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Ice Work: 10 First Ascents By Female Mountaineers


Modified: December 27, 2023

by Candide Haven



Mountaineering has always been a pursuit dominated by men, with women often overlooked and underestimated in this extreme and demanding sport. However, throughout history, there have been remarkable women who defied societal expectations and forged their paths in the world of adventure. These fearless and determined individuals have not only conquered towering peaks but also shattered gender stereotypes along the way.


In this article, we will explore the incredible achievements of ten female mountaineers who made their mark by undertaking daring first ascents. These pioneers relentlessly pushed boundaries, facing unimaginable challenges with courage and resilience, and opening doors for future generations of adventurous women.


From scaling the highest mountains to conquering treacherous icefalls, these women have left an indelible legacy in the world of mountaineering. They embody the spirit of adventure, the thrill of exploration, and the strength of the human spirit.


We will travel through the annals of history, exploring the lives and triumphs of mountaineers such as Wanda Rutkiewicz, Junko Tabei, and Pasang Lhamu Sherpa. We will witness the incredible perseverance of Lydia Bradey and Krystyna Palmowska and delve into the audacious feats of Alison Hargreaves, Kitty Calhoun, and Arlene Blum. We will stand in awe of the accomplishments of Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner and Edurne Pasaban as they conquered the highest peaks of the Himalayas.


Buckle up, as we embark on a thrilling journey into the world of adventure and legends. Let the stories of these remarkable women inspire and empower you to challenge your own limits and embrace the spirit of adventure within.


Wanda Rutkiewicz: Scaling New Heights

Wanda Rutkiewicz, a Polish mountaineer, is renowned for her daring ascents and remarkable achievements in the world of mountaineering. Born in 1943, Rutkiewicz demonstrated her love for the mountains from an early age, embarking on her first climbing expedition at 19.


Throughout her career, Rutkiewicz showcased her indomitable spirit and unwavering determination. In 1978, she became the third woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest, an incredible feat at the time. Her summit success on Everest was followed by a series of groundbreaking first ascents on challenging peaks.


One of Rutkiewicz’s most remarkable accomplishments was her ascent of the notorious and technically challenging K2 in 1986. This made her the first woman to reach the summit of the world’s second-highest mountain, a feat that had eluded many experienced climbers. Her perseverance and skill in tackling this treacherous peak solidified her reputation as an exceptional mountaineer.


Rutkiewicz’s dedication to mountaineering was unwavering, and she continued to pursue summits even in the face of adversity. In 1992, at the age of 49, she attempted to climb Kangchenjunga, the world’s third-highest mountain. Unfortunately, she succumbed to the mountain’s dangers and lost her life during the descent.


Despite her tragic end, Rutkiewicz’s legacy lives on as an inspiration to future generations of mountaineers. She paved the way for women in the sport, breaking barriers and proving that gender is not a limitation when it comes to scaling new heights.


Her tenacity, courage, and love for the mountains continue to inspire climbers worldwide. Rutkiewicz’s name will forever be etched in the annals of mountaineering history, a testament to the incredible achievements of women in the face of adversity.


Junko Tabei: Conquering Everest

Junko Tabei, a Japanese mountaineer, shattered stereotypes and made history as the first woman to summit Mount Everest, the highest peak in the world. Born in 1939 in Miharu, Japan, Tabei developed a passion for climbing from an early age and embarked on her first major mountaineering expedition in 1969.


Tabei’s groundbreaking achievement came on May 16, 1975, when she stood atop the summit of Mount Everest. Her ascent was not only a personal triumph but a historic moment for women in mountaineering. She defied societal norms and proved that gender was not a barrier to conquering the world’s highest peak.


Tabei’s journey to the summit of Everest was not without its challenges. She faced skepticism and criticism from male climbers who doubted her abilities. However, she persevered, and her determination led to a triumphant ascent. Her success paved the way for other women to follow in her footsteps and inspired a new generation of female mountaineers.


After conquering Everest, Tabei did not rest on her laurels. She continued to push boundaries and set new records. In 1992, she became the first woman to complete the Seven Summits, reaching the highest peak on each of the seven continents. Her relentless pursuit of adventure and her passion for mountaineering knew no bounds.


Despite facing numerous challenges, including a battle with cancer later in life, Tabei remained an advocate for environmental conservation and women’s empowerment. She founded the organization “Ladies’ Climbing Club: Japan” to support and encourage women in mountaineering.


Junko Tabei’s legacy extends far beyond her mountaineering achievements. She proved that determination, resilience, and a strong spirit can overcome any obstacle, regardless of gender. Her remarkable accomplishments continue to inspire individuals around the globe to embrace their passions, challenge societal norms, and reach for the highest peaks, both metaphorically and literally.


Pasang Lhamu Sherpa: A Trailblazing Pioneer

Pasang Lhamu Sherpa was a true trailblazer in the world of mountaineering. Born in 1961 in Nepal, she overcame societal and cultural barriers to become the first Nepali woman to summit Mount Everest. Her journey to the top of the world’s highest peak was a testament to her extraordinary determination and resilience.


Pasang Lhamu came from a humble background and faced numerous challenges on her path to becoming a mountaineer. However, she never let adversity stand in her way. She began her mountaineering career as a porter, carrying equipment for expeditions. Through hard work and determination, she eventually became a skilled and respected climber.


In 1992, Pasang Lhamu Sherpa embarked on her historic expedition to Mount Everest. She faced harsh weather conditions, treacherous terrain, and the physical demands of high-altitude climbing. But her unwavering determination and courage propelled her forward.


On April 22, 1993, Pasang Lhamu stood on the summit of Mount Everest, achieving her lifelong dream. Tragically, her triumph was short-lived, as she lost her life during the descent. Despite the somber ending, her achievement opened doors for future generations of Nepali women to embrace mountaineering and pursue their dreams.


Pasang Lhamu Sherpa’s legacy extends far beyond her mountaineering accomplishments. She became a symbol of empowerment for women in Nepal and around the world. Her bravery and tenacity inspired countless individuals, proving that with determination and perseverance, one can overcome any obstacle.


Today, Pasang Lhamu Sherpa’s legacy lives on through the work of the Pasang Lhamu Sherpa Foundation, a nonprofit organization that supports the education and empowerment of girls in Nepal. Her extraordinary journey serves as a beacon of hope and inspiration, reminding us all to pursue our dreams and break through the barriers that society imposes.


Lydia Bradey: The First Woman on Annapurna

Lydia Bradey, a New Zealand mountaineer, etched her name in mountaineering history as the first woman to summit Annapurna, one of the most treacherous peaks in the world. Born in 1961, Bradey developed a passion for climbing at a young age and honed her skills in the Southern Alps of New Zealand.


In 1988, Bradey embarked on her daring expedition to Annapurna, the tenth highest mountain in the world. The climb was known for its technical difficulty and extreme hazards, including avalanches, steep ice slopes, and unpredictable weather. Despite these challenges, Bradey persevered, relying on her skills and intuition to forge a new path to the summit.


On October 14, 1988, Lydia Bradey stood atop Annapurna, becoming the first woman to conquer this formidable peak without the use of supplemental oxygen. Her achievement was not only a personal triumph but a groundbreaking moment for women in mountaineering. She shattered barriers and proved that gender was not a limitation in the pursuit of adventure.


Bradey’s ascent of Annapurna was not without its share of controversy. Her fellow climber and partner, Kiwi mountaineer Tim Macartney-Snape, claimed that she didn’t reach the true summit. However, this dispute did not overshadow Bradey’s remarkable accomplishment and the impact it had on the mountaineering community.


Despite the challenges and controversies, Lydia Bradey continued to push boundaries in her mountaineering career. She established herself as a respected guide and climbing instructor, sharing her expertise and passion with others. Her story served as an inspiration for aspiring mountaineers and empowered women to pursue their dreams in the world of adventure.


Today, Lydia Bradey’s name is synonymous with courage, determination, and breaking through barriers. Her historic ascent of Annapurna serves as a reminder that with skill, determination, and perseverance, one can achieve the seemingly impossible. She will forever be remembered as a trailblazer for women in mountaineering and an inspiration to all adventurers.


Krystyna Palmowska: Peaks of Perseverance

Krystyna Palmowska, a Polish mountaineer, overcame numerous challenges and setbacks on her path to becoming a renowned climber. Born in 1950, Palmowska developed an affinity for the mountains early on, eventually gaining recognition for her perseverance and resilience in the face of adversity.


One of Palmowska’s notable achievements was her ascent of Cho Oyu, the sixth highest mountain in the world. In 1984, she became the first Polish woman to successfully reach its summit, showcasing her determination and mountaineering skills.


Palmowska’s mountaineering career was not without its fair share of setbacks. In 1986, during her attempt to climb K2, tragedy struck as her climbing partner, Andrzej Czok, lost his life. The experience deeply affected Palmowska, but she didn’t let adversity deter her from her passion.


In 1993, Palmowska set her sights on the daunting heights of Annapurna, one of the most challenging mountains to conquer. Despite facing severe weather conditions and hazardous avalanches, she persisted and successfully stood on the summit. Her ascent of Annapurna solidified her reputation as a determined and skilled mountaineer.


However, Palmowska’s greatest test came in 1998 when she embarked on a solo expedition to climb the infamous Kanchenjunga, the third highest peak in the world. This expedition brought her face to face with dangerous crevasses and treacherous icefalls. Despite these perilous conditions, Palmowska displayed remarkable courage and resilience, becoming the first woman in the world to climb Kanchenjunga solo.


Palmowska’s ascent of Kanchenjunga stood as a testament to her unwavering determination and indomitable spirit. Her accomplishments in the world of mountaineering paved the way for future generations of female climbers and inspired countless individuals around the world.


Krystyna Palmowska’s legacy lives on as a symbol of perseverance and determination. Her remarkable achievements showcase the power of the human spirit and the rewards that come with unwavering dedication. She will forever be remembered as a trailblazer in the mountaineering community, proving that with resilience and a relentless pursuit of one’s goals, even the most daunting peaks can be conquered.


Alison Hargreaves: Challenging the Giants

Alison Hargreaves, a British mountaineer, was known for her audacious spirit and relentless pursuit of new challenges. Born in 1962, Hargreaves quickly established herself as a formidable force in the world of mountaineering, scaling some of the most iconic peaks on the planet.


Hargreaves first gained international recognition in 1988 when she became the first woman to summit Mount Everest without the assistance of bottled oxygen. Her feat was a testament to her strength and determination, placing her among the elite climbers of her time.


However, it was Hargreaves’ next daring venture that truly solidified her reputation as a fearless mountaineer. In 1995, she embarked on an audacious expedition to conquer three of the world’s highest peaks: Mount Everest, K2, and Kangchenjunga. Known as the “Big Three,” these mountains are considered the ultimate challenge in mountaineering.


Tragically, Hargreaves lost her life during her descent from K2. Her untimely death sent shockwaves through the mountaineering community. However, her legacy lives on, as she challenged the notion that gender, physical strength, or societal expectations could limit one’s accomplishments.


Alison Hargreaves’ inspiring achievements continue to motivate climbers around the world. Her determination and fearlessness in tackling formidable peaks demonstrated that no goal was too lofty or impossible to achieve. She shattered stereotypes and showed that women could compete on equal footing with their male counterparts.


Hargreaves’ indomitable spirit and unwavering ambition pushed the boundaries of what was considered possible in mountaineering. Her legacy serves as a reminder that true adventure lies in pushing oneself beyond perceived limits, challenging the giants, and daring to dream big.


While her life was tragically cut short, Alison Hargreaves’ impact on the world of mountaineering is immeasurable. She will forever be remembered as a fearless pioneer who inspired generations of climbers to reach new heights and conquer their own personal mountains.


Kitty Calhoun: Pushing Boundaries on Ice

Kitty Calhoun, an American mountaineer, has made her mark as a fearless adventurer who pushes the boundaries of ice climbing. Born with a deep passion for the outdoors, Calhoun’s journey into the world of mountaineering began in the 1980s and has since taken her to the most challenging ice and mixed routes around the globe.


Calhoun’s achievements are widely recognized and respected in the mountaineering community. She is renowned for her technical skill, mental fortitude, and ability to navigate the most treacherous icy landscapes. Throughout her career, she has set high standards and achieved numerous first ascents on daring ice climbs.


As one of the few women in the field, Calhoun has faced and overcome gender biases and adversities in the climbing world. She employs her talent and experience not only to set new records but also to inspire and mentor aspiring climbers, particularly women, encouraging them to pursue their passions fearlessly.


Calhoun’s impressive list of accomplishments includes scaling challenging peaks such as the Rupal Face of Nanga Parbat and the Moonflower Buttress on Mount Hunter. She is widely admired for her ability to navigate complex and demanding routes and her unwavering commitment to safety in the face of unpredictable ice conditions.


Apart from her technical skills, Calhoun is known for promoting environmental conservation and sustainable climbing practices. She advocates for responsible exploration and encourages climbers to be mindful of their impact on the delicate ecosystems they encounter.


Kitty Calhoun’s bravery, expertise, and dedication to the sport have rightfully placed her among the elite ranks of ice climbers. She continues to challenge herself and inspire others to push their limits, demonstrate resilience, and break through the barriers of what is possible in the world of ice climbing.


Calhoun’s legacy stands as a testament to the strength and determination of women in adventure sports. Her inspirational journey serves as a reminder that with skill, perseverance, and a deep love for the mountains, any obstacle can be conquered, and the limits of human potential can be stretched further than ever before.


Arlene Blum: Breaking Records and Stereotypes

Arlene Blum is a mountaineer, scientist, and advocate who has made significant contributions to breaking records and challenging stereotypes in the world of adventure. Born in 1945, Blum has always been drawn to the mountains, seeking both physical and intellectual challenges in her pursuits.


Blum gained attention in 1978 when she led the first American and all-women team to successfully summit Annapurna I, one of the world’s most formidable peaks. This achievement not only marked an important milestone in mountaineering but also shattered prevailing beliefs about women’s capabilities in extreme environments.


Blum’s leadership and determination continued to redefine gender norms and inspire others to push their boundaries. In 1984, she organized and successfully climbed the Great Trango Tower in Pakistan, showcasing her technical skill and courage in tackling one of the world’s most difficult rock faces.


Aside from her mountaineering triumphs, Blum is a scientist who has dedicated her career to understanding the impact of chemicals on human health and the environment. Her research contributed to banning the use of toxic flame retardants in children’s sleepwear, protecting countless lives.


Blum’s passion for adventure and activism coalesce in her efforts to raise awareness about the environmental and social impacts of outdoor gear manufacturing. She encourages companies to adopt sustainable and ethical practices, ensuring that the products adventurers rely on are both safe and environmentally responsible.


By breaking records and challenging stereotypes, Arlene Blum has become an influential figure in the adventure community. Her accomplishments highlight the importance of diversity and inclusivity in traditionally male-dominated fields.


Blum’s dedication to promoting women’s empowerment, environmental stewardship, and responsible adventure has left an indelible impact. She serves as a role model for aspiring mountaineers, scientists, and advocates who seek to create positive change in their respective fields.


Arlene Blum’s audacious spirit, intellectual curiosity, and commitment to making a difference have cemented her as a pioneer in mountaineering and a catalyst for societal and environmental change. Her legacy will continue to inspire generations of adventurers and activists to challenge the status quo and create a better world through their pursuits.


Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner: Scaling the Himalayan Giants

Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner, an Austrian mountaineer, has established herself as one of the most accomplished female climbers in history. Born in 1970, Kaltenbrunner has successfully summited all 14 of the world’s 8,000-meter peaks without the use of supplemental oxygen, making her an extraordinary figure in the mountaineering community.


Kaltenbrunner’s mountaineering journey began in the 1990s, and she steadily built her experience and skills with each expedition. In 2001, she conquered her first 8,000-meter peak, Cho Oyu. From there, she went on to successfully summit renowned peaks such as K2, Dhaulagiri, and Makalu.


Her crowning achievement came in 2011 when Kaltenbrunner reached the summit of K2, the world’s second-highest peak. This made her the first woman to complete all 14 of the 8,000-meter peaks, a remarkable feat of endurance, skill, and determination.


What sets Kaltenbrunner apart is not just her exceptional climbing achievements, but also her approach to mountaineering. She is known for her patience, meticulous planning, and respect for the mountains. She has always prioritized safety and teamwork, making calculated decisions even in the face of adversity.


Beyond her remarkable mountaineering accomplishments, Kaltenbrunner is an inspiration for her humility and modesty. Despite her unparalleled success, she remains down-to-earth and approaches climbing with a deep respect for the natural environment and the challenges it presents.


Kaltenbrunner’s achievements serve as a beacon of hope for climbers worldwide, particularly women. Her determination proves that with hard work, perseverance, and a deep passion for the mountains, anyone can accomplish great things.


Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner’s legacy is one of inspiration and triumph. Her groundbreaking ascent of the world’s tallest peaks demonstrates the heights that can be achieved when one dedicates themselves to their dreams. She has not only pushed the boundaries of human capability but also shattered gender stereotypes, paving the way for future generations of adventurous women to follow in her footsteps.


Edurne Pasaban: A Quest for the 14 Summits

Edurne Pasaban, a Spanish mountaineer, is renowned for her relentless pursuit of the 14 highest mountains in the world, commonly known as the 8,000-meter peaks. Born in 1973, Pasaban’s passion for mountaineering ignited at a young age and propelled her to accomplish extraordinary feats in the climbing world.


Pasaban began her ambitious quest in 2001 with the summit of Shishapangma. Over the course of several years, she methodically tackled one peak after another, including the formidable K2, Everest, and Kangchenjunga. Her unwavering determination and proficiency in high-altitude climbing propelled her closer to her ultimate goal.


In 2010, Pasaban finally accomplished her mission by successfully summiting all 14 peaks, becoming the first woman in history to do so. Her feat was a testament to her physical and mental strength, as well as her ability to overcome numerous challenges, including extreme weather conditions and technical difficulties.


Pasaban’s achievement transcended mere mountaineering. Her relentless pursuit of the 8,000-meter peaks served as an inspiration to people worldwide, highlighting the power of perseverance, dedication, and resilience in the face of adversity.


Throughout her career, Pasaban emphasized the importance of teamwork and collaboration in the mountains. She recognized the value of shared experiences and relied on the support of fellow climbers to navigate difficult terrains and reach new heights.


Beyond her mountaineering accomplishments, Pasaban is an advocate for women’s empowerment and gender equality. She has raised awareness about the disparities faced by women in the adventure world and encouraged more females to pursue their dreams in the mountains.


Edurne Pasaban’s legacy stands as a testament to the triumph of the human spirit and the boundless possibilities that lie within each individual. Her unwavering commitment to her dream of conquering the 8,000-meter peaks has inspired countless climbers and adventurers to push beyond their limits and embrace the beauty and challenges of the mountains.


As a pioneer in mountaineering, Pasaban serves as a role model for aspiring climbers, encouraging them to follow their passions, break through societal barriers, and embrace the transformative power of the mountains. Her extraordinary achievement will continue to inspire generations to come, reminding us all to aim high and pursue our dreams, no matter how daunting they may seem.



The stories of these ten remarkable female mountaineers have taken us on a thrilling adventure through the peaks and valleys of their extraordinary lives. From breaking through gender stereotypes to conquering the highest mountains on Earth, they have inspired us with their audacity, perseverance, and unwavering determination.


These trailblazing women have shattered barriers and opened doors, proving that the mountains know no gender. They have shown us that with skill, courage, and passion, anyone, regardless of their background or societal expectations, can achieve greatness in the world of adventure.


Through their remarkable accomplishments, these mountaineers have become symbols of empowerment and resilience, encouraging us all to reach for new heights in our own lives. They have taught us that success is not just about reaching the summit but also about the journey, the challenges, and the lessons learned along the way.


Their legacies extend far beyond mountaineering. These women have become advocates for gender equality, environmental conservation, and the pursuit of dreams. They have inspired future generations to challenge stereotypes, embrace adventure, and protect our planet for future explorers.


As we reflect on the tales of Wanda Rutkiewicz, Junko Tabei, Pasang Lhamu Sherpa, Lydia Bradey, Krystyna Palmowska, Alison Hargreaves, Kitty Calhoun, Arlene Blum, Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner, and Edurne Pasaban, let us remember that their achievements were not merely personal triumphs. They transcended the boundaries of mountaineering, leaving an indelible mark on the world and inspiring us all to dare, dream, and forge our paths.


Whether we are scaling mountains, conquering personal goals, or making a difference in our communities, their stories remind us that we are capable of remarkable achievements. They ignite the spark within us, urging us to overcome obstacles, challenge ourselves, and embrace the spirit of adventure that resides deep within each of us.


Let us celebrate these extraordinary women and carry their legacies with us as we embark on our own journeys. May their stories continue to inspire and empower us to embrace the unknown, defy limitations, and create positive change in our lives and the world around us.