Story: THU HOA
Photos: SONAM SHERPA, RIMA SHERPA & LE THANH HAI

On May 16, 2022, Celine Nha Nguyen, a lawyer who is Head of Business and Legal at Omvest –  Openasia Group, became the first Vietnamese woman to conquer Mount Everest. In her constant effort to challenge her limits, Ms. Celine has inspired many Vietnamese women with her fortitude, and courage. Heritage Magazine had a chance to interview Ms. Celine. 

Celine Nha, the first Vietnamese woman conquered Mount Everest

What motivates you to conquer the highest mountains in the world? 

It started with my love of reading. When I was a child, I dreamt of mysterious lands in books and stories. Since then, the thirst for adventures and exploration of faraway places has never faded. When I became an international commercial lawyer for PETRONAS, my life in Kuala Lumpur grew very hectic. I took up hiking on Mount Kinabalu, the highest mountain in Malaysia, to unwind and became enchanted by this sport without even noticing. 

Five years later, in 2017, I set foot on the Everest Base Camp. After taking photos by the infamous “Everest Base Camp” rock, I decided: One day I will reach the peak of this 8,848m-high mountain, not just this base camp! In the last few years, I have traveled the world with friends who are also avid mountaineers. I have trained and successfully conquered many peaks, including six of the Seven Summits – the highest mountains of the traditional continents. 

What’s your biggest joy upon achieving such a miraculous feat? 

I simply became the first Vietnamese woman to summit Mount Everest by chance. I never thought that a woman conquering this peak could be considered a miracle. To me, the greatest joy in reaching the summit of Mount Everest or other high mountains lies in conquering myself. Overcoming the challenges and obstacles of a climbing journey has given me more faith and motivation to strive in life. I’m also glad that I’ve made a positive impact on Vietnamese women and youth. Never stop dreaming but take action to fulfill your dreams.

As a strong and independent woman, do you ever feel weak? In such times, what do you long for?

I’m passionate about adventures and extreme sports, but I also have other “elegant” hobbies. I love the fine arts, I love painting, and I can immerse myself in piano music for hours. 

No one can avoid difficult times. Instead of trying to appear strong, I respect my emotions and allow myself to be weak. My family, friends, and loved ones are the greatest source of encouragement and support for me to overcome those trying times. 

Can you share with us the best memories of your journey to conquer the roofs of the world? 

I’ve achieved some small milestones, having successfully conquered the six highest peaks of every continent in the world. Among those journeys, perhaps reaching the summit of the Vinson Massif (in Antarctica) left the deepest impression on me. I was faced with extreme weather, frequent avalanches, and strong winds. It was the hardest mountain to approach in the world. Until now, the number of people who have successfully conquered Vinson is lower than that of other mountains, including Everest. There were moments when I faced obstacles that seemed insurmountable. The extreme cold in the coldest land in the world and an unexpected avalanche made the climb even more dangerous. I’m really happy that I finally conquered Vinson, and planted the flag of Vietnam and the flag of my company – Openasia – on this peak. 

"The greatest joy in reaching the summit of Mount Everest lies in conquering myself," explains Celine Nha

Recently, as I was climbing Everest, I had an accident and fell into a crevasse on the Khumbu Icefall, an extremely dangerous area on Everest. I was dangling on a climbing rope, waiting to be rescued. After that, I had to suppress my fear as I climbed up the rest of the Khumbu. 

On the day of nearing the Everest summit, having to pass by corpses on the trail put quite a strain on my mental strength. More than 200 dead bodies of mountaineers lie scattered in the open air. For a long time, these corpses have even served as “markers” to guide other climbers to the top. In recent years, however, the Nepalese authorities have started to move some bodies down to the foothills and perform intercessory prayers for them in a monastery, so I didn’t think I’d encounter dead bodies in the open anymore. Sliding almost shoulder to shoulder when passing corpses scared me. 

How did you overcome your fear?

There’s this saying, “A head full of fears has no space for dreams.” Until now, I still feel that conquering Mount Everest was a pure miracle. On the very first steps of the climb, fear always lingered somewhere in the back of my mind, just waiting for a moment to burst out during the toughest challenges. The universe has brought me challenges, dreams of conquest, and the desire to experience majestic, sacred places; these attributes motivated me. Besides, self-belief and having teammates for help and strong mental support were also key factors for overcoming difficulties. 

When I set my personal standards for success in recent years, I’ve learned to lessen my fear of failure and gradually accept more experiences. When we walk on a path with a more liberated, open mind and accept mistakes, we might find more paths to success.