Born in 1957, Štremfelj was fascinated by climbing since she was a girl. Despite her dedication, she almost gave up the sport after her sister, also a mountaineer, was killed during an ascent in 1980. Still, Štremfelj persevered and set herself new goals. In 1986, she became the first Slovenian woman to climb a mountain higher than 8000 meters, Broad Peak in Pakistan.
A decade after her sister’s accident, Štremfelj decided to summit Mount Everest – a feat few women had attempted, much less accomplished. But Štremfelj had the encouragement of her family. Her husband, Andrej Štremfelj, scaled the world’s highest mountain in 1979 and even pioneered a new approach that became known as the Yugoslav Ascent.
Marija Štremfelj was determined to join her husband on the top of Everest. After a year of preparations, the couple headed to Nepal in 1990. Despite a surprise storm on the South Col, the two made it to the top. Marija Štremfelj became the first Slovenian woman – and only the 13th woman in history – to successfully summit the mountain.
In the process, the Štremfeljs also made the Guinness Book of World Records, becoming the first couple on the summit of Everest.
Marija Štremfelj went on to climb many other summits, including Cho You and Dhaulagiri in the Himalayas. In 2012, she became only the third Slovenian woman with an international mountain guide license. Now in her sixties, she remains an active mountaineer and still feels at home in the barren, often hostile world high above the timber line.