Tracking ID UA-126977798-1
Mother's Day was celebrated this past weekend in many countries. Yesterday (May 13) was the anniversary of the first woman and mother, Alison Hargreaves, to summit Mt. Everest — 29,029 feet/8.848 meters high — alone, without bottled oxygen. Hargreaves, was one of the world’s greatest alpinists then, and of all time. She achieved this feat solo, without fixed ropes set by others.
Alison was a “trailblazer,” wrote Molly Schiot, who profiled Hargreaves in her 2016 book, “Game Changers: The Unsung Heroines of Sports History”.
"In the summer of 1993, Hargreaves became the first person to climb the notoriously perilous six great north faces of the Alps solo in a single season. The undertaking inspired her book, “A Hard Day’s Summer.”
In 2015, her son, Tom Ballard, who was 6 yrs old when she died, became the first person to climb the same six north faces alone, in a winter season. Her daughter, Katie, is also a mountaineer.
In a way, Tom’s first Alps ascent was with his mother. In July 1988, Hargreaves scaled the Alps while she was six months pregnant with her son, Tom Ballard." www.nytimes.com/2018/03/14/obituaries/overlooked-alison-hargreaves.html Tragically Tom Ballard, Alison's son-was killed on Nanga Parbat in the Karakorum mountains sometime between February 24 and March 9, 2019. Mother and son's bodies are both in those mountains of Pakistan.
However, Alison Hargreaves was not the first woman to summit K2. Another British woman a decade before, became the first high altitude climber and film maker to do so. Her name was Julie Tullis. Julie did not start climbing in high altitude until her children were older. While raising her children she did pursue both Akido and Judo, which she said strengthened her physical and mental discipline. She became a black belt in both martial arts. At the age of 45, Julie became the first British woman to climb an 8,000m peak, when with Kurt Diemberger from Austria, she summited Broad Peak.
"In 1985 Julie and Kurt joined a British team on the North East Ridge of Everest and then during the summer returned for another crack at the Diamir Face of Nanga Parbat. That year she spent 52 days above c6,000m. Towards the end of 1985, and in early '86 she finished her highly readable and inspirational autobiography, "Clouds from Both Sides", ( see photo below) and made a film about village life in East Nepal before travelling to Pakistan and the ill-fated summer on K2.
On the 4th August, Julie reached the summit via the Abruzzi Ridge shortly after Alan Rouse, these two becoming the first and second British climbers to do so (and Tullis only the third woman ever). Sadly, both would die shortly after, succumbing to altitude while trapped in a prolonged storm on the Shoulder." www.thebmc.co.uk/the-julie-tullis-memorial-award
Although the rate of death for high altitude female alpinists/climbers is significant and a number of the women who perished in the mountains were not mothers, all climbers also had mothers...some who climbed, some who did not, but all who loved and for the most part, encouraged their children throughout their lives. www.climbing.com/people/mothers-day-special-an-interview-with-6-pro-climber-moms/
There are a few kinds of "Mountain Mamas". Those who gave birth to climbers, those who climb themselves as well as mother/parent, and those women who make the mountains their "mamas" whether in high altitude or lower to sea level. Tonight I am writing from first hand experience as a former climber, mother of climbers, and wife of a climber/guide. I climbed Mt. Shasta and Mt. Whitney while I was in my first trimester with my first born, my son Denali. Most of our spare family time together was spent building on our houses, travelling and various types of climbing and sports outside. We had a climbing wall built into our garages, climbing holds, pull up bars and photos of mountains in every house we rented or owned. I taught climbing as part of physical education and health studies in NZ middle and high schools. One of my grown children, my daughter Sequoia, is currently climbing in high altitude in the Himalayas of Nepal. I am a women/mother who still enjoys the mountains and recently returned from over four months living/training on Yun Tai mountain in the Henan province of China. I know, whereof I write.
There are more "mountain mamas" than ever before in our world. Thanks to better support, training and choices-it is estimated 40% of climbers today (as professional/skilled athletes) are females. Most of these women do not climb in altitude or are interested in alpine climbing. Rock climbing is much less dangerous. The first women to really pioneer closer to ground, boulder and rock climbing as an extreme sport, was Lynn Hill (see photo above). There has been much written about this 5'2" powerhouse, focused female champion in the climbing world. You can look online to see her accomplishments. She is still living, climbing, parenting, teaching, and gorgeous. Yes, for sponsorship-being attractive helps no doubt. Here is her website: https://lynnhillclimbing.com/
The "upside" of being a "mountain mama" is you are able to spend a greater portion of your time on Earth in nature, in the hills and mountains and away from the madding crowds. You are part of a broader, international community which prides itself on fitness, skills, discipline and comraderie as well as competition.
The "downsides" of being in this 'community' is the time away from other loved ones, the possible physical injuries doing what you enjoy and especially for us mothers and wives of mountain climbers/guides...the deaths of those we knew/know and love. Mountain Mama's often do not have the usual rituals for death either. Often we don't even have verification of how our loved ones, or friends died, where exactly they died, or even when precisely they exited this mortal realm. Sometimes "funerals" or memorial services are held far away from where we are and we can't join them across the seas or in vertical spaces because of lack of money, time or ability to climb to where they are or might be.
Often there is no real support for "mountain mamas" and people will comment callously in person and online. More often than not there are debts to be paid. You don't climb to get wealthy. Most alpinists spend what little money they earn on gear, transport tickets and medical care.
Mountaineers deaths are usually "celebrated" and applauded as a noble way to die..."doing what they loved", etc. They were not forced to go, like those in the military. They chose or were employed (as sherpas, assistants) to go into the mountains. Still, there is always shock and trauma when an accident and/or death happens.
The children of those "mountain mamas" who perished, often became climbers, too. Many go on a kind of pilgrimage to visit the same mountains where their parent died. You can listen to the children of Julie Tullis speak about their mother on this podcast from the BBC: www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p044bwfd
You can read online or listen to speeches by the children of Scott and Jeanine Fisher-Price or of Jan Arnold and Rob Hall's daughter, Sarah Arnold-Hall, our daughter, Sequoia Schmidt or of The Roskelley family; to have some idea of the painful side of being part of a "mountain climbing family". Click on links below.
Closing this week with more positive stories and memories from another time with another "mountain mama" adept in the mountains of many countries and in all kinds of weather on skiis. Her name is Pepina Stanchev and she is a Bulgarian born athlete who became a mother to two daughters, an American citizen, a health practitioner and is a creative and gifted woman who also took the photo (as the lead climber) when we went climbing in Yosemite, California years ago. We were mothers of young children who enjoyed climbing, skiing and camping but didn't have cellphones or digital cameras then. Pepina snapped the photo I use for my header photograph for this blog, "Viewpoints". Pepina is still fit, full of energy, ideas and love for her growing family. She is a grandmother, too.
"Mountain mamas" can balance life, it is a question of knowing and shifting priorities and trying to minimize risk if at all possible. We are not a 'common breed' and I know we are often unrecognized and unappreciated, but we persevere. Mountain Mamas don't love their children any less...maybe even more than those mothers who only know life and parenting on the horizontal plane. Mountain Mamas are born into, married into, or choose a different life than most mothers. On Mother's Days many mountain mamas, children and families, will be celebrating if they can...outdoors.
Enjoy this mountain mama song by Loretta Lynn of the USA, "High on the Mountain Top"-turn up the sound and tap your feet. Go on....
Until next Tuesday...from sea level for now and a poem from mt. Aoraki: https://allpoetry.com/poem/13684939-Mt.-Cook-Musings-by-Jo-Patti
Adding some sites from mountain climbing family members FYI: