October 3, 2023
Allie Pepper is one of few Australian women to have climbed above 8,000m. She now plans to climb all 14 of the 8,000m mountains without the use of additional oxygen in two and a half years, the world’s fastest time. Inspiring people to live their best lives whilst climbing some of the most challenging and dangerous mountains in the world.
Growing up in the Blue Mountains, after failing year 12 at Katoomba High Allie started living the van life long before it was popular, fruit picking in Batlow and Far North Queensland. Deciding to have a career and wanting to re-create herself, she signed up for a lot more than she bargained for, misreading the Outdoor Recreation course! But re-create is essentially what she did. Rock climbing and canyoning were completely new to Allie, even though she grew up in Australia’s largest climbing area, and once she completed the course, she started working for the Australian School of Mountaineering. Going on to complete her Outdoor Leadership course, Allie found her passion on a life changing 10 day technical mountaineering course on the Tasman Glacier in the mountains of New Zealand. “I was good at it, I loved it, and I haven’t been the same since.”
Working as an assistant guide on Aconcagua, which at 6,961m is the highest mountain in the America’s and the highest mountain outside the Himalaya, Allie discovered high altitude mountaineering and her strength at altitude. After spending three years climbing and guiding in the Andes, in 2007 Allie felt ready to go to the Himalaya. Climbing Cho Oyu (8,188m) in Tibet, her climbing partner got frost nip on eight of his toes and couldn’t go to the summit, so Allie ended up going all the way up and back on her own! “On the summit there I was completely by myself. It was amazing. It’s very difficult to explain, you’re almost on the edge of passing out because you’re so hypoxic and you have to hyperventilate to not pass out. You don’t have an adrenaline rush but adrenaline is what keeps you going for a many hours with a very high heart rate and you’re freezing cold.”
“At that altitude it’s difficult to eat. You have no appetite and you can’t digest because all of your energy’s going to your core trying to keep your heart and lungs working. At that height above the death zone, your body is slowly dying. It is literally just trying to survive.”
Coming home to the Blue Mountains Allie was addicted and wanted to do all 14 of the 8,000 metre mountains without oxygen then, but had no idea how to financially. “Back then it was too overwhelming for me to be a professional athlete, I couldn’t imagine it and got really depressed because I felt like I’d won the Commonwealth Games and had the opportunity to be part of the Australian Olympic team, but I didn’t have the money.”
Saving enough money to climb in Tibet, Allie ended up guiding a group of women in Nepal. Running into a friend who was guiding on Everest, Allie was jealous and decided that it was too hard to get the money to climb all 14 peaks but if she saved up for Everest and did the highest one, that would be enough. It took Allie three years to save the money and in 2011 she went to Everest.
Getting off the plane at Lukla, the start of the Everest trail, waiting for her was Dal Attending Sherpa from Tamoe, soon to be good friend and long-time climbing buddy, with a big smile on his face. Assuming she could climb Everest without oxygen, at 7,300m she realised that it wasn’t going to happen. “I just wasn’t as fast as I was before so I was getting really cold. I thought I could make it to 8,500, but not to the summit.” After saving so much money for the trip Allie just wanted to get to the top. She managed to buy some oxygen at camp and summited using oxygen, but in a storm! “Without a sat phone we didn’t know the report had changed. It was horrendous, a whiteout, 60k/h winds, one person died. It was next level nightmare material. I wasn’t happy at all. We took a bit of video and a few photos and then the LCD screen froze, it would have been minus 60 with windchill. All I could think of was, thank God we’re here because now we can go back down.”
“At the time Cho You was the hardest thing I’d ever done, but it was easier than Everest because I was spending a lot of the year at high altitude, guiding on Aconcagua and Peru. With Everest, I hadn’t even put a pair of crampons on let alone climb a mountain or go to high altitude for three years while I was saving money, guiding back to back school camps in Australia.” So Everest is on the list again for 2025, this time without oxygen.
Restructuring her guiding business which she started in 2014, Allie is stepping out of guiding and into online coaching and speaking, focusing on training people to climb mountains. “Parts of mountain climbing are life coaching in a sense, because a lot of climbing a difficult mountain is mindset. Of course you have to be fit and you have to have the technical skills, but at the end of the day, it’s probably 90% mindset because you have to be able to suffer A LOT. It doesn’t matter how fit you are, you’re going to go so far out of your comfort zone to make the summit. So a lot of it is training the brain aswell.”
And why does she want to do this? “Personally, I want to know what I’m capable of achieving. It’s taken me a long time to get to where I am now, mentally and physically. I believe I can do this project. It’s my passion, it’s my life essentially and I love everything about it. I love the culture, I love the people I meet, I love the hard work and I love the views. I love everything.”
“In the past I’ve enjoyed guiding as much as climbing for myself, but when I’m purely climbing for myself, I feel a bit empty because it’s just for me. Now my purpose is to inspire people to fulfill their own dreams and goals, to follow your passion whatever that might be. Sometimes you have to step outside your comfort zone to actually experience fully who you are, but just to not be afraid, that’s all!” She says laughing. “I mean, there’s a lot to my message let’s face it.”
“When I did Cho Oyu I didn’t have a doubt in my mind that I couldn’t do all the peaks if I had the opportunity financially, but I didn’t think I was of any value to Corporate Partners. I just didn’t think I was good enough to be someone that could be paid to live their dream. I had this doubt in my mind until early this year. I’ve had to go deep, really deep, and I’ve been able to let go of all that negativity, doubt and fear of just becoming the best version of myself. But now that I’ve done it, and it wasn’t easy, but it was worth it and now I feel free.”
Desperate to get rid of her negative thinking, Allie did a course through Mind Valley. “I really, really want this and you really need to want something badly to change that much. I got separated last year, I’m getting divorced and it just brought it all up. Why am I in this situation? Why am I not living my best life? I looked for answers and I had to look inside because you can’t change anyone else, you can only change yourself.”
“We may as well live our best life. It sounds funny and I get it. I get the grind and I get all that stuff. Because I’ve been there, but we may as well believe in ourselves and we may as well pick a life that we want to live and love and follow our passions and dreams.”
“Part of my message is #mountainsareforeveryone because it doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re from or what your background, gender, race or religion. The mountains are for everybody to enjoy, in whatever way they want with whoever they want. I was a woman in a man’s world in South America for so long, a mucho guiding, climbing world where I proved how strong I was to the men, and now they all love me. It took a lot to get to that point of being respected by males. When I go to Basecamp I meet, men and women from all over the place, doing whatever which is great. I love it, it’s one of the best things. learning other people’s cultures, it’s important that we all embrace being a global citizen. Interested in other people’s cultures and beliefs and religions.”
Follow Allie on her journey on Instagram @alliepepper, support Allie on her GoFundMe page www.gofundme.com/f/14peaksabovetheclouds For more information on Allie’s project www.alliepepper.com for guiding www.alliepepperadventures.com.au