'I've been able to dream big': 62-year-old Canadian becomes oldest woman to summit K2 in Pakistan

·3 min read
Belarusian-Canadian Liliya Ianovskaia holding a Belarusian national flag at the K2 peak in Pakistan on July 22. Ianovskaia, now 63, said she took up mountaineering at the age of 50.  (Submitted by Liliya Ianovskaia - image credit)
Belarusian-Canadian Liliya Ianovskaia holding a Belarusian national flag at the K2 peak in Pakistan on July 22. Ianovskaia, now 63, said she took up mountaineering at the age of 50. (Submitted by Liliya Ianovskaia - image credit)

An Oakville, Ont., woman became the oldest female to climb the second highest mountain in the world at the age of 62, after picking up Alpine climbing at 50.

Liliya Ianovskaia, not only managed to successfully summit Mount Everest in Nepal, she went on to climb two more mountains above 8,000 metres just weeks after.

Despite Mount Everest being the highest mountain on earth at 8,849 metres, K2 in Pakistan, the second highest peak, is known to be one of the most dangerous and difficult treks due to avalanches, steepness and unpredictable weather.

But Ianovskaia said that didn't stop her, and neither did her age.

"I don't see any limits really imposed by age, I feel strong … and I've been able to dream big," she said.

"And yeah, maybe it is bold sometimes, but so far I was able to achieve that. I think that age is not a limit, it's just a number."

Submitted by Dasha Ianovskaia
Submitted by Dasha Ianovskaia

On July 22, Ianovskaia scaled the 8,611-metre mountain in the Karakoram range in northern Pakistan.

"Climbing K2 was amazing. I always wanted to go to Pakistan," Ianovskaia said.

"For years I was thinking about [it], but I thought, no, it is too difficult. It is too dangerous, too complicated [but] everything is possible."

Ianovskaia is the oldest woman to climb K2 and the first Canadian woman to summit the mountain, according to Germany-based researcher Eberhard Jurgalski and his team at 8,000'ers.com who study mountains above 8,000 metres.

Laura Pedersen/CBC
Laura Pedersen/CBC

On Aug. 8, Ianovskaia went on to tackle her fifth 8,000-metre plus peak, Gasherbrum II in the same region as K2 and is the 13th highest mountain in the world at 8,035 metres above sea level.

Ianovskaia, inspired by her youngest of three daughters Dasha, set a list of goals to achieve within a year on her 50th birthday. She didn't only crush her initial goal of running a marathon, but ran three within the span of six weeks.

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

"That was the beginning of everything and after that I realized I can definitely push myself harder," Ianovskaia said.

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

The International Mountaineering and Climbing Federation (UIAA) recognises "8,000ers" as the 14 mountains that stand above 8,000 metres.

Dasha Ianovskaia inspired her mother to start climbing at the age of 50.

"If someone told me back then that we would climb Mount Everest together then I would've thought they were mad," Dasha said.

The moving ice, deep crevasses and frequent ice falls are one of the most dangerous parts of the team's Everest ascent, she said. But that didn't stop the mother-daughter duo from pushing through.

"Sharing the moment at the top of the world, when we are both very short people ... we were the tallest people," she said.

Ianovskaia said it took the expedition team six weeks to acclimatize to the altitude on Mount Everest before attempting to summit the peak on May 14. She said climbers had to continue hiking up and down for weeks before they took five days off to rest ahead of the official summit day.

Submitted by Dasha Ianovskaia
Submitted by Dasha Ianovskaia

Ianovskaia is planning to head back to Nepal next spring to cross the world's third and fourth highest mountains off of her list: Kangchenjunga and Lhotse.

She said she has never felt more motivated in her life.

"I feel like at this point of 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 up the goals and just go for it."

Submitted by Dasha Ianovskaia
Submitted by Dasha Ianovskaia