American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

A Woman's Place is On Top

  • Feature Article
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  • Publication Year: 2005

A Woman’s Place is On Top

Selected highlights in womens alpinism.

Molly Loomis

1808: 18-year-old Marie Paradis (France) becomes the first woman to summit Mont Blanc (15,771').

1867: Frances Case and Mary Robinson make the first women’s ascent of Mt. Hood, Oregon.

1871: Lucy Walker (Britain) becomes the first woman to summit the Matterhorn. Walker, a woman who pursued climbing with passion and determination, is considered by many to have been the first real female mountaineer.

1890: Fay Fuller becomes the first woman to summit Mt. Rainier, Washington.

1897: Annie Smith Peck scales El Pico de Orizaba (18,700') and Popocatépetl (17,883') in Mexico. These were the highest points yet reached by a woman.

1899: Fanny Bullock Workman (Britain), Karakoram pioneer, makes the first ascents of Mt. Bullock Workman (19,450'), Mt. Koser (21,000'), and Mt. Lungma (22,500')

1901: Beatrice Tomasson climbs the South Face of Marmolada in the Dolomites, one of the hardest climbs of the day.

1906: Workman ascends Pinnacle Peack (22,810') in the Nun Kun, India, the highest point yet reached by a woman.

1907: The Ladies’ Alpine Club is formed in Britain. Elizabeth Le Blond is elected the club’s first president.

1908: Peck makes the first ascent of Huascaran Norte (21,812') in Peru. A debate ensues between Peck and Workman as to whose peak is higher, and thereby which woman holds the female altitude record. Topographers, employed to substantiate claims, determine that Workman climbed higher.

1912: Dora Keen makes the first ascent of Mt. Blackburn (16,390'), the first ascent of an Alaskan peak by a woman.

1921: The Pinnacle Club, an all-women’s rock climbing group, is formed in Britain. Mrs. Winthrop Young is the Club’s first president.

1928: Miriam O’Brien participates in the first complete ascent of Les Aiguilles du Diable. In this same year she is the first female to lead the Grépon. The Grépon was then considered the most challenging climb in the Mont Blanc area.

1928: First ascent of the Dent Blanche’s north ridge by Dorothy Pilley (Britain) and team.

1929: O’Brien (later Underhill) and Alice Damesme (France) make the first “manless” ascent of the Grépon, via the Mer de Glace face, ushering in an era of en cordée féminine.

1932: O’Brien and Damesme make the first all-women’s ascent of the Matterhorn.

1933: Phyllis Munday (Canada), who with her husband Don made numerous lengthy exploratory expeditions in the Coast Range, makes the first ascent of Mt. Combatant in the Coast Range.

Mid 1930s: Loulou Boulaz (Switzerland) and Lulu Durand make the first female ascents of the Southwest Face of the Dent du Géant, the Requin, and the traverse of the Grands Charmoz and the Droites. Boulaz continues making first ascents and first female ascents throughout the Alps for a number of years.

1935: Boulaz makes the first female ascent of the Grand Jorasses Central Spur. She and her partner achieve the route’s second ascent, two days after the first ascent.

1936: Boulaz completes the second ascent of the Petit Dru’s North Face.

1938: Una Cameron is the first woman to ascend Mt. Kenya.

1947: Barbara Washburn makes the first female ascent of Mt. McKinley. Washburn is involved in several exploratory expeditions through the Alaska Range and makes several other first ascents and first female ascents of smaller Alaskan peaks.

1951: Gwen Goddard Moffat (Britain) makes the first free ascent of the Andrich Route on the Civetta and Via Tissi on Torre Trieste, both in the Dolomites, and the Marinella Couloirs on Monte Rosa in the Alps.

1953: Moffat becomes the first certified female climbing and mountaineering guide in Britain (and perhaps anywhere).

1953: Claude Kogan makes first ascent of Nun Kun (23,400') in the Himalaya.

1955: Kogan makes the first ascent of Ganesh Himal in the Indian Himalaya. Kogan is the first woman invited to speak before Britain’s Alpine Club.

1961-1975: Every summer but one, Joan and Joe Firey, often with their daughter Carla, make multiple first ascents in Washington’s Cascades, including Ghost Peak and the East Ridge of Mt. Terror.

1962: Austrian, British, Czechoslovakian, French, German, Dutch, Italian, Polish, Swiss, and Yugoslavian female climbers create the organization Rendezvous Hautes Montagnes to bring people together to share their love of climbing.

1962: Yvette Vaucher (Switzerland) makes the first female ascent of the North Face of the Eiger.

1966: Vaucher completes the first ascent of the Dent Blanche’s North Face.

1967: Liz Robbins becomes the first woman to climb a Grade VI, with her ascent of Half Dome’s Northwest Face.

1970: Junko Tabei (Japan) makes the first woman’s ascent of Annapurna III (24,787').

1970: Grace Hoeman and Arlene Blum lead the first all-women’s expedition to Denali. All six team members summit.

1973: Sibylle Hechtel and Anne Marie Rizzi complete what is believed to be the first all-women’s ascent of a North American big wall: Washington’s Column South Face (V 5.8 Al).

1973: Hechtel and Bev Johnson make the first all-women’s ascent of El Capitan, via the Triple Direct (VI 5.8 A2-). Hechtel submits a report of their climb to the American Alpine Journal entitled “Walls Without Balls.” The AAJ deems the title inappropriate and suggests “Keeping Abreast of El Cap” instead. Hechtel, unclear why the reference to female anatomy is appropriate while mention of male anatomy is not, refuses the change. The article is published as “Untitled.”

1974: Eight Soviet women led by Elvira Shataeva become the first all-female team to reach the top of Peak Lenin (23,405'). However, the entire team perishes on the summit in a horrific storm.

1974: Vera Watson completes the first female solo ascent of Aconcagua (22,840').

1975: Tabei, at age 36, climbs Everest. It is the first female ascent of the peak and coincides with the International Year of the Woman.

1975: First all-women’s ascent of and 8,000m peak, Gasherbrum II (26,362'), by Halina Kruger-Syrokomska and Anna Okopinska (Poland). As part of the same expedition Wanda Rutkiewicz and Alison Chadwick-Onyszkiewicz make the first ascent of Gasherbrum III (26,090') in a team that included two men.

1975: First all-female ascent of the Diamond on Long’s Peak, by Molly Higgins Bruce, Steph Atwood, and Laurie Wood.

1978: First female winter ascent of the Matterhorn’s North Face, by Rutkiewicz, Anna Czerwinska, Krystyna Palmowska, and Irena Kesa (Poland).

1978: First female ascent of Annapurna (26,545'), by Irene Miller and Vera Komarkova.

1981: Tabei makes the first female ascent of Shishapangma (26,286').

1982: First female ascent of Dhaulagiri (26,795'), by Belgian Lutgaarde Vivijs.

1983: First female ascent of Broad Peak by Czerwinska and Palmowska, self-supported, alpine style, without supplemental oxygen.

1983: 100 years after the first ascent of Aconcagua, Julia Ramirez of Chile leads the first all-female team to Aconcagua’s summit.

1984: First female ascent of Nanga Parbat (26,657'), by Liliane Barrard (France).

1984: Catherine Freer climbs a difficult new route on Cholatse’s north face with Renny Jackson and Todd Bibler.

1984: First female ascent of Cho Oyu (26,906') by Komarkova and Dina Sterbova (Czechoslovakia).

1986: Rutkiewicz completes the first female ascent of K2 (28,251'), via the Abruzzi Spur. Rutkiewicz previously organized an all-women’s expedition to K2 in 1982.

1990: Calhoun summits Makalu (27,825') via the West Pillar, thus becoming the first woman to climb an 8,000m peak by a technically difficult route.

1993: Alison Hargreaves (Britian) solos the Alps’ famous six north faces in a season.

1994: Lynn Hill repeats her free ascent of El Cap’s Nose in a single day, a feat still unrepeated.

1995: Hargreaves makes the first unsupported female ascent of Everest without supplemental oxygen. Only Reinhold Messner had previously climbed Everest solo without oxygen.

1998: Abby Watkins, Vera Wong, and Nicola Woolford (Australia) make the first ascent of the highly technical Changi Tower (5,800m) and Marpo Brakk (5,000m) in the Karakoram.

1999: The first ascent of Bravo Les Filles (5.13d A0) in Madagascar, by Nancy Feagin, Hill, and Pyke, the hardest rock climb yet established by a women’s team. (Beth Rodden had to leave early.)

2002: Lizzy Scully and Heidi Wirtz make the first ascent of Bad Hair Day (V 5.12-), in the Bugaboos, Canada.

2004: Monika Kambic-Mali (Argentina/Slovenia)and Tina Di Batista (Slovenia) make the first all-female ascent of Fitz Roy, via the Franco-Argentine route.

2004: Karen McNeill (New Zealand/Canada) and Sue Nott make the first female ascent of the Cassin Ridge on Mt. McKinley.

2004: Steph Davis free climbs El Capitan’s Free Rider route (38 pitches, 5.13a) in a day.

2005: Ines Papert (Switzerland) is the first woman to win Overall First Place at the Ouray Ice Festival in Ouray, Colorado.

2005: Davis is the first woman to summit Torre Egger, as well as completing the peak’s first one-day ascent, with Dean Potter.

2005: Kambic-Mali and Tanja Grmovsek (Slovenia) make the first all-female ascent of Cerro Torre.

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