room versus a frigid glacial basecamp, camera flashes on the runway versus exposure on a ridgeline. However, this model-mountaineer feels more at ease with the latter.
“When it comes to high-altitude climbing people always talk about ‘getting out of your comfort zone,’” Hintsa said. “But for me I was most out of my comfort zone when I was competing in Miss Finland and Miss Universe pageants back in 2013. Pushing myself physically comes very naturally to me, and I seem to welcome the discomfort of training. When it comes to making an effort to ‘look and behave like a beauty queen’ I immediately feel uncomfortable, even though I actually won the Miss Finland title.”
She continues: “I think that when we do the things that feel most natural to us, it makes us happy. Adventure feeds my soul and overcoming the challenges brought on by the altitude and environment make me feel so alive. Every day on an expedition when I wake up in the tent, even when I’m shivering and covered in frost, I feel so grateful for the chance to be there. I am amazed by the views around me, and the higher I climb the greater the impression it has on me.”
*The first winter ascent of Broad Peak was completed on March 5, 2013 by Maciej Berbeka, Adam Bielecki, Tomasz Kowalski and Artur Małek. Meteorological winter is defined by the three calendar months with the lowest average temperature. In the northern hemisphere, those are December, January and February.