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Adventurer Profile – Alison Hargreaves

Alison Hargreaves was a British female mountaineer, known for being the first woman to summit Everest unaided.

Without a Sherpa team, and without bottled oxygen, Hargreaves reached the summit of Everest in May, 1995.

Previously, Hargreaves was also the first solo climber to climb all of the great north faces of the Alps, including the Eiger, in just one summer season.

  • Nationality: British
  • Known for: First solo woman to summit Mt. Everest, unaided. First solo climber to conquer the north faces of the Alps in one season.

Born in 1962 in Belper, Derbyshire, Hargreaves later married James Ballard.

Her love of climbing saw them make the move to Scotland, the perfect training ground for the sport.

Discovering she was pregnant didn’t hold Hargreaves back.

She was six months pregnant when she scaled the north face of the Eiger. A few months later her son, Tom, was born.

In 1995, it was Hargreaves’ goal to climb the three highest mountains in the world, Everest, K2 and Kangchenjunga.

Her solo Everest summit in May was sensational news.

She climbed the tallest mountain in the world without using previously fixed ropes or additional oxygen.

She carried all her own equipment, and even refused cups of tea offered to her from the tents of other climbers.

The likes of this solo summit had not been seen since the success of Italian climber Reinhold Messner in 1978, and it was sensational news.

Summiting Everest

Upon her return Hargreaves was met with a hero’s welcome and much press coverage.

She spent a few weeks at home with her husband, six year old son Tom and four year old daughter Kate, before leaving to climb the notorious K2 in Pakistan.

This is when tragedy struck.

During the climb, the weather was changeable.

Other climbers including Peter Hillary, the son of Sir Edmund Hillary, had turned back.

Hargreaves and a few other climbers decided to go for the summit, and successfully reached it in good weather conditions.

During the descent, a violent storm hit the mountain.

There were strong winds and with nowhere to shelter or secure themselves, Hargreaves and six other climbers died, having been blown off the side of the mountain.

Her equipment was discovered by other climbers as they descended from lower base camps.

One of her boots was recognised, and a body was seen wearing the same green colour clothing.

In an inaccessible location, the body was never formally identified, although it is thought to be that of Alison Hargreaves.

The news stunned the climbing communities, as well as her family. Her husband James was now a single father to two young children.

They visited K2 shortly after, to pay tribute to the wife and mother.

Hargreaves’ son, Tom Ballard, also grew to be a climbing enthusiast.

A talented mountaineer, he following in her footsteps. His climbing career saw him become the first solo climber to scale the six north faces of the Alps in a single winter.

Tragically, he also lost his life as he ascended Nanga Parbat, also in Pakistan, in 2019.

“When somebody dies tragically, we always look for someone to blame. The trouble is, you can’t blame it on the mountain.”Tom Ballard

Hargreaves’ death received mixed reaction from the press. While a tragic loss, some reports criticised her for selfishly following her climbing goals and leaving her children behind.

Yet, it is interesting to note that male climbers who have lost their lives doing the sport they love, also leaving behind children, rarely get the same level of criticism.

Alison Hargreaves was a pioneering climber that put women on the map in this male dominated sport.

No British woman, and very few men, have ever achieved the climbing accolades as she did, and for that Hargreaves deserves to be recognised and celebrated.

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