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10 August, 2014

Climbing to the Roof of the World with Wim Smets

Holiday Nomad Interview with Wim Smets
About a month before I started my Everest Base Camp Trek, I met up for a drink with one of my fellow citizens Wim Smets. Wim stood on the Roof of the World as the 13th Belgian ever and not only that ... he climbed to the top of the "seven summits", the highest mountains of each of the seven continents. An interview with this inspiring person ...

Interview with Mountaineer Wim Smets

Climbing the Seven Summits

How did your passion for mountaineering begin?

When I was 12 years old my parents took my siblings and me on a hiking vacation in Austria. Although we did not hike to any top there, I really fell in love with the mountains during that vacation. When I was about 14 years old, I went to Switzerland and hiked there for the first time to the summit of a mountain. The challenge of getting up there and - once I reached the summit - the victory of having made it, was an incredible feeling.

As I like physical challenges, lots of my vacations after that involved mountains and trekking, but it wasn’t till 1996 during my Annapurna Trekking in Nepal that high mountains became a fixed ingredient of my life.

When did you climb your first major peaks?

In 1998 – while I was in Ecuador – I climbed to the top of the Cotopaxi 19,347 ft (5,897 l-m) as well as to the top of the highest mountain in Ecuador; the Chimborazo peak 20,564 ft (6,268 m).

In 1999 - while climbing Mount Kilimanjaro – I met an American mountaineer Douglas Beall and we decided to climb as many as possible peaks together. In 2001, when Douglas and I climbed Mount Aconcagua in Argentina we met Dave and Samantha Larson and they also became part of our climbing team. We climbed all together the rest of the “seven summits” except for Carstensz Pyramid, as Douglas could not make it at that time.

What was your lowest point so far?

Although I reached the top of Broad Peak, it was a challenging expedition where we had lots of setbacks. First there was a strike in the airport that delayed my departure, then when I finally reached Pakistan I couldn’t fly to Skardu due to bad weather and I had to take a 2-day bus trip. On top of that I had severe stomach problems. I had to catch up on acclimatization because of that. Once the weather allowed us we did a summit attempt, the last part to the summit was a hazardous summit ridge with a 500-meter drop on each side. Mike and Jeff decided to return to the camp while I continued with the rest of the climbers.

We finally reached the top but reaching the summit means just being halfway. The descent was one of the hardest moments in my life; first we got the news that our friend Jeff made a fatal fall during his descent. It was incredible hard to digest that news; in addition AndrĂ© tore his calf muscle, which is a very serious problem at that altitude. As I was the only climber left, I helped AndrĂ© down. As it was getting dark we were lost and couldn’t find the camp back. Finally with some directions from the camp and my GPS we reached the camp - after a 28-hours summit climb - at 2 am.    

Wim Smets Climbing team
Climbing Team

What was the highlight so far?

That would be without any doubt the Mount Everest ! It is an amazing feeling to stand on the Roof of the World - the highest mountain in the world – my reward for years of preparation and training.

In addition Douglas, Dave, Samantha and myself where climbing together and by that time we were a real team. We were perfectly adjusted to each other and the atmosphere in the team was perfect. So another highlight would definitely be all the wonderful people I met during my mountaineering trips, of course it’s awesome to reach the summit of a mountain but it are often the people you’re with that made the trip.

When did you decide to climb Mount Everest?

After Douglas, Dave, Samantha and I climbed Denali we decided to climb the highest mountain on each continent, which includes the Mount Everest.

How did you prepare for this climb?

By that time, we all had quite some years of mountaineering experience. In addition to prepare ourselves for the Mount Everest, we decided to climb to the summit of the Cho Oyu also located in the Himalaya. It is the sixth highest mountain in the world with an altitude of 26,906 ft (8,201 m) and known as one of the easiest +26,400 ft (+8,000 m) peaks to climb.  This was my first +26,400 ft (+8,000 m) peak and this climb allowed me to get used to using oxygen bottles as well.

Wim Smets on the summit
Wim Smets

How did it feel to stand on the Roof of the World?

This feeling is impossible to describe, it’s simply amazing. If I really have to describe the feeling, the closest would probably be like feeling the emotions and thoughts of an entire year going through your head in about 60 seconds.

A famous quote by Edmund Hillary says "it's not the mountain we conquer, it's ourselves" has this proven to be true for you? 

I think it’s very true; you cannot conquer a mountain. The mountain has been there for ages and will still be there after you’re gone. You indeed have to conquer yourself meaning getting out of your comfort zone and give everything you have to reach that summit.

North Pole expedition
North Pole expedition

Besides climbing, you also ran the Sahara marathon, did a North Pole expedition ... why this urge for extremes?

I love physical challenges; it makes me feel alive. I rather have a short but intense life than a long but boring one. Of course the best would be to have a long and intense one!

Thank you very much for this amazing interview Wim and wishing you a long and intense life!


  1. Climbing Mount Everest sounds amazing! I would love to do it, but I don't think I have enough passion for all the training. Loved the interview with Wim Smets, thanks Freya!

  2. Freya and Will, I've always admired people who have the perseverance to mountain climb. It takes such a strong will, bravery, and gumption...I think I may be lacking in all three...but I love to read about it! Beautiful photos.

  3. Really great interview.

  4. Such an inspiring interview, Freya!
    I am still getting ready for my #1 of 7 :)

    1. thanks & let me know when you start

  5. What a fascinating interview! I love that it was a passion that started early in his life and really followed him through, wow!

  6. What an amazing and exciting life Wim leads.

  7. What an exciting adventure except or the loss of his dear friend! That must have been devastating! I could never imagine myself on hikes like this but boy, do I love to read about them and see the pictures from the top of the world!

  8. I am always in awe of people who climb the really big mountains but no thank you, Too many people have died. Still the beauty of these peaks and the accomplishment is fantastic.

    1. It mud be an amazing feeling reaching that top

  9. Climbing mountains and particularly the Everest is so amazing and scary (at least for me). Fascinating interview.

  10. Wow, this was off the charts amazing and thank you for all of your candid answers, Wim! You are a total celebrity in my book. I got chills all over when you mentioned that Mike and Jeff had turned back then tragically losing Mike. And I'm sorry that happened to your friend, sir. I have always been absolutely infatuated and captivated by Everest so I will "eat up" any reading or documentaries on those that make the ascent. Hence, it's been a HUGE delight and treat for my friend Freya to share her amazing Base Camp series of posts. Best of luck to you and safe travels always, Wim! :)

    1. Thanks for your great comment Mike

  11. What an adventure - so thrilling and so very sad, brave and crazy. Thanks to Wim for sharing and Freya for posting. Much perspective and inspiration to take-away.

  12. I remember reading this from your other blog. It's still inspiring reading it the second time around and I dont get tired looking at those amazing photos again and again.

  13. What a great interview and such an interesting and fascinating man. I love seeing all his pictures here and it's very inspiring though I doubt I'll be climbing mountains soon. "it's not the mountain we conquer, it's ourselves" - love it and so true. Thanks for sharing this again, Freya!

  14. Very inspiring interview! I'm willing to bet that mountaineering will never be a hobby of mine, but hearing stories (and seeing pictures) like this is always so mind-bogglingly interesting. What a world it would be if we were all as adventurous as Wim! Thanks for sharing, Freya.

  15. Good interview with an intriguing person. There seems to be plenty of Belgian mountaineers, always seem to hear about them. Interesting, considering Belgium or the immediate neighbourhood isn't very mountainous.

    1. you are right Sophie, no mountains at all in Belgium but maybe that's why we are so fascinated by mountains :)

  16. What a great interview. Wim's lowest point must have been incredibly difficult; I can't imagine having to persevere after learning of the death of a friend.

  17. Wow! Climbing Mount Everest is a real challenge, it looks like a great adventure and experience like Wim says but I could never do it myself I think.. anyway never say never! :)

  18. Owe! what's a great interview & what a great desire of Wim Smets...... Best of luck Wim. And welcome you Nepal.


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Freya - Holiday Nomad