Posts Tagged ‘K2’

Remembering Alison

Thursday, May 13th, 2010

Today is an anniversary that will probably pass unnoticed outside the mountaineering world. It was on 13th May 1995 that Alison Hargreaves became the first woman to climb Everest solo, and without supplementary oxygen. In fact, only Reinhold Messner before her had climbed Everest completely unaided. I remember it well. I interviewed her in the summer of 1994, just before she set off on her first attempt at the mountain.

We were at her cottage in Derbyshire, on a lovely sunny day. She made me a cup of tea, and we chatted while her two small children played in the garden. The talk revolved around her climbing, her children, where she saw herself going. She’d dabbled in making products for the outdoors – small camera cases and gaiters – but dropped out after a few years to concentrate on her climbing. I shall always remember her parting shot, as I asked her what she thought she would be doing in 10 years time.

“All I know is I could never not have a life in climbing,” she told me. Words which of course proved tragically prophetic. Her first attempt on Everest was unsuccessful, so she went back the following Spring. By then she’d come up with the idea of climbing unaided the “Big Three” – Everest, K2 and Kangchenjunga.

K2 was next, the world’s second highest mountain, but vastly more difficult than Everest. In August 1995 she entered the record books as the first woman to climb the two highest mountains in the world without supplementary oxygen. But a horrific storm prevented her and five other climbers from descending the mountain, and all were lost. The subsequent press frenzy concentrated rather more on her fitness as a mother than her extraordinary achievements.

I was at an outdoors trade show in Germany when she died, and I remember the great sadness that pervaded the event, and the abandoned stand of her main sponsor, hung with a sign displaying Alison’s favourite Tibetan saying: “It is better to have lived one day as a tiger than a thousand years as a sheep.”

Fifteen years on, and Alison’s eldest child, Tom Ballard, now 21 and a very talented climber himself, has taken up the mantle. He will be attempting to climb K2 later this year, and it will be filmed for the BBC. Doubtless those that tutted Alison Hargreaves will be tutting yet again. But those that tutt are without doubt the sheep of this world.