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Alfa Arrué, the first-ever person from El Salvador to conquer Mount Everest, pictured on her climb
Alfa Arrué, the first-ever person from El Salvador to conquer Mount Everest, pictured on her climb | Photo courtesy of Alfa Arrué

Woman becomes first native of El Salvador to climb Mount Everest

At 7:00 p.m., I readied to leave for the summit. We began walking but my sherpa fell ill. Surrounded by difficulty and danger, I felt extremely stressed. This is the place where people die. I had to keep going so I left without my guide.

Alfa Karina Arrué
Interview Subject
Alfa Arrué, 46, holds the honor of being the first Salvadoran person to conquer Mount Everest. She did it on May 11, 2022. Arrué managed to reach the top of the highest mountain on the planet: 8,849 meters above sea level.

The Salvadoran says that her motivation was a personal project to meet records and goals. She prepared for 7 years.

Her achievement marked a milestone in the sport of the country, which serves as an inspiration for all Salvadorans. She took approximately seven days from base camp to the highest point on Earth.
Background Information
In El Salvador, the Salvadoran Federation of Mountaineering and Climbing serves athletes interested in terrain climbing.

The Federation guides athletes and their activity as it evolves toward a professional level. They explore various mountainous landscapes in El Salvador and Central America.

In the case of Karina Arrué, the National Sports Institute supported her financially for her second attempt to climb Everest.
After Arrué‘s achievement, the deputies of the Legislative Assembly named the mountaineer with the honorary distinction “Meritísima Daughter of El Salvador.”

LUKLA, Nepal ꟷ Ten minutes before reaching the summit of Mount Everest, it came into view. Tears rolled down my face as I quickened my pace. I worked my way toward the cusp. On May 11, 2022, I survived the risk to become the first person born in El Salvador to conquer Everest.

Besides adapting to the elevation throughout my hike, I overcame great physical resistance during the last 25-hour stretch of my journey. At the top, I thanked God and offered a prayer. I thought of my children and the girls and women of El Salvador. I knew this moment would serve as inspiration to all women moving forward in life despite the difficulties.

Danger and death loom after every base camp

My trip to Mount Everest began at home in El Salvador. I traveled to Miami, then Qatar, and finally arrived in Kathmandu, Nepal. I completed all the necessary paperwork to obtain my permit to climb.

Permit in hand, I arrived in Lukla, already 2,800 meters above sea level. It sat in the Himalayas, on the slopes of those immense, iconic mountains. It took me 8 days to get to base camp, 5,364 meters above sea level. I spent several weeks training, completing ice wall climbs and ascents in the surrounding mountains.

Then I started rotations. This included going through Khumbu, one of the most dangerous parts of Everest with a giant seven-kilometer ice waterfall. It felt like Russian roulette. At any moment I could die, threatened by daily avalanches and landslides. I had to get used to gigantic masses of ice falling around me.

Camp two sat at 6,500 meters. I crossed the “valley of silence” to reach it – a hill that, despite its beauty, serves as a deadly trap full of cracks up to 30 meters long. By then, you only have 40 percent oxygen. The cells in your body no longer replenish themselves. You sleep but wake up tired, as if you ran a marathon all night long.

A hostile place with drastic weather, temperatures at the first two base camps range from 18 to 25 degrees below zero. To reach the third camp, I climbed a gigantic wall of ice then rested for a couple hours but could not sleep.

My entire digestive system began to fail due to lack of oxygen. The remainder of my trip, I faced the “death zone.” You have 24 hours to get to the summit and back or your body will start to die and your cells will decompose like a corpse.

Sherpa falls ill, she continues on to her final camp

At camp four, I rested for a few hours and ate two tablespoons of rice. I drank a liter of water. When the body believes it is dying, you no longer want food. Your stomach hurts; in fact, everything hurts.

At 7:00 p.m., I readied to leave for the summit. We began walking but my sherpa fell ill. Surrounded by difficulty and danger, I felt extremely stressed. This is the place where people die. I had to keep going so I left without my guide.

I remember thinking, “Holy God, I have to get down this mountain alive.” At 8,700 meters above sea level and 100 meters from the summit, you see dead climbers and have to step over them. The trek becomes more difficult psychologically.

At the peak, my feet felt completely shattered and my arms could no longer stand the burning pain. I had not been able to eat or sleep and spent the last 25 hours awake, hiking non-stop. As I stood there, I wanted this to be a sign of bravery and a statement to other women: we can achieve anything. There are no limits.

The moment passed and I faced the next challenge: a very complicated descent. At times, I said to myself, “I cannot take this anymore.” It was like I began giving myself therapy. I said, “Alfa Karina, you have to get home. You have to go down to see your children.” I offered myself the encouragement and strength I needed to make it.

Never give up on your dreams, even when they say you can’t do it

As a little girl I always like sports and I decided to climb Everest in 2015. I trained for seven years, learning all the tests I would face along the way. It felt like a duty to my country, born out of my love for sports, to accomplish this goal.

Alongside my training, I spent seven years knocking on doors of companies, institutions, and organizations, seeking sponsorships and donations. They always said no. The total trip cost $60,000 and I mortgaged my house to do it.

The journey since 2015 had ups and downs. Some people even said I couldn’t do it, because I was a woman. I faced discrimination, but with the support of my family and children, I fulfilled my dream. I climbed Mount Everest.

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Cecilia Fuentes is a Salvadoran journalist who has worked in various print and digital media there for more than three years. She is always looking for stories to tell the world and to give a voice to those who need it most.