Story with mountains. Part Two

The legendary picture by Heinz Zak, 1993. Carolynn Marie "Lynn" Hill, the route “The Nose” on El Captain, the first free ascent

We continue to tell you about female ascents.

Part Two

In which women finally get proper attention and get rid of criticism and censure!

By Hanna Aleksandronets

Molly Higgins and Barb Eastman. Photo:

Let’s go to North America. In 1977, Molly Higgins and Barb Eastman made the first all-female ascent of the legendary “The Nose”, El Captain (VI 5.13с A2).

In 1978 first female climbers joined to the Swiss Mountaineering Club. Also, in 1978, the female team led by Erlin Blum climbed Annapurna. It was the first female eight-thousander expedition. Erlin Blum was a traveler, a writer, a photographer, she has a PhD in Biological Sciences. She was keen on biochemistry. It’s a fascinating story about an outstanding athlete, who inspires other to implement audacious projects.

Annapurna Avalanche. Photo: archive Erlin Blum/

The 1980s brought a new spin: competitions and climbing gyms. In 1985, the first SportRoccia event was held in Bardonecchia, Italy (it later became the Rock Master comp). The well-known climber Catherine Destivelle took the first place. A year later, Lynn Hill learned about the competition while she was in France, and returned to enter. She took the second place.

Catherine Destivelle Free Soloing Devils Tower, Wyoming, 1991. Photo:

Catherine demonstrated phenomenal results not only during rock climbing competitions, in 1992, she became the first woman to complete a solo ascent of the Eiger’s north face. She completed the climb in 15 hours.

While Catherine was setting records in Europe, Lynn Hill became the most famous American star. Her name was widely known among the general public. Hill’s passion for the sport and progression through the most difficult grades landed her on talk shows, and made her a crowd favorite at competitions. She had come to Yosemite Valley in 1978 as a 17-year-old, and quickly gained respect among alpinists. She found a climbing partner in Mari Gingery, and in 1979, they both completed the first female ascent of “The Shield” (V 5.8 A3) on El Captain over six days.

Lynn Hill. Photo: Dean Fidelman/Stonemaster Press

Hill has many other noteworthy firsts, in particular, in 1990, she became the first woman to redpoint 5.14a, completed the route “Masse Critique” in France.

However, the most significant event in female mountaineering history of the last century was Lynn’s free ascent of “The Nose”, in 1993, together with her partner, Brooke Sandahl. They both completed the route over four days. The next year, Hill set a new record, completed the route over 23 hours.

Mayan Smith Gobat, Еl Captain, The Nose. Photo © John Dickey / Adidas Collection

By the way, The Nose, the most famous big wall in the world, was first ascended in 1958 after 47 days on El Capitan by Warren Harding, Wayne Merry and George Whitmore. The speed climbing record for the Nose has changed hands several times in the past few years. The sub two hour and current record of 1 hour 58 minutes was set in 2018, by Alex Honnold and Tommy Caldwell. Girls have their own records, and heroines. On the 31st of October, 2014, Mayan Smith-Gobat and Libby Sauter completed the Nose over 4 hours 43 minutes!!! (There is also the list of individual climbing records.)

Robyn Erbesfield-Raboutou in the ’80s. Photo: Robyn Erbesfield-Raboutou archive

Let’s leave high mountains, and let’s go to the gym. We have already mentioned Lynn and Destivelle, however, it is worth mentioning that Robyn Erbesfield-Raboutou is also an American star. She won four World Cups in a row. She also won every competition she entered in 1993, as well as the gold medal during the World Cup! In 2012, she climbed 8c (5.14b) with the ascent of Welcome to Tijuana (Rodellar, Spain), when she was 49 years old.

The number of competitions and climbing gyms has increased, as well as the number of female athletes, interested in climbing.

In the USSR, women also have gained their place in the rock sun. In 1988, the USSR Mountaineering Federation organized the first mountaineering championship among female teams. Four groups participated in the championship, they completed routes 5A. Four championships had been conducted, before the USSR was disintegrated. The plan to conquer the mountain Shishapangma by the women’s national team ended in a fiasco. Though…

High Altitude Mountaineering Is Woman’s Business

Women practiced their rock climbing and technical mountaineering skills, as well as their high level / high altitude alpinism skills.

Wanda Rutkiewicz. Photo: press materials

Wanda Rutkiewicz was a legendary Polish mountain climber, who reached the summits of 8 of 14 eight-thousanders. She established herself as the goal-oriented person in mountaineering history and one of the greatest female climbers of all time. Wanda went on to advocate for women’s climbing and to organize several all-female expeditions, because she found some male climbers to be condescending. However, her leadership style was criticized. In 1986, she became the first woman to reach the summit of K2 (the second highest eight-thousander). Rutkiewicz’s goal was to become the first woman to reach the summits of all 14 of the eight-thousanders, but she died while climbing Kangchenjunga… Only in 2010, the Spanish climber, Edurne Pasaban reached the summits of all 14 of the eight-thousanders.

Edurne Pasaban. Photo: The climber’s Facebook page

What is the most popular question? Who is the first woman to climb Everest? The 35-years-old Japan athlete Junko Tabei reached the highest summit in 1975. Also, in 1975, Anna Okopinska and Halina Kruger-Syrokomska became the first women, who climbed Gasherbrum II.

Junko Tabei, Everest, 1975. Photo: Ladies Climbing Club/

Ekaterina Ivanova became the first Russian female climber, who reached the summit of Everest on the 10th of May, 1990. In 1992, she climbed Shishapangma. Also, in 1993, Ekaterina climbed the eighth highest mountain Manaslu. Unfortunately, she died, climbing Kangchenjunga together with her partner Sergey Zhvirblay. They were sleeping in a tent, when the avalanche happened.


Irina Vyalenkova and Ekaterina Ivanova

If we tell about women interested in high-altitude mountaineering / high level alpinism, it is necessary to mention the Belarusian climber Irina Vyalenkova. Although, Irina achieved success in rock climbing, in technical mountaineering, she spent a lot of time physical training, she became the world-known athlete in 1995, due to the accident. She spent a night on top of the mountain Dhaulagiri (8167 m) absolutely alone. She was able screw herself up to go down to the assault camp (7400 m).

Lydia. Photo:

Let’s think about Everest again. Lydia Bradey became the first woman to summit Mount Everest without supplemental oxygen in 1988. She has gone on to summit the mountain five more times. The famous New Zealand mountaineer graduated from the University of Auckland with a degree in physiotherapy. She is also a writer, and a guide. All her life, Bradey tries to motivate, and to inspire people to be persistent.

Alison at the top of Everest, her ascent without oxygen or support. Photo:

It must be said, that in mountaineering history there are plenty of other interesting facts except eight-thousanders. Alison Jane Hargreaves was a British mountain climber, who motivated, and inspired women. Although, Jane’s accomplishments included scaling Mount Everest alone, without supplementary oxygen or support, in 1995 (we could not say, that she soloed the mountain, because in a season it was rather complicated to remain alone), she soloed all the great north faces of the Alps (Eiger, Matterhorn and Grandes Jorasses), in a single season — a first for any climber. All the faces were also soloed by Catherine Destivelle in winter.

Unfortunately, in 1995, Alison died while descending from the summit of K2. We have to admit, that the death and ambitions to conquer eight-thousanders go hand in hand.

Ludmila Korobeshko and Irina Zisman (this year Irina has ascended Cho Oyu, Everest and Manaslu). Photo: Alexander Abramov

We can mention plenty of women’s names. For instance, Lyudmila Korobeshko, the “7 Peaks Club” leader, summited Everest three times, and climbed the highest mountains of all continents. For her personally, mountaineering has become lifelong love.

Photo: Tamara Lunger’s archive

Tamara Lunger is a climber from South Tyrol. She became well-known, because in 2016 she smothered her own voice. In her attempt for the first winter ascent to the Nanga Parbat, she gave up just 70 meters below the top. After that, the Italian climber said, that she had been close to her death. Her refusal to come hell or high water describes her wisdom and willpower.


Élisabeth Revol and Tomasz Mackiewicz. Photo:

Two years later, in 2018, Élisabeth Revol climbed Nanga Parbat in winter; on the descent she was epically rescued, while her teammate Tomasz Mackiewicz died. Élisabeth suffered repeated episodes of frostbite, but survived. After series of treatments, the persevering French woman continued her mountaineering career. She traversed consecutively Mount Everest and Lhotse in May 2019.

Valentine Fabre and Masha Gordon, the route Innominata, Mont Blanc. Photo: Ben Tibbetts

In 2016, the businesswoman Masha Gordon, a close Élisabeth’s friend, completed the “Seven Peaks” Project and reached both the North and South Poles within just over 7 months and 19 days! She set a new record. Masha promotes the female alpinism, in particular, she founded the Grit&Rock Foundation to support young British athletes. GRIT&ROCK announced a launch of an annual international FIRST ASCENT EXPEDITION PRIZE to enable female first ascents.

To be continued…

The eight-thousanders slopes, sheer walls… The final part tells about awards, and prizes for female athletes, and about the “mountaineering revolution” of a new era.

Part One