It’s fair to say that Sofie Lenaerts has a few strings to her bow, she’s a mountaineer, a police inspector, a lecturer and an adventure junkie. She’s also the first Belgian woman to complete the Seven Summits. Scroll on for a deep dive into what makes Sofie tick and what drives her to travel around the world in search of new adventures and experiences….
Tell us a bit about yourself
I was born and raised in Belgium where at the age of 18 I joined the police Academie. This was fun but also a hard year being in a manly dominated world. I learned a lot – if you want to achieve something in your life, you’ll need to work hard for it and keep believing in yourself.
Beside my work as a police-officer I give lectures about the power of MountainMindset and I coach people who would like to push their limits in an ultra-trail run or who want ‘s to explore the mountains. A fantastic thing about inspire people is to see how they grow and enjoy the challenge, even when it gets tough or it wasn’t possible to reach the summit, that’s showing a true mountain spirit!
When did you first start to get involved in outdoor sports and activities?
During my academy I wasn’t the most athletic person in the group, so I pushed myself to do better and that’s when I start to explore new possibilities. I discovered parachuting, motorcycling, diving and kickboxing.
What was it that made you start to do more in the mountains – how did you go from those first trips to the bigger, more challenging goals?
For a couple of years I continued to do a lot of sport like running and mountain biking. Then a friend of mine asked me to join him on a day of rock-climbing. I did so and was really afraid hanging on the edge just on one rope … but if also triggered me to learn more about myself. Why was I so afraid and how could I manage this? So I went climbing in- and outdoors and discovered route climbing in the Alps but something was still missing. I wanted to go far away in remote countries and seek adventures. This was the trigger to combine trekking with climbing in Uganda and Peru. Here I found the freedom I needed
What is it that you love most about the mountains?
An adventure for me is to be far away from civilisation. Here you fall back to the essence of mankind. You need to survive in some way… you need to rely on each other in a harsh environment. It can be dangerous and hard but, in a way, also magnificent and a lot of fun. By doing these big mountains I feel small and humble against this big beautiful earth and in this same moment, I feel so grateful for being alive and to be able to do this. If you can accept this position where you don’t have control of situation all the time, you’ll look at problems in a different way. You will be more positive and can put negative things into a perspective. On the other hand you’ll realize that sometimes you need to make opportunities happen and when it does, you don’t let it slip away.
Obviously the things that you do often involve great challenges – both physically and mentally? How do you stay motivated and keep going when things get tough?
Being mentally resilient only comes true failures. You can learn everything you need to learn about yourself by climbing mountains, but you’ll need to stay open. Some people can’t accept failure and see is as a defeat, but I see it as an opportunity. What can I learn from the mistakes I made? Why did I get afraid and how this reflected on my performance? What can I do to improve myself or how can I adapt to not make the same mistake again? This is sometime a hard lesson to learn and it can take several attempts or expeditions do set things right. By not giving up and have patience, you’ll harden your resilience when things don’t go as planned. As I’m not a genetic sportswoman and I hit the number 46 this year, I’ll need to use my mental perseverance to keep exploring my dreams.
What do you consider to be your greatest achievement?
In 2015 I climbed a 7000m peak on my own – Khan Tengri 7010m in Kazachstan. ( a part of the 5 snow-leopards). I had to carry two tents, food and all equipment to make the expedition successful. As usual the climb didn’t go as planned and I had to rethink my strategies after days of bad weather. The key for this expedition was that I took every opportunity I got. I made friendship with other teams, shared laughter’s and tears and eventually climbed that damned mountain when other teams gave up. Here I learned the value of patience and friendship. Afterwards I swore I’ll never climbed alone again.
In 2020 you completed the Seven Summits, can you tell us more about this?
It took me 10 years to complete the 7 summits. 5 of these mountains I did with a group of people and that makes it even more fun! All these mountains are different, some are covered with snow and ice like Mount Vinson on Antarctica while other are pure rock. Also the environment and approach if different, If you want to climb Carstensz Pyramid you need to cross swamps and rainforest for 6 days to reach basecamp. This is the beauty of the 7 summits, diversity in nature, culture and technical aspects.
The most difficult was Everest, because of its altitude and the more technical route on the North Side (Tibet). I enjoyed the most climbing on Denali in Alaska because it’s climbing without the use of ropes or porters. You need to do it the alpine style and the surrounding is just unbelievably beautiful. When I finished the 7 summits in Antarctica, I felt a mix of emotions; happy I made it, grateful that it was possible but also sad that it was over.
Tell us about your most rewarding time in the outdoors?
Being in nature recharges my inner batteries. I’m the luckiest woman in the world to have a friend by which I can share everything. We met during my first 8000m peak expeditions and 2 years after we chose to be together. With our minivan we go on holiday for climbing, running or flying and if we have the chance, we can share this with his 2 grown-up kids. To see how they can enjoy the mountains or explore new sports, is a blessing.
What is the biggest thing you have learned through your time in the mountains?
Don’t take life for granted. You only live once and not everybody has the possibilities in life as you do, so make the best of it. We try to combine every expedition with crowdfunding to support local people. I think success is irrelevant if you only do it for yourself, it’s what you do for others that counts. That’s why I’m also happy if I can inspire people to step out of their comfort zone and to go explore the world.
What advice would you give to others who are just starting out in the outdoors?
• Take your time; I didn’t start to climb big mountains at once, it took me many years to build-up experience.
• Stay open for inner growth and learn from mistakes, they are sometimes your best teacher.
• Respect nature and his limits
• take care of your body and find that balance between the physical & mental challenge.
• Gear is everything, the better prepared you are for the adventure, the more chance you will have to enjoy it all the way!
You’ve achieved so many amazing things already, so what’s next for you? What plans do you have for the next 1-2 years? Are there any big goals you still want to achieve?
We’ll never stop seeking out new challenges. My husband and me are already training and preparing 8 people for trekking towards Concordia in Pakistan. Once we reach the basecamp of Broad Peak beginning of July, we’ll have a small expedition team of 2 people + us (husband and me) to climb this 8047m peak – the 12th highest mountain in the world. This expedition has also crowdfunding for the local people and wild preservation in Askole
In may we support the Redbull running race WingsForLife and in November have our running-group starting for the 130km Tramuntana-trail in Mallorca.
After our winter adventure where we explored an unclimbed couloir end of last year in Pakistan, the dream remains to climb an unclimbed mountain … so let’s see what 2022 brings
Quick questions to get to know you more:
• Night in or night out? Night in; sleeping is very important for your body so at 9 or 10pm we hit the deck
• Desert island or busy city? desert island, what’s the adventure in a city?
• Cat person or dog person? Cat has stubbornly character like me
• Most listened to song? Nothing else Matters – Metallica
• My partner would describe me as… complex
• Texting or talking? talking
• Reality TV or crime drama? crime drama
• Green juice or fried breakfast? Green juice
• Most used app? netflix
• I never leave home without….phone ( I hate that )
Follow Sofie’s adventures by following her on Instagram: @sofie_lenaerts_8000unlimited here you’ll be able to keep tabs on her next adventure. On Sunday 9 May 2021, she will be at the virtual starting line of the Wings for Life World Run – a unique, worldwide running race for a good cause which is precisely what makes Sofie tick.