American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Alison Chadwick-Onyszkiewicz, 1942-4978

  • In Memoriam
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1979



Alison was born in Birmingham but grew up and spent her formative years in Cornwall. She started to climb in 1960 while studying at the Slade School of Fine Arts in London when she joined a group of postgraduate students for a climbing weekend in North Wales. From then on she climbed whenever and wherever she could.

I first met her climbing in Devon about ten years ago. She was then teaching lithography at Exeter Art College and was already an accomplished climber. Though shy, I found her intelligent with an agile sense of humor. Full of common sense, she added a welcome touch of sanity to the Southwest of England climbing scene. She spent many memorable days exploring the Devon and Cornish coasts in all weathers, often doing hard climbing over rough winter seas. Alison proved herself to be at least the equal of the male members both in ability and endurance, never shirking the inevitable freezing swim.

At this stage she climbed extensively in North Wales and the Lakes and made her first visits to the Alps. Her cool temperament and exceptional stamina were well suited to the larger mountains and it soon became apparent that she was at heart a mountaineer rather than a rock climber.

In 1971 she married Janusz Onyszkiewicz, an internationally known Polish mathematician, climber and caver, with whom she made many fine Alpine ascents, including the North Pillar of Palü, the north face of the Triolet and the Swiss route on the north face of Les Courtes. However, living in Poland, she climbed extensively with Janusz in the Tatra and did many hard routes such as the east face of the Mnich, the north face of Kazalnica and winter ascents of the north faces of Nizne Rysy and Mieguszowiecki Middle, the last being a first winter ascent.

In 1972 as a member of a Polish expedition to the Hindu Kush, she climbed Aspe Safed and Noshaq. As a result of these and her Tatra climbs, she was selected for the 1974 Polish expedition to Pik Kom- munisma in the Pamir but unfortunately was refused a visa. However she was included in the Polish expedition to Gasherbrum II and III in 1975. She and Janusz were two of four members of the expedition who made the first ascent of Gasherbrum III (26,090 feet). This was at the time the highest unclimbed summit in the world and will remain for all time the highest mountain whose first-ascent party included a woman. As a member of that party Alison holds the British ladies’ altitude record and she was awarded a gold medal by the Polish government for “outstanding sporting achievement.”

Alison’s climbing ethics were always of the highest standard and on high mountains she wished to compete with men on equal terms with a minimum of oxygen and Sherpa assistance. Perhaps it was for this reason that she chose to accept an invitation to join the 1978 American Women’s Expedition to Annapurna rather than the place she was offered on the more glamourous Franco-Austrian Expedition to Everest. On the Annapurna expedition, Alison made a critical contribution, leading the ice arête between Camps II and III, which proved to be the crux of the route. After the summit had been reached on October 15, Alison and Vera Watson were killed in a fall while making a second summit bid.

Janusz and I were 40 miles away at the time on the east ridge of Himalchuli, but the news of the accident took nearly two weeks to reach him. Words cannot describe the sympathy I and the rest of the expedition felt for Janusz and Alison’s family. We had lost a constant and trusted friend. Britain had undoubtedly lost her outstanding lady mountaineer. For me personally it was the loss of one of the few remaining of a small group of companions with whom I have had the happiest and most memorable days of my life.

John Fowler, Alpine Club

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