May 13th in (Feminist) History

Alison Hargreaves

Alison Hargreaves climbing Everest

On this day in 1995,  Alison Hargreaves was the first woman to climb Mount Everest without the use of Sherpas, or supplementary oxygen (the second person to ever do so). She had also previously done solo-climbs of all the great north faces of the Alps in just a single season, which was a first for any climber. Later that year, Alison attempted to climb the K2 Mountain, as part of her goal of climbing the three highest mountains in the world (Everest, K2, and Kangchenjunga). Unfortunately, though she made it to the summit of K2, she and the group of climbers making the attempt with her, died during a storm on the way down.

Though many were saddened by her death, a very gendered controversy simmered up in the wake up it, as the media began to criticize Alison for climbing the mountain, and leaving her children (aged four and six) at home and now without a mother. When her husband was asked why he “let” her “leave” her children, he replied: “How could I have stopped her? I loved Alison because she wanted to climb the highest peak her skills would allow her to. That’s who she was.”

Both of Alison’s children, now adults, have taken up climbing, and in the winter of 2014-2015 her son Tom– who she was pregnant with when she climbed the Eiger north face in 1988– became the first person to do a solo-climb of all six great north faces of the Alps in a single winter; just like his mother had done in a single season.

Also on this day…

  • In 1847, the birth of Linda Gilbert, a prison reformer best known for placing libraries into prisons.
  • In 1888, the birth of Inge Lehmann, a Danish geophysicist and seismologist who was responsible for discovering that Earth had a solid inner core inside it’s molten outer core. Prior to this, scientists believed the Earth only had a single molten core.
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