Climbing Everest can be a ho-hum affair unless, that is, you have a gimmick

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Out Front, Fall 1998

Whither the Big One?
Climbing Everest can be a ho-hum affair — unless, that is, you have a gimmick
By Mike Grudowski

There was a time — 23 years ago, to be precise — when merely being a woman who made it to the top of Everest was extraordinary. (Parade forms here!) Nowadays, when anyone with an ice ax and 65 grand has a shot at the summit — 42 women have done it — an Everest experience is about as stirring and unique in a gal as a fondness for scotch and the Three Stooges.

So if it's attention you seek, you'll need a fresh angle. To make sure you don't simply ape the performance of one who sucked thin air before you, here's a crib sheet.

Sumitress: Junko Tabei, Japan, 35; 4-foot-11 mother of a three-year-old and founder of the Ladies Climbing Club; first woman to summit, May 16, 1975.

Revealing Quote: About the eight male cameramen and photographers sent along by a Japanese TV network and newspaper: "It would have been so much easier without them. If you climb with men, there are so many troubles."

Inspirational Subplot: Raised $5,000 for the expedition by giving piano lessons.

Glorious Aftermath: Telegram from the Japanese prime minister; parade in Kathmandu; welcomed by thousands at Tokyo airport.

Sumitress: Phanthog, China, 36; ethnic Tibetan housewife climbed North Face with eight others; second woman to summit, May 27, 1975 (yes, 11 days after Tabei).

Revealing Quote: "Chinese women have a strong will; difficulties can't stop us. We climbed the highest peak in the world; we really hold up half the sky."

Inspirational Subplot: "I stood beside Hou Sheng-fu as he reported our success to the base camp over the walkie-talkie. And when we heard the cheers of our comrades, I joined them in shouting, 'Long live Chairman Mao! Long live the Chinese Communist Party!'"

Glorious Aftermath: Triumphant whoops and clapping at the Beijing train station by a gathering — completely spontaneous, no doubt — of more than 3,000 jubilant apparatchiks.

Sumitress: Stacy Allison, United States, 30; 220th climber, seventh woman, and first American woman to summit; spent 45 minutes on top photographing herself with sponsors' logos; September 30, 1988.

Revealing Quote: "The quest to put an American woman on top was the obsession of a steady stream of self-aggrandizing expeditions." — New York Times

Inspirational Subplot: Wrote in her book Beyond the Limits that she'd decided climbing Everest "would cleanse my spirit and heal my wounds ... The real triumph comes when you can accept yourself in any weather and in any state and still be able to say: That's me, and I'm okay."

Glorious Aftermath: Nike cross-training commercial; appearances on Late Night with David Letterman and Good Morning America.

Sumitress: Josie Kieran, Ireland, 44; nurse and mother of teenage daughter, first Irishwoman to summit, more or less; May 29, 1998.

Revealing Quote: "Prayer is an important part of my life and my rosary beads will give me special encouragement on the mountain."

Inspirational Subplot: Preclimb training featured early-morning, three-mile walks to work at Louth County Hospital, carrying a rucksack loaded with sand, reflecting that unquenchable Irish joie de vivre.

Glorious Aftermath: Got to spout aphorisms to the press ("Everyone has an Everest to climb") even though she only made it to the South Summit, 278 feet short of the peak. Hey, whatever, close enough.

Filed To: Snow Sports

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