Inspirational Female Mountaineers
Let’s take a look at some of the remarkable women who have
braved the elements, fatigue, prejudice and doubt to take on the mighty Mount
Date of Birth – 22/09/1939
Died – 20/10/2016
The first woman to ever reach the summit Everest
successfully was Junko Tabei. Hell, this incredible woman started her own
climbing club to empower Japanese women with an interest in climbing, waited
four years for a slot on the Everest climbing schedule, survived an avalanche
and completed her expedition wearing homemade mountaineering gear. She
summited Mount Everest on 16th May 1975 becoming both the first
woman ever to do so, as well as the 36th person to achieve this
She went on to become the first woman to climb the Seven
Summits and had a personal goal to climb the highest mountain in every country.
She had summitted 70 of these mountains by the time of her death in 2016. In
honour of her pioneering attitude and accomplishments, both an asteroid and a
mountain range on Pluto were named after this ambitious and unassuming champion
Date of Birth - Unknown - suspected 1973
Lhakpa Sherpa was the first Nepali woman to successfully
summit Everest and make it back down alive. Named for the day of the week she
was born on, Lhakpa was born in a cave in Nepal, had no formal education and
began life as a porter aged around 15.
Although they were married for 12 years and summited Everest
together 5 times, Lhakpa’s marriage to George Dijmarescu was turbulent and
abusive. In May 2022 she reached the summit of Everest for the 10th
time, giving her the most successful summits of this mountain by a woman. By
the time he died George had summited Everest 9 times and Lhakpa’s 10th
summit beat his lifetimes achievement.
This unstoppable woman climbed Everest
both when she was 8 weeks pregnant and again 8 months after giving birth.
Yet she remains working in minimum wage jobs, saving to fund her next climb and
supporting her children.
Date of Birth – 04/11/2003
Lucy Westlake is one of the world’s most exciting young
mountaineers. She became the first American female to summit Everest at aged
18, having already reached the summits of all of the US State peaks, the
youngest woman to do so. A runner, triathlete, explorer and mountaineer, this
remarkable young woman has summited Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa,
Denali, the highest mountain in North America and Aconcagua, the tallest peak
in South America, as well as Elbrus, the highest mountain in Europe.
On her hitlist for 2023 is working towards
the Explorer’s Grand Slam where she will conquer the remaining summits of
the Seven Summits and ski to the last degree of both the North Pole and South
Pole. Successful completion of this challenge will make her the youngest woman
to do so.
Date of Birth – 17/02/1962
Died – 13/08/1995
Alison Hargreaves was a British mountaineer who died
descending K2 aged 33, leaving behind two young children. This astonishing
woman solo climbed Everest in 1995 without support or oxygen, and solo climbed
all six of the great north faces of the Alps in one season becoming the first
person ever to do so. Due to poor conditions and forced route changes, her
inability to provide photographs led to her claim not being recognised by the
climbing community. She proved them wrong when she solo climbed the Croz spur
of the Grandes Jorasses the following winter.
Alison was 6 months pregnant with her son, Tom, when she
scaled the north face of the Eiger. Her son, Tom Ballard, went on to solo climb
all six great north faces of the Alps in one winter season, but later died
ascending Nanga Parbat in Pakistan.
Date of Birth – 4/02/1943
Died – 13/05/1992
Known as one of the most driven female mountaineers, Wanda
was an enthusiastic sportsperson throughout her youth, who after her initial
forays into the mountains with male groups, decided to start leading her own
Her achievements include being the third woman to summit
Mount Everest and the first woman to summit K2, after two earlier unsuccessful
attempts. Her Everest climb was nearly compromised by her diagnosis of
suffering with anaemia, but she managed to self-medicate herself with iron
injections and not only stay conscious but successfully summit and ascend
After a fracture she suffered climbing
Elbrus in 1981, she struggled to recover after pushing herself too hard.
During her first attempt at K2, she finally reached the 5000m base camp on
crutches, after walking for 100km surviving on painkillers and sheer grit.
Wanda was working towards being the first woman to ascend
all fourteen 8000m peaks and in 1992 was attempting Kanchenjunga for the third
time when she was last seen sheltering at 8300m. Her body was never found, and
it is not known if she reached the summit, becoming the first woman to ever do
Date of Birth –
Arunima was a national
volleyball and football player before she was thrown out of a moving train
during a burglary in 2011. Her leg was run over by a passing train, leaving her
severely injured and fighting for her life. In hospital she decided she would
focus on working towards climbing Everest as her next goal, after reading about it in
a newspaper there, and 2 years later she did exactly that. In May 2013 Arunima
became the first female amputee to summit Everest with a prosthetic leg.
By the end of 2014
Arunima had summited six of the Seven Summits and in 2019 completed her
challenge by climbing Mount Vinson in Antarctica in 2019, becoming the first
female amputee to climb this southern peak.
Date of Birth – 12/11/1938
Tamae began climbing mountains at the age of 28 and once she
started found she couldn’t stop. She is famous for being the oldest woman to
climb Mount Everest in May 2002, aged 63. She then returned to break her own
record in 2012 by 10 years and successfully climbing Everest aged 73.
Tamae claims that she never
meant to set a record, just that she wanted a challenge and picked
Everest as she enjoyed climbing mountains and found it to be an extension of
her daily work farming her family farm. This unassuming woman has no plans to
carry on climbing as her expeditions whilst modest were all self-funded, and
continues to work instead on the farm she loves.
Date of Birth – 9/08/1974
Cecile Skog is the only woman to conquer both the three poles
challenge – The North Pole, South Pole and Everest – and the Full Explorer
Grand Slam, which is the Seven Summit plus traversing both poles. This
ambitious woman is an experienced mountaineer, climber and skier, as well as a
Cecile says she
never set out to be a mountaineer but just wanted to climb mountains that
became higher and higher. She met her future husband Rolf Bae in 2003
climbing Mount Elbrus. He later proposed whilst skiing to the North Pole before
tragically getting swept of K2 in front of her in 2008.
Although this tragic accident didn’t dampen her love of
climbing, she now spends more time at home with her two daughters and less time
defying nature. She first found out she was pregnant just before leading an
expedition across Greenland and fought morning sickness with every step.
This list of inspirational women is by no means exhaustive
and there are many remarkable female mountaineers we haven’t talked about. The
overriding theme that emerges from the stories of these pioneering women is
that many never meant to become renowned for their feats, and often in
conquering their own demons, they inspired others to do the same. Each woman
set their sights on their own goals and dreams, achieving them through
determination, ambition and resolve. We can all learn a lesson from these
admirable women. Anything is possible once you put your mind to it.