Margaret Young, 1932–1979

Author: Arlene Blum. Climb Year: N/A. Publication Year: 1980.


Margaret Young, an AAC member since 1973, died of cancer on June 17, 1979, after a 27-year mountaineering career including climbs in the U.S.A., Canada, Mexico, Ecuador, Bolivia, Kenya, Iran, Afghanistan, Russia, Nepal, and England. Among her first ascents were Monja Grande in Ecuador, and the south summit of the Moose’s Tooth in Alaska.

She made numerous first ascents and first winter ascents of peaks and rock climbs in the Sierra Nevada, and first and last ascents of rock routes in the Glen Canyon area of Arizona (last because the routes are now covered by the waters of Lake Powell). She delighted in making first descents, for example the first descent from Upper to Lower Yosem- ite Falls by rope and rubber raft.

Margaret made a major contribution to the development of women’s climbing. In 1970 she was a member of the first all-women’s team to climb Mount McKinley. In 1972 she reached the summit of Noshaq in Afghanistan, and with Alice Liska shared the altitude record for women from the Western Hemisphere. Among her climbs with Vera Watson, her frequent climbing partner, were Mount Robson, first ascents of two peaks on the Grueningk Glacier, the first all-women’s ascent in winter of Pigeon and Howser Spires, and in 1977 the first all-women’s ascent of Sajama (21,424 feet), the highest peak in Bolivia. Of all her peak climbs, Monja Grande in Ecuador was her favorite.

She brought her analytical skills to bear on her favorite activities— climbing, flying, caving and hang gliding—accepting inherent risks and proceeding with maximum control and safety. A superb photographer, she made stereo pairs of peaks and climbing routes for scientific study and for planning climbs. Less widely known are her sensitive photographs of the minutiae of the mountain world—small flowers, mineral crystals, knotty wood.

In August 1977, Margaret was thrown from a horse and paralyzed, but she maintained an extraordinary level of activity. Having time to devote to her longtime interest in solar energy, she designed a solar heating system for use in her home. In the fall of 1978 she was a member of the National Science Foundation’s panel on science and the handicapped. She contributed to the American Women’s Annapurna I Expedition by making concentrated wine by a process she had invented, as well as pickets, flukes, cable ladders, etc.

In her last years Margaret had many cruel blows—paralysis, the loss of her friend Vera Watson, and finally cancer—but she treated them calmly and matter-of-factly.

Margaret had rare imagination and determination—truly a unique woman, an innovative climber, and an inspiring friend.

Arlene Blum