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María Paz Valenzuela: “Mountains are always there to be climbed, admired, and cared for.”

María Paz Valenzuela: “Mountains are always there to be climbed, admired, and cared for.”

By: Hernan Claro - 19 February, 2024

María Paz Valenzuela

In ‘Extremas’, the renowned mountaineer María Paz Valenzuela climbed Cerro San José (Cajón del Maipo) again after 40 years. Here, she talks about her feelings after returning to one of the peaks where her career began and reflects on the importance of nature conservation.

In May 2018, María Paz Valenzuela made history by reaching the summit of Mount Everest, the world’s highest peak at 8,848 meters above sea level. The mountaineer did it with a clear objective: after recovering from breast cancer, she aimed to send a message about the importance of early detection of the disease.

As the protagonist of the web series ‘Extremas’, María Paz Valenzuela shares in this interview how it felt to return to Cerro San José after 40 years and emphasizes the role of education in protecting our mountains.

‘Extremas’ is the new web series from Chile Travel, where Chilean athletes share their stories of effort after significant achievements in sports disciplines and how they connect with specific destinations and territories in Chile.

What was it like to return to Cerro San José after 40 years?

It was an immensely powerful experience because I climbed it at the beginning of my mountain career and had not returned until now. So much has happened in those 40 years, but the mountains are always there to be climbed, admired, and cared for.

We are the ones who have to adapt to the mountain. And 40 years later, everything is quite different. The body functions differently. You have much more experience, allowing you to move more calmly in the mountain with a much better way of handling yourself, but the passage of time is clear.

For me, it was a beautiful experience to be able to close a chapter. I have done it with other towering mountains I climbed 40 years ago, that is to say, tying up this circle of mountains and returning to them after several decades.

What was filming ‘Extremas’ like?

We planned it quite well. Being a 6000-meter peak, it is essential in its altitude, so it requires all the details and preparations of any major expedition.

It was genuinely nice. We had excellent weather, and the filming team was spectacular because it is not easy. It was four days in the field, which is challenging for someone not used to this routine and who also has to record the entire process.

How do you think we can improve the protection of our mountains in Chile?

Education is the most important thing. We have a mountain range from end to end with different characteristics: volcanoes, six-thousanders, an almost a seven-thousander and extreme temperatures. There is a lot of diversity in our Andes, which is a luxury.

I think the only way to protect the mountains is through education. We need to educate our children primarily, our entire population, to go to the mountains, to take care of them, and to move safely around that environment.

What would you say to those who want to do mountaineering?

There are mountains for all tastes, starting with Santa Lucía. So there are no excuses not to go to the mountains, or at least not to go outdoors. You do not necessarily have to climb a mountain for many days. There are mountains for everyone,and you can adapt to a certain type of activity.

The most important thing is to have the right equipment, be informed about what it means to go to the mountains, ideally take courses or participate in mountain activities, and never go alone because you go to the mountains in a group.

At least our mountain range is not for solo journeys, as it is tremendously risky. Being informed is part of mountain education.

What was it like for you to have climbed Everest after overcoming cancer?

Everest was a gift that cancer gave me. I set out to climb Everest to convey the importance of early detection of breast cancer. And as a mountaineer, the only way I was going to draw attention with this message was to climb the highest mountain in the world.

That was my challenge—not necessarily reaching the summit because you never know if you will reach it, but to try it. And to convey the message of early detection of breast cancer, which allows you to continue with your life. The diagnosis of cancer is not synonymous with death if it is detected early.

What can the audience expect from ‘Extremas’?

Pure beauty. I really like the project, how it was conceived, and how it unfolded. And the athletes who are part of this series are incredible.

I also like it for its diversity. It is overly broad. From extreme sports—or not so extreme—outdoors in our country, with women of different ages. That is crucial, as it covers our entire spectrum. This series is going to be a pleasant surprise for everyone.

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