For Cheryl and Nikki Bart, ain’t no mountain high enough. Seven years after their first adventure in Nepal, the Barts are heading back to Katmandu next week in an attempt to become the first mother-daughter team to conquer Everest.
If they manage to reach the roof of the world, the Sydney pair also would be the first mother and daughter to have scaled the so-called seven summits – the highest peaks on each of the Earth’s continents.
“My husband likes to quip that it’s a record that may go unbroken for generations,” Cheryl says with a laugh. “The first Jewish mother-daughter team to climb Everest and the seven summits!”
Cheryl and Nikki Bart are both graduates of Moriah College, Australia’s largest Jewish school. Cheryl is a non-executive director of several companies and is an ambassador of the Australian chapter of the Peres Center for Peace.
Nikki, 23, is in her sixth and final year of studying medicine.
Their addiction to altitude was forged two decades ago when they visited Israel. While Cheryl’s husband and son took the cable car to the summit of Masada, Cheryl and Nikki, then 5, climbed up in sweltering heat.
Nikki doesn’t recall the climb, but she remembers visiting Israel.
“That was probably my first greatest adventure,” she says. “I remember absolutely loving it and already loving traveling with Mum. That’s probably when my travel bug began.”
Since 2001, Cheryl and Nikki have climbed the highest peaks on each continent: Mount Elbrus in Europe, 18,510 feet; McKinley-Denali in North America, 20,320 feet; Kilimanjaro in Africa, 19,340 feet; Aconcagua in South America, 22,834 feet; Vinson Massif in Antarctica, 16,066 feet; and Kosciuszko in Australia, 7310 feet.
Their final frontier is Everest, at 29,035 feet, which has claimed the lives of more than 200 climbers since the first attempts were made in the 1920s – long before Edmund Hillary and Tenzig Norgay made history on May 29, 1953.
The Barts know the risks. In 2006, while heading up McKinley-Denali in Alaska, they were trapped at an altitude of about 16,500 feet for six days in a severe snowstorm.
“It was just so scary,” Cheryl recalls. “Our bodies were slowly atrophying, and it took a lot of effort to stay sane.”
It was even worse for Nikki, who suffered frostbite on her fingers.
“With extremely sore hands, I then had to walk for 12 hours on what is called the ‘death march’ before catching the plane out,” she says. “It was a terrifying injury.”
This time, however, they will be climbing in the “death zone” – an altitude of more than 26,000 feet. At that point, according to Cheryl, “your body actually starts dying on you because it’s just too high and everything starts to shut down.”
She acknowledges that some think she has a death wish.
“No, I’ve got a life wish,” she insists. “There are times when it’s so magnificently glorious to be up there where not many people have stood.”
She adds, “you just feel so alive. It’s so spectacular and it’s such a privilege to be there.”
With the intensity of their adventures, this is no ordinary mother-daughter relationship.
“Sometimes we are mother and daughter,” Nikki says. “Sometimes we are like friends and other times we are like sisters.”
Cheryl says her husband and son, a snowboarding enthusiast who wonders why they don’t just snowboard down the mountains rather than climb up them, “are very supportive.”
“They obviously get nervous and anxious and worried, but also know that we are very determined about it,” she says.
The Barts hope to leave base camp at the beginning of April and reach the summit in May. On April 19 – the first seder night of Passover – they probably will be near the highest point on Earth.
“We will definitely be taking some matzah along,” Nikki says. “But due to the high-carb diet we need to maintain for energy, keeping Pesach may be difficult.”