Inspiration on Women’s Day: Alison Hargreaves

Eiger North Face

The Eiger North Face. A.k.a. Eiger “Mordwand”. Epitome of a mountain face, filled with myth to its snow-edged brim: hair-raising tales of darkness and cold, death bivouacs, nationalist instrumentalization, and immense rockfall. First climbed in 1938.

Fifty years later, Scottish alpinist Alison Hargreaves climbed it in 1988, pregnant in her sixth month.

In August 1995 she died after having reached the summit of K2 – acknowledged as the world’s most dangerous mountain – without supplemental oxygen at the descent; and after having climbed Everest before, without supplemental oxygen, as the first woman, and as well, solo. She had a husband and two children, aged four and six.

Discussions arose. About her responsibilities as a mother. Which she was accused to be having abandoned or even ignored by parts of the public opinion. If she would have been a man, probably nobody had cared.

In a Guardian article from 2002 her husband stated he is »disappointed by how little things have changed for women who want to succeed in their careers, not only dangerous ones. “I mean, there aren’t even any female snooker players yet.”«alisonhargraves.jpeg

She became a climber because she sought escape from the narrow-minded petty bourgeois British life of the Thatcher era.

»After her death, he received a number of letters from women whose children had grown up and left home, who regretted “wasting” so much of their lives and envied Hargreaves’s personal ambition and achievement. “Everybody has the right to live their own lives,” he says.«

That was fiften years ago. Have things changed since? According to Steph Davis, yes, things have changed, as she told me in an interview, three years ago. Read the interview with Steph Davis here.

But if you are a climber, what do you think? Have things changed in the (climbing) world? Do you see more non-male climbers and are there still inequalities?


Eiger North Face, March 2010.

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