On this day in history : 13th May 1995 – British mother Alison Hargreaves becomes the first woman to conquer Everest without oxygen or the help of Sherpas – only to die tragically three months later….

Mount Everest – Image credit : Pavel Novak CC BY-SA 2.5

Alison was born on the 17th of February 1962 and spent her childhood in Belper, Derbyshire where she attended Belper High School…. She married James Ballard and in 1995 they moved to Spean Bridge in the Scottish Highlands, close to suitable conditions for her training….

For it was Alison’s intention to climb in 1995 the three highest mountains in the world – Everest, K2 and Kanchenjunga – and her aim was to do it unaided….

She arrived at base camp on Mount Everest on the 11th of April….and on the 13th of May, at 12.08 local time (7.23am) in Britain) she reached the 29,028ft summit…. She had done it without the aid of Sherpas or bottled oxygen – and was the second ever person to do so – the first being Reinhold Messner in 1980…. On reaching the summit Alison immediately radioed back to base camp as she wanted to get a message home to her husband and two children, 6-year-old Tom and 4-year-old Kate….

After a short break back in Scotland she set out in the June of 1995 for her climb of K2…. She was joining an American team who had a permit to climb the world’s second highest mountain, at 28,251ft and located in Pakistan….

K2 – Image credit : Maria Ly – CC BY 2.0

By the 13th of August the team had joined forces with teams from New Zealand and Canada…. Then on arriving at Camp 4, around 12 hours from the summit, they joined a Spanish team….

At 6.45pm on the 13th Alison and Spaniard Javier Oliver reached the summit of K2 – shortly afterwards American Rob Slater, New Zealander Bruce Grant and Javier Escartin and Lorenzo Ortiz from the Spanish team arrived…. It is unclear exactly what happened next….

The following day two other Spanish climbers were descending the mountain when they came across equipment they recognised as Alison’s – and a blood stained anorak…. In the distance a body could be seen – but it was impossible to get to and so was never formerly identified – but it was believed to be Alison….It appears she had been blown off of the mountain…. All six members of the team had been killed…. Witnesses on the mountain at the time said there was a sudden violent mountain storm with winds reaching 100mph….

Alison had died exactly three months to the day following her jubilant conquest of Mount Everest…. Her son, Tom, was to also to go on to become a climber….becoming the first to climb solo all six great north faces of the Alps in one single winter…. He died in 2019, whilst climbing the 9th highest mountain in the world, Nanga Parbat – the western anchor of the Himalayas….

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