Mountaineering: It's Hard When You're All Alone

Outside magazine, August 1995

Mountaineering: It's Hard When You're All Alone
By Todd Balf (with Martin Dugard)

Was Alison Hargreave's solo ascent of Everest without supplemental oxygen last May really the greatest feat ever by a woman mountaineer? Both the 33-year-old mother of two and her hardworking PR office seemed to think so and made sure to keep the story alive weeks later as invited media flocked to her home in Scotland. For some, however, the ballyhoo seemed a bit excessive.

"It's definitely significant," says Ed Viesturs, the only American who has climbed Everest three times. Like other notables in the climbing community, however, Viesturs hedges against calling the feat historic, saying a couple of things muddle its importance. To start with, he says, many believe the first solo ascent without supplemental oxygen was accomplished in 1988 by renegade New Zealander Lydia Bradey (see "Alison Hargreaves Wants to Know...," Dispatches, May). Second, while Hargreaves says she didn't use supplemental oxygen and didn't have help hauling gear above advance base camp at 21,000 feet, she agrees that there's a pretty important difference between her climb and Reinhold Messner's famous solo ascent in 1980. "There was nobody on the mountain when he did it," she says. "That's not the nature of Everest anymore."

Hargreaves, meanwhile, hopes to make more headlines later this year. If her planned climbs of 28,251-foot K2 and 28,208-foot Kanchenjunga are successful, she will be the first woman to have climbed the world's three tallest peaks.

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