Alison Hargreaves, one of Britain’s all-time greatest mountaineers that climbed Everest solo, unsupported
Alison Hargreaves

Alison Hargreaves, who was born in Derbyshire in 1962, came from a middle-class family who supported her mountain hobbies. When she was eight years old, she climbed Crib Goch while wearing wellies. Her father brought her climbing, hillwalking, and doing other outdoor activities. As a teenager, Alison’s bedroom was adorned with posters of the sport that she cherished the most. While she was absorbed in works such as “The White Spider,” she was surrounded by pictures of mountains and climbers.

One of the most accomplished mountaineers in the history of the United Kingdom was Alison Hargreaves. She embarked on daring and ambitious alpine trips in the Himalayas at a time when there were very few female climbers making news. In 1995, she climbed Everest without any assistance or assistance from anybody else. Two months later, she passed away in a storm on K2, and the media turned their attention to her, asking how a mother of two young children could place herself in such dangerous situations. Because of her death, the double standards that are imposed on male and female climbers were brought to light.

In 1976, Alison’s family took a trip to the Austrian Alps, and in 1977, she went on a school trip to Norway. Both of these experiences contributed to the growth of her passion for mountains. Bev, a friend of hers, accompanied the girls, who were 15 years old at the time, on their journey to the Arctic Circle, where they remained in Rago National Park to record glacier retreat.

In the Peak District, Bev and Alison were frequent participants in rock climbing activities. It was significant that there were two females on a rope because the climbing environment was dominated by men, competitive, and hierarchical. However, Alison did not feel self-conscious about being a woman climber. Alison was not advocating for a feminist cause, in contrast to the Polish mountaineer Wanda Rutkiewicz and the British rock climber Jill Lawrence. Alison was a free spirit who pursued her passion. She was determined, strong-willed, naughty, and energetic.

At the age of 18, she embarked on a rapid pathway to becoming an adult. Although her parents had anticipated that she would attend college, she ended up moving in with an older man. They couldn’t believe it. Alison encountered Jim Ballard when she was sixteen years old and working in his outdoor business. Jim Ballard was sixteen years her senior.

Jim provided him with a sense of material stability, a respite from the pressures of his parents, and a conduit into maturity. He was a member of the climbing scene that she adored so much and had the potential to assist her in making progress in the world that she desired. He eventually became her business partner, as well as her coach and love boyfriend. She was expected to fulfil a typical domestic duty at home, which was the limit of the anarchy that she could tolerate. She put forth a lot of effort, but she quickly realized that her best efforts were not sufficient.

Alison, who was determined and ambitious, had the goal of becoming a great climber. There was more than one source of pressure coming from within. Jim was just as eager to see her achieve success as she was, as her biographers Ed Douglas and David Rose explain in their book Regions of the Heart: “Jim was as vicariously ambitious for her as she was herself.” As far as he was concerned, Alison was the finest female rock climber in the world, or at the very least, she was going to be within the next few years.

It was a significant burden to lay such a lofty objective on the shoulders of a young person, especially considering that Alison did not possess the innate capacity to accomplish such an ambitious objective. Even though she was a competent climber, Alison had only climbed a few E3s, in contrast to her contemporaries Catherine Destivelle and Lynn Hill, who were climbing E6/5.12s.

Alison made the transition from rock climbing to mountaineering so that she could continue to hold the position of world-leading athlete that she believed she should have. This was a very astute approach. Her body was able to adjust effectively to the high altitude and the wide range of talents that were necessary. At that point, she began to come into her own.

It was in 1986 when she was just 24 years old when she received the offer of a lifetime to climb in the Himalayas with Jeff Lowe, an American alpinist who is known all over the globe. When they ascended Kangtega (6,782 meters), a challenging peak that had been climbed for the first time in 1963, they did it in collaboration with Tom Frost and Mark Twight. Alison, who was eager to demonstrate her worth on this all-male American trip, put in a lot of effort, and on May 1st, she led Mark Twight over a steep ice face in order to reach the top of the main peak.

Following that, Twight penned an essay that had a significant impact on the voyage. The article that he wrote provides a taste of the culture that Alison experienced while she was on high-altitude trips. The literature of Twight is characterized by a sardonic punk attitude, emphasizing the macho energy that is associated with alpinism. He did not make a single mention of Alison.

As Lowe and Twight followed Kangtega, they abandoned Alison to attempt a route on Nuptse, which is 7861 meters in elevation. Alison felt a deep sense of disappointment at the fact that she had been abandoned. Sandy Allan, who was looking for a partner on the south face of Lhotse Shar (8383m) after his last partner had been wounded by a serac fall, was presented with the opportunity to meet her. After reaching a height of 6,500 meters, Alison and Allan were compelled to retreat due to the presence of glaciers.

In spite of the difficulties and disappointments she encountered on Kangtega and Lhotse Shar, Alison had the impression that she was making progress toward her goals of climbing a large peak. However, after we got off the mountain, things became harder.

She put forth a lot of effort toward her training and worked at Faces, the climbing equipment firm that Jim owned and operated. Faces provided equipment to Jim’s Bivouac stores. Her journal, which is currently held by her mother, indicates that she suffered from chronic poor self-esteem, periods of loneliness, periods of directionlessness, and despair. However, she was forced to live alone. In her journal, which her biographers have seen and which has been published in the media, Alison makes a reference to the factors that led to these issues.

She penned the following note in 1983: “Enormous row and fite (sic).” Concerned when they were booted… I’m upset because JB told me that I didn’t take care of him.

‘JB beat me up again, banged and kicked me in snow,’ she wrote in 1987 and referred to the incident.

Along the same lines, she wrote in 1989, “I have nowhere else to go.”

According to her biographers, the violence was just the tip of the iceberg when it came to the problem. In an interview that was conducted in 1999 for The Herald and titled “Courage under Fire,” Ed Douglas reveals that the incident was “the tip of the nature of his controlling behavior.” Within the context of the relationship, she had found herself becoming increasingly constrained and narrowly focused. Not only did she not have a large number of friends, but she also did not play a significant role in the climbing community. She was under the impression that her life was slipping away from her and that everything had gone wrong. It was a life that was really onerous for her in many different ways.

There are other mountaineers in this series that have a history of domestic violence, and Alison Hargreaves is not the first one doing so. Ellen Weeton, an early climber, likewise embarked on solitary mountain treks in order to heal from a traumatic marriage. Wanda Rutkiewicz’s brother, who was seven years old at the time, was killed by a bomb, and her father was murdered, even though she never found herself in a violent relationship. As a means of coping with traumatic experiences, how many mountaineers have sought out the tremendous highs and sufferings that the mountains have to offer?

Alison attempted to scale the north face of the Eiger in 1988, with the intention of achieving one more peak before she would be confined for a period of time. She was six weeks along in her pregnancy. She sought medical consultation, and the physician believed that the dangers were minimal. However, he cautioned her that a large excursion to Alaska, which was her initial intention, may seem “unseemly,” so he suggested that she go mountain climbing in the Alps instead.

It was unknown terrain for me to go alpine climbing during the second trimester of my pregnancy. The ascent was accomplished by Alison, although it was a challenging endeavor. As the baby kicked inside of her, she had a difficult time sleeping on the bivouacs. Her legs were swelled to the point of ballooning, and she walked away, tired. According to her climbing companion, she did not appear pregnant before, but she did after she had the pregnancy.

By the time she was 28 years old, Alison had already given birth to two children and was juggling a multitude of obligations, such as taking care of the children, managing the household, working for the company, and working toward her dream of being a professional climber. She made history in 1993 by being the first person of either gender to solo all six big north faces of the Alps in a single season. This accomplishment may have been accomplished in spite of or possibly as a result of those obligations.

She writes about the ascents in the book that she and Jim wrote together, which is titled A Hard Day’s Summer. The book offers a beautiful image of summer in the Alps, with Jim taking care of the children while Alison left them behind to climb her routes alone in the heights. Jim drove between valleys and campgrounds while Alison was in the Alps. One crucial piece of information that is lacking is the fact that the family was in a precarious situation. As a result of the failure of the business and the subsequent repossession of their house, they were now homeless. The traditional gender roles were reversed: Alison became the earner, rising out of a situation that was quite precarious in the expectation that her employment would save the family.

She had not given up. On the thirteenth of May in 1995, she made history by being the first British woman to climb Everest without the assistance of Sherpas or any other climbers. She did it without the use of supplementary oxygen. This accomplishment garnered a great deal of attention, which thrust Alison into the spotlight, which is a double-edged sword in the world of publicity. Even though Catherine Destivelle had successfully courted the French media and Wanda Rutkiewicz was received with acclaim in Poland (she even saw the Pope), the press in the United Kingdom was dubious about her. It was a risky thing for a British woman, especially one who was also a mother, to be a strong female climber since she was not just an athlete but also a risk-taker.

During the summer of 1995, Alison had a goal that was even more ambitious than climbing Everest. She had the goal of climbing all three of the highest mountains in the world without any assistance. However, as a result of the surge of attention that followed Everest, the strain was alleviated. The ascent of K2 and Kangchenjunga was no longer necessary for her to establish her reputation. However, she was, as is her custom, functioning under the weight of many different stresses. After a period of deliberation that lasted for years, she had finally made the choice to purchase a home and was beginning to formulate preliminary preparations to become a single parent.
She missed an early weather window at K2, the climber’s peak, and she waited for weeks in basecamp in a fretful condition, caught between the two loves in her life: both of her husbands and her boyfriend’s girlfriend.

“The desire to have children and the desire to have K2 chip away at me,” she said. “I have the sensation that I am being torn in two.” The item from Alison’s diary that was published in The Herald

She continued on and ultimately reached the top of K2 on August 13th, when circumstances were favourable. However, while the climbers were making their way down, a terrible storm swept in. Seven individuals, including Alison, fell victim to winds of more than one hundred miles per hour. She had reached the age of 33.

As a result of her passing, the media began to insult climbing moms in a widespread manner. The critics Nigella Lawson and Polly Toynbee were particularly vicious in their criticism of the situation. He wrote, “Toynbee:”

The fact that Alison Hargreaves acted in a manner that was typical of a guy is what makes her so fascinating. It was the threat to her family that she prioritized above everything else. I am worried that equality means that men should act in the same manner as women, while women should occasionally behave in the same manner as men.

This kind of conversation brought to light the inequality between the sexes as well as the expectations that families had pertaining to women. When a father passed away in the mountains, he continued to be a hero, and his children should have been unaffected by his passing.

The practice of combining climbing and parenting continues to be contentious, and women continue to get the majority of the criticism. People who were born about the same time as Alison, such as Lynn Hill and Catherine Destivelle, did not have children until much later in life. Hill was 42 years old, while Destivelle was 37 years old. During an interview that took place after Alison was born, Destivelle declined to criticize her:

“I am unable to accomplish what Alison accomplished since I now have Victor. On the other hand, when a guy passes away climbing a mountain, people do not think about children. The act of climbing is something that a lady does. It was Alison’s decision, and there is no reason why she shouldn’t have made it.

After witnessing what transpired with Alison, Destivelle predicted the reaction of the media to climbing moms. ‘Mother of all Climbdowns’ was the title of her interview that was published in The Independent. The article reported on how Destivelle had prioritized her family above climbing mountains.

The situation has progressed a little bit. Helen Mort was awarded the Boardman-Tasker writing prize for her work “A Line Above the Sky,” which was a love letter to Alison Hargreaves and explored motherhood and mountains. The book was published in the previous year.

Shauna Coxsey and Caroline Ciavaldini, two of the most accomplished climbers in the world, have discussed their experiences climbing while under the influence of pregnancy and motherhood. The story that they are constructing is one that raises awareness, education, and support for mothers and their children. This narrative is being created through interviews, social media, and films. On the other hand, moms continue to be subjected to criticism and abuse over thirty years after Alison’s passing. In the year 2022, Shauna Coxsey made public her experiences with the online bullying she endured while she was navigating the challenges of pregnancy.

Alison Hargreaves’s life was brief but full with exciting experiences. She experienced both soaring heights and terrible lows as a result of the immense social, emotional, financial, and athletic strain she was under. While juggling an excessive number of obstacles, she did all in her power to become the first professional female climber in the United Kingdom. In the year 1995, Alison felt as though she had conquered the entire world, but many people were unaware of the magnitude of the challenges she had overcome.


In the year 2015, Tom Ballard, the son of Alison, made history by being the first climber to solo climb all six of the main alpine north faces during a single winter season. Four years later, at the age of thirty, he passed away on Nanga Parbat.


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