100% Women World Record, Breithorn

Christine Amour-Levar with teammates on their way to setting a world record for the world’s largest all-female rope team (Photo: Switzerland Tourism)

Positive change can come out of volunteering at a food drive or making a philanthropic donation. But climate investor and human rights advocate Christine Amour-Levar much prefers the thrill of migrating reindeer in the middle of the Siberian winter or biking across the Danakil Depression of Ethiopia, one of the hottest places on earth.

“I am convinced that we are all meant to be explorers, pioneers, and treasure hunters of the soul,” she says. “We are here to discover, grow, be creative and to have a positive impact on the people and the world around us.”

Founder of NGOs Women on a Mission and HER Planet Earth, the Singapore-based French-Swiss-Filipina runs expeditions for women of all nationalities, ages and backgrounds, to incredibly beautiful but challenging locales. Past adventures have seen the first all-female crossing of the Lut Desert of Iran, the first all-female fatbike crossing of Greenland’s Arctic Circle Trail in winter, and the summiting and naming of two unclimbed peaks in Antarctica’s Heritage Range.

The mission? To empower women, push the needle on sustainability, and raise funds for chosen charities.

Last month, she was one of 80 female mountaineers from 25 countries who set a record for the world’s largest all-female rope team to scale the 4,164m Breithorn peak, located on the border between Switzerland and Italy. The feat was part of 100% Women, an initiative by Switzerland Tourism, which aims to raise the profile of women in mountain and outdoor sport.

100% Women World Record, Breithorn
80 female mountaineers added a female chapter to the history of what is still an overwhelmingly male-dominated sport (Photo: Switzerland Tourism)

Back in Singapore, she regales The Peak with expedition highlights and upcoming new adventures, including the August release of her latest book Wild Wisdom, which combines lessons about navigating life with the narrative of a travel memoir.

(Related: Empowering women all over the world to reach their full potential)

How did you get involved in 100% Women?

I was first contacted by a journalist friend who put me in touch with Switzerland Tourism. They thought I would be perfect for this initiative given my mountaineering experience and my passion for female empowerment. 100% Women’s goal of encouraging more women to push their limits and break down gender barriers that exist in the outdoor space, and in mountaineering especially, is much needed and truly inspiring.

100% Women World Record, Breithorn
Female mountaineers from Europe, the USA and countries including Iran, India, South Africa, Kazakhstan and Ecuador travelled to Switzerland. (Photo: Switzerland Tourism)

What was it like working as a team of 80 all tied together?

Normally the teams I take on expeditions are composed of 10 to 14 women. This time, because we were 80 women, it demanded a completely different level of coordination and logistics. Preparation and planning are even more crucial to the success of a mission when the numbers are so huge. On top of that, the women had varying levels of mountaineering experience, from professional mountain guides to complete beginners. Luckily many things were in our favour. The conditions on the day of the climb were spectacular. Blue skies, barely a cloud, some wind but not too much. We were well organised and everyone knew what was expected of them. We were roped up with a guide in teams of four, and then we proceeded on the trail one group at a time, in close formation, to form the longest rope team in the world!

As a result, we all summited and succeeded in setting a world record in the process. And to me, this achievement, combined with the strong spirit of sisterhood on such a large scale, made the experience even more unique.

First thing that entered your mind at the summit?

As I took my first steps on the summit, there were about 30 women already standing there  cheering us on. It was incredibly windy and I was surprised at how narrow the summit was — no larger than a sidewalk! Then the sense of elation and joy overtook me and all I wanted to do was celebrate the achievement with my teammates. 

(Related: Durreen Shahnaz: Climate change is a feminist issue)

100% Women World Record, Breithorn
The world’s longest women’s rope team on the Breithorn (Photo: Switzerland Tourism)

All the women are accomplished, but who stands out in your memory most?

I really enjoyed meeting Nouran Salah, who hails from Egypt. She hosts yoga retreats, designs furniture and is also an activist. Nouran organised the first female cycling initiative in Egypt called the Cairo Cycling Geckos, and works to break down the stigma and patriarchal systems that hold Egyptian women back from things like being able to ride bicycles. Nouran did this by riding her bike with fellow women through an impoverished area of Cairo. And although she’s hiked in Egypt, this opportunity was the first time Nouran strapped crampons to her feet and waded through snow. 

How did you prepare yourself fitness-wise?

I train regularly and workout every day. I run or walk and use the elliptical machine, which is ideal for hikers. I swim and play tennis on occasion. I do yoga regularly at home. I often take my teammates hiking in MacRitchie Reservoir and Bukit Timah Nature Reserve here in Singapore as we prepare for treks abroad. Given the focus of my work as founder of Women on a Mission and HER Planet Earth, I try to be in good physical condition at all times. Sports and adventure is a big part of my daily life.

What’s your next challenge?

In September, I will be taking a new Women on a Mission team to the mountains of Kyrgyzstan to raise US$100,000 for women survivors of war. The group is made up of 13 intrepid women of diverse nationalities and backgrounds. Most are based in Singapore but some are from Dubai and Europe. All are accomplished in their careers and equally passionate about helping the less privileged. 

The funds we raise will go to support programmes run by our charity partner Women for Women International to fund education programmes in Ukraine, Syria and Afghanistan. With over 20 brutal armed conflicts across the globe and unprecedented levels of violence against women, there has never been a greater need to support initiatives that change the world, one woman at a time. 

(Related: How a uni exchange led Pong Yu Ming to a charity career)

100% Women World Record, Breithorn
Christine Amour-Levar with teammates (Photo: Switzerland Tourism)

What drives you?

I would describe myself as a restless adventurer and a woman on a mission. And what drives me is the burning desire to impact the world in a positive way.

One of the greatest lessons from these past few years running my two NGOs, is that I have come to understand that women are disproportionately affected and more vulnerable when it comes to armed conflict, sexual violence, climate change and pandemics even. Till today, so many women around the world have no voice. They are deprived of the most basic freedom: the right to live in peace and happiness with their loved ones, the right to education and self-accomplishment, the right to live with respect and decency, the right to dream even. 

However, what is also encouraging and inspiring to me, is that all the data points to the fact that women are a huge part of the solution. And the more we empower, educate and champion women, the better it bodes for the world. This is why I am so passionately driven to support women and girls whenever I can. 

100% Women World Record, Breithorn
Christine Amour-Levar (Photo: Switzerland Tourism)

The foreword for your new book Wild Wisdom is by Sir Robert Swan, how did you come to know him?

I first met Sir Robert Swan at Union Glacier camp in Antarctica in January 2018. He was with his son Barney on his way to the South Pole to complete the first-ever expedition powered solely by clean energy technology. I was with my HER Planet Earth all-female crew in search of new peaks in the Heritage Range not far from that camp. We got chatting about why we were there, and I shared my ideas around the connection between women and nature, and the fact that climate change is not just an environmental catastrophe, but also a human rights issue. This resonated with him completely. Robert’s mother, who is 106 years old, has been his greatest inspiration. His determination to protect the environment is deeply inspired by her love of nature. It’s true that women and nature are intrinsically linked, and this nurturing relationship is as old as time, reinforced via religion, philosophy, and other cultural norms. 

I kept in touch with Robert and met up with him on his visits here. I am grateful that he agreed to write the foreword of my book as he is a person I have so much admiration and respect for. Not only is he one of the world’s greatest explorers and the first person to walk to both poles, but he is a true hero in my eyes and for so many around the world.