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Articles > News > A Hairdresser Climbs Mt. Everest & Breaks Record For Highest Haircut Ever
July 16, 2021

A Hairdresser Climbs Mt. Everest & Breaks Record For Highest Haircut Ever

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Cutting hair at 21,400 feet on Mt. Everest! Instagram via @heath.er.wer.ner.

This Stylist Is Climbing The World’s Highest Mountains & Cutting Hair Along The Way

Ever cut hair at 21,400 feet—about 4 miles above sea level? Heather Werner has, and it was no ordinary trim.

 

“It’s hard to breathe up there,” the San Jose, Calif. stylist said. “You have to stop every few minutes just to catch your breath.”

 

Heather has been a stylist for 15 years and has owned Foundations Hair Studio for the past seven. She’s also a mountain climber and is on a mission to climb the highest mountain peak on every continent, or the Seven Summits.

 

Heather just got back from a 10-week trip to Mt. Everest, where she worked to reach the top. Everest is part of the Himalayan Mountains and lies between Nepal and Tibet, with a summit at 29,035 feet (about 5.5 miles).

 

Climbing this mountain is, to put it bluntly, quite deadly. The human body begins to struggle at altitudes above 19,000 feet. Climbing higher puts you at risk for pulmonary edema, cerebral edema, blood embolisms and frostbite. You face the risk of avalanche. Statistics show that if you try to climb Everest, you have about a one in 100 chance of dying along the way, according to National Geographic.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Heather Werner (@heath.er.wer.ner)

 

But Heather was certainly not put off by these statistics. She’s climbed Cerro Aconcagua in Argentina (with a summit of nearly 23,000 feet), Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania (19,341 feet), Mt. Elbrus in Russia (18,510 feet), Mt. Vinson in Antarctica (16,050 feet), Puncak Jaya in Indonesia (16,000 feet) and Mt. Koscuiszko in Australia (7,310 feet).

 

“Once you’ve done something that is so awful and you think you could die—when you come home, you get months of this almost high where your clients can be late, you don’t care. You almost just died! The shampoo arrived late? It’s fine!” Heather said. “It puts normal lives into perspective.”

 

Here’s how Heather climbed Mt. Everest—and how she ended up giving haircuts along the way.

 

 

Preparing for the Climb

Heather’s been climbing for years because her parents loved mountaineering. She went to school for engineering, and did ROTC to help pay for it. “Before inspections, I would cut the boys’ hair,” she said. Then she realized it was hair she loved, though she still incorporates her engineering knowledge into robotic, self-moving hair (seriously).

 

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Foundations Hair & Makeup (@foundations_hairandmakeup)

 

“[My salon] enters a lot of competitions, and our specialty is avant-garde work. We try to push the boundaries, like with robotic hair,” Heather said. “We try to go as extreme as possible, because not a lot of people have done it.”

 

It’s no wonder she set her sights on scaling the tallest summit in every continent. But training to summit Mt. Everest, the tallest mountain on the planet, is tough even for an experienced climber like Heather. Factor in a global pandemic and quarantining, and it got even tougher.

 

“When I’m at work, I’m constantly lifting the shampoo bottles and doing squats in between clients to keep workouts going,” Heather said. “Because we were shut down for 7 months, I noticed I wasn’t as strong, and I felt out of shape.”

 

To prep for the weight of her Everest pack, she would load up a backpack with 55 lbs of stuff, then hike as long as she could in the hills of San Jose to train. “You have to mentally prep yourself for a long, terrible journey. It’s taking it one day at a time,” she said. “If you think too far ahead, you’ll freak yourself out.”

 

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Heather Werner (@heath.er.wer.ner)

 

One thing she knew she had to bring to Everest was her shears. On a previous climb up Cerro Aconcagua, a guy in her climbing group asked for a haircut. She didn’t have her shears…but someone had a Swiss Army knife.

 

“I gave him a nice haircut with the teeny little scissors, cleaned up his edges,” she said.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Foundations Hair & Makeup (@foundations_hairandmakeup)

 

She also had the support of All-Nutrient, the color line she carries in her salon. “Only two other stylists have ever climbed Everest, and they weren’t from America,” Heather said. “I proposed the idea to All-Nutrient’s CEO, since they’re a U.S. company. They were jazzed and they helped me fund the trip.”

 

 

Getting to the Top

For non-climbers, let’s make something clear: You can’t just arrive at the base of Mt. Everest and climb right up. It takes months to summit, mostly because the altitude can cause huge problems if you get too high above sea level too quickly.

 

You start by trekking into an Everest base camp, which is about 17,500 feet above sea level. This takes about two weeks to reach, and you’re guided by Sherpas, the Tibetan locals and mountaineering experts who act as support on the climb. From there, it takes a month or more of climbing, depending on weather. And when you reach the highest part of Everest—the part that scientists literally call “The Death Zone”—things go from bad to worse.

 

“That’s when people say it’s just misery and you’re going to hate it,” Heather said.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Heather Werner (@heath.er.wer.ner)

 

Unfortunately, this year, COVID-19 was rampant on the mountain. Many people Heather knew or encountered on her climb were sick. Luckily, Heather didn’t get coronavirus—but she did get High-Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE), which is when fluid accumulates in your lungs because of the high altitude. And when it’s literally below zero on the mountain, that fluid in the lungs can freeze. She had a “back-spasming, rib-crunching cough” that turned into plastic-like pellets coming up frequently.

 

“I just couldn’t breathe anymore on my way to Camp 3 (at 23,950 feet),” Heather said. So even after weeks of climbing, she had to turn around, take an 8-hour hike to the nearest tea house (aka the accommodations in Nepal that Everest climbers can stay at in Sherpa villages) and wait out her illness.

 

Heather tried again to reach the summit during this expedition, but her HAPE was just too tough on her body.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Heather Werner (@heath.er.wer.ner)

 

She lost 17 pounds during the trek after being at such high altitude for so long. “The higher up you go, it just destroys your body,” she said.

 

While she didn’t summit Everest officially, she’s still taking the record for giving the highest haircut ever.

 

“I was giving haircuts at Base Camp when one of the girls said, ‘I wonder what the highest haircut is,’” Heather said. Their research showed that the record was a haircut at the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro, which is 19,341 feet. Heather knew she could beat that record.

 

Flip through the post below to see Heather’s Camp 1 Makeovers!

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Heather Werner (@heath.er.wer.ner)

 

“I did a bunch of haircuts and makeovers at Camp 1 to beat the record, but that still wasn’t high enough—I didn’t want anyone to be able to easily beat it,” she said. So at Camp 2, she gave the camp cook, Tashi Sherpa, a clean-up. Another Sherpa even gave Tashi Sherpa some haircolor! At 21,400 feet, Tashi Sherpa’s cut was the record holder for highest haircut in the world. 

 

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Heather Werner (@heath.er.wer.ner)

 

Heather isn’t deterred by her Everest expedition. “It’s part of the experience, right?” she said. “Now I’ve had a terrible Everest experience, so I’ll have a good one next time.”

 

And she’s confident there will be a next time. “I feel like I have to go back. I have to finish it,” she said.

 

But next up is the final peak in the Seven Summit challenge—Mt. Denali in Alaska, North America’s highest mountain with a summit at 20,310 feet. “For Denali, there’s no Sherpa, no help. You carry 70 lbs for two to three weeks,” Heather said. “After Everest, that will feel easy.”