Written by Anne Bialek
For a long time, the mountains were the domain of men, and few women took up this physical and technical sport.
Today, however, times have changed and women are making their mark in the mountains!
More and more of them are even becoming high mountain guides.
Our Andean climber in the Thaki team, Anne Bialek, was the 1st woman to climb all the peaks over 6000m in Bolivia.
What’s more, she regularly opens routes and makes films of her expeditions to promote the beautiful mountains of her adopted country. Just last week, she set off to climb Calzada in the company of a young cholita, Flora, with whom she shares a passion for the mountains and passes on her love of exploration.
A number of women have left their mark on the history of mountaineering, and their passion for the mountains has influenced Anne to the point where she decided to radically change her life. Below are some of the most important figures and their exploits or sporting adventures that have gone down in the history of the great mountaineers….of course, the list is not exhaustive, but these are the events that most affected Anne…
At the dawn of my 40s, I was feeling frustrated and restricted in my professional life… I was looking for a meaning to my life… I dreamt of freedom, exoticism, travel, adventure and above all climbing mountains.
I was inspired, through my reading, by the discovery of Christine Janin, mountaineer, doctor and founder of the association A Chacun son Everest. This woman climbed the highest mountains in the world and offered her strength and energy, gained from her life experiences, to help people in difficulty, particularly children with cancer – a beautiful and powerful idea.
Christine Janin, doctor and mountaineer, the first French woman to climb to the top of the world in 1990, the first European woman to complete the “Seven Summits” challenge in 1992 and the first woman in the world to reach the North Pole without mechanical means or sled dogs in 1997.
She was also the first French woman to reach 8,000 metres without oxygen in 1981 (Gasherbrum II 8035m).
She became my mentor in my radical change of life.
I discovered Elisabeth Revol just as I began to take an interest in the 8000 climbs, particularly in Pakistan and the Gasherbrum. While climbing an ‘8000’ in normal conditions already seemed to me to be a human exploit, this young woman of steely character was embarking on attempts to climb in winter and in the worst conditions. She left a lasting impression on me with her triple ascent of Broad Peak – Gasherbrum I – Gasherbrum II, solo and without oxygen, in 2008. Gasherbrum I and II were completed in a record time of 52 hours.
From 2013, her main Himalayan project became the ascent of Nanga Parbat in winter. She met Tomasz Mackiewicz, known as “Tomek”, a Polish mountaineer with a mystical fascination for Nanga Parbat. They made several winter attempts of Nanga Parbat, notably in 2013 and 2015. In January 2018, she was the beneficiary of an exceptional rescue in difficult conditions on the slopes of Nanga Parbat after successfully climbing with Tomek. On the descent, Tomek was suffering from pulmonary and cerebral oedema and was in a desperate state at 7,200m. Unfortunately, the rescuers were unable to rescue him by helicopter. Elisabeth went down on her own and was rescued thanks to the help of two Poles, Denis Urubko and Adam Bielecki. Being of Polish origin myself, I’m particularly touched by the achievements of the Poles in the history of mountaineering. Kukuczka was already my idol, and now I can add two more to the list! Elisabeth Revol was able to save her hands from amputation thanks to the intervention of Emmanuel Cauchy on her return to Sallanches! Elisabeth has just published a book retracing the story of her Nanga Parbat adventure: “Vivre”, published by Arthaud.
Sophie Lavaud is of French, Swiss and Canadian nationality. She was born in Lausanne and has been living in Geneva for over 15 years. After twelve years in the hotel industry in marketing and sales, she ran an events company for six years. She now divides her time between mountaineering and lecturing. On her first foray into high altitude, she climbed Shishapangama (8020 m) and Cho Oyu (8201 m) in May 2012. Around ten women in the world have climbed two peaks over 8,000 m in the same season. On 25 May 2014, Sophie reached the summit of Everest (8850 m) via the North Ridge.
When I found out about Sophie’s career, I immediately dreamt of meeting her. And it was quite simply that Sophie replied to my letter and suggested that we meet in Chamonix in February 2017! I discovered a wonderful, humble, determined and dynamic woman. I also identified with her career path, which has become a guideline for my future projects. She completed her first expedition and her first two “8000” at the age of 44. Since then, she has completed a series of expeditions while supporting an NGO in Nepal: http://norlha.org/fr/home-2/
Thank you Sophie for sharing this moment with us, for your sound advice, your experience, your mental strength, your dynamism and your humanity…..
I invite you to discover this Great Himalayan Climber with a Big Heart!
We met again at a “Women and Mountains” conference in Geneva in October 2018. Sophie is now two steps away from completing 14 “8000” summits. She now has 11 summits over 8000 metres to her name.
Book: “Une femme, sept sommets, dix secrets” published by FAVRE, Didier Chambaretaud. Sophie knows better than anyone how to explain the importance of teamwork in the success of a roped party.
I met Marion Poitevin at the “Femmes et Montagne” conference in Geneva in October 2018.
Marion Poitevin is the first woman to join the Groupe Militaire de Haute Montagne and is also the first female CRS mountain guide. She campaigns for women to dare to choose professions and statuses from which they have long been excluded. With her association “Lead the climb”, she organises weekends for women so that they can acquire mountaineering skills and dare to take the lead if they wish.
During this discussion on women and the mountains, I met a dynamic, determined and militant young woman. She fights for women to be present and recognised in the admittedly somewhat macho world of the mountains, with good humour, simplicity and humility. A wonderful encounter.
Nives Meroi is an Italian mountaineer who shot to fame by becoming the first woman to conquer ten peaks over 8,000 metres in 2007. At the time, she was competing with Edurne Pasaban and Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner to become the first woman to reach 14 8000 metres. Nives interrupted her 8,000-metre race, putting aside her chance to be the first woman to climb the 14,8000 to stay at the bedside of her husband, who had fallen seriously ill. She resumed her 8000 run once her husband had recovered.
Nives and Romaro, who married in 1989, made mountaineering history by completing the 14 8000+ summits in tandem without oxygen for the first time.
In 2017, she became the second woman after Gerlinde to complete all 14 8000 summits without oxygen and in alpine style.
Magnificent, poignant and touching book: “je ne te fera pas attendre” (I won’t keep you waiting) published by Editions du Mont Blanc, 2018.
I was particularly touched and moved by her book and this beautiful story that is both sporting and human.
Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner, Austrian: 1st woman to complete the 14 8000 without oxygen in 2011
I followed Gerlinde’s last 8000, K2, because at the time I was in contact with her husband Ralf, about a professional partnership with his travel agency Amical Alpin, which he eventually sold after his wife became the first woman to climb the 14 8000 without oxygen. This woman’s feat left a lasting impression on me because she was the first to do it without oxygen and alpine style.
The presence or absence of oxygen is not insignificant….. I learnt to climb in the Andes, on wild and sometimes still virgin summits, with no mountain rescue possible.
That’s when the notion of adventure takes on its full meaning. You have to be able to analyse the danger, know when to give up if it’s too great, and rely solely on yourself. But the notion of success also takes on its full meaning. When you reach the summit, you feel truly accomplished and proud, and you’ve conquered it alone, relying solely on yourself. This is how I want to approach my first ‘8000’ experience, going where I can in alpine style and without oxygen, even if it means not reaching the summit. But I think that the presence of oxygen is essential for the safety of climbers.
Ecuadorian Carla Perez:
In 2019, it’s not just Mike Horn who’s planning to venture up the world’s second highest mountain without oxygen. This season, South American Carla Perez is also on board. This Ecuadorian is known as one of the handful of climbers to have climbed Everest without oxygen.
An avid mountaineer who was encouraged by her father from an early age, she caught the high mountain bug when she was only a teenager. It was when she discovered the exploits of Ivan Vallejo, her compatriot with 14 8,000m peaks, that she wanted to be one of them! When she arrived in Grenoble at the age of 18 to continue her studies, she made progress on difficult climbs and learned to ski. After her studies, when an oil company offered her her first job in the heart of the Amazon rainforest, things just clicked. She had no intention of staying away from the mountains. She wanted to make a living out of it. Carla began guiding tourists in the Andes while she continued to progress, in particular alongside Ivan Vallejo, who had become her mentor.
Viridiana Alvarez , Mexican
7th Mexican woman to climb Everest with oxygen 2017
1st Latin American to climb K2 with oxygen 2018
In 2019, she was due to climb Kanchenjunga
Stéphanie Bodet: Grandes Voies climber, writer and Arnaud Petit’s partner. I met her through Jean Paul Petit, a loyal Thaki Voyage customer and friend. He told me about Arnaud and his partner Stéphanie.
Stéphanie Bodet isn’t a mountaineer, but I felt it was important to mention her because she has an incredible talent for writing and that allows you to see the mountain world through a woman’s eyes. She also has the strength of character to climb those Big Walls. She is known for her big route expeditions. Nothing would have prepared a little girl with asthma to become one of the best climbers in the world. And yet she did.
Jean-Christophe Rufin quotes: Stéphanie Bodet gives back to alpine literature a freshness and intensity that we thought had been lost.
Her book ‘A la verticale de soi’ is a real gem.
Stefi Troguet: the 27-year-old from Andorra has created a surprise this year. She appeared after climbing two consecutive summits, Nanga Parbat in July 2019 and Manaslu in September 2019.
At the age of 27, the climber and Instagrammer showed her determination with her first 8000-metre Nanga Parbat. Behind her shell of flashy outfits and lipsticks, she is first and foremost a top-level athlete, an “altitude addict”. This eternal, impatient enthusiast describes her ideal of happiness as “spending as much time away from home as possible, in the mountains”.
Since then, the young climber seems to have focused on a single goal that is becoming an obsession for her: reaching the summit of the 14 ochomiles of the planet without using bottled oxygen. And Stefi makes this known in every interview and in every one of her social networking posts, at a fairly active pace. This is precisely one of her strong points in terms of how to get sponsors, her high number of followers in the networks, which has about 40,000 followers between Facebook and Instagram.
Dr Sandra Cauchy-Léal, mountain doctor, sports doctor, hyperbaric doctor, head of the SportAltitude centre in Onex, a test centre for performance and training in intermittent hypoxia. Sandra and Emnauel Cauchy had set up this centre before the tragedy that took Manu’s life in the mountains in April 2018. Sandra is also a specialist doctor who answers the SOS MAM number provided by Altidoc, a tele-medicine telephone platform. This service had also been set up by Manu and Sandra before the tragedy.
Sandra is one of the women who have supported me, motivated me and helped me with my projects in the mountains. She’s a beautiful person who dedicates her life to the mountains, despite the painful ordeal the mountains have inflicted on her. Thank you Sandra!