Women with Altitude

Recently I was asked “Why are there no women featured in the café photographs?” It was a valid question from a customer who was concerned that female climbers were under-represented and sometimes not at all. Although I could offer a reasonable justification, I could not argue with the facts. Therefore, I am grateful to Becky Bull for drawing my attention to this naïve omission and I hope that she and others will be happy to see our new display, ‘Women with Altitude’.

While women climbers were historically fewer in number and did not necessarily attract the attention of their male contemporaries, they were most certainly present across every climbing era. Some may not be household names but they all deserve recognition for their pioneering spirit and skill whether as rock climbers, alpinists or authors.

Women with Altitude includes portraits of:

Beatrice Tomasson (1859-1947)

An English mountaineer who climbed extensively in the Dolomites, Beatrice Tomasson is best known for her first ascent of the south face of the Marmolada in 1901.  This 2500’ climb on the biggest face on the highest Dolomite peak was her inspiration and was completed with her guides Michele Bettega and Bartolo Zagonel.

Beverly Johnson (1947-1994)

At 24, Beverly Johnson was an established member of the Camp-4 community in Yosemite. She was part of the first all-female ascent of El Capitan and the first woman to solo Dihedral Wall in 1978. Johnson also skied across Greenland, windsurfed across the Bering Straits, was the first person to cross the Straits of Magellan solo in an open kayak and the first person to pilot an autogyro in Antarctica.

Junko Tabei (1939-2016)

Junko Tabei was a Japanese mountaineer who founded the Ladies Climbing Club: Japan (LCC) in 1969. The club's slogan was "Let's go on an overseas expedition by ourselves", and was the first of its kind in Japan. She was the first woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest, and the first woman to ascend all Seven Summits by climbing the highest peak on every continent.

Josephine Flood née Scarr (1936-)

An English-born Australian archaeologist, mountaineer, and author, Josephine Flood led the Women’s Kulu Expedition in 1961, and the following year joined the Women’s Jagdula Expedition to Lha Shamma in Nepal. Her book Four Miles High tells the story of these two expeditions and overland drive to India to reach them. In 1961 she was the first woman to lead Cenotaph Corner.

Wanda Rutkiewicz (1943-1992)

Wanda Rutkiewicz was a Polish mountain climber and the first woman to successfully summit K2, which she did without supplemental oxygen. Her goal was to become the first woman to summit all fourteen of the 8000m peaks. She successfully climbed eight before dying on Kangchenjunga. It’s not known whether she reached the summit.

Lynn Hill (1961-)

For most climbers, Lynn Hill needs little introduction. She was widely regarded as one of the world’s leading sport climbers from 1986 to 1992, winning over thirty international titles. She is famous for making the first free ascent of The Nose on El Capitan, Yosemite in 1993, and for repeating it the following year in less than 24 hours. Hill has been described as both one of the best female climbers in the world and one of the best climbers of all time.

Elizabeth Coxhead (1909-1979)

Elizabeth Coxhead wrote the classic novel, One Green Bottle, now acknowledged as one of the best British mountain-climbing novels ever published. It centres on 18-year-old Cathy Canning, a working-class girl from Birkenhead who escapes into climbing in North Wales. Coxhead was a proficient climber herself and according to historians in her hometown, her motto for climbing was, `A sport is advanced by the handful of people who do it brilliantly, but it is kept sweet and sane by the great numbers of the mediocre, who do it for fun’.

Henriette d’Angeville (1794-1871)

Henriette d'Angeville was a descendant of a French aristocratic family. Following her grandfather’s execution and father’s imprisonment in the French Revolution, the family moved to the mountains, where she became an enthusiastic walker. In 1838, she became the second woman to climb Mont Blanc (Maria Paradis was the 1st in 1808). Her book My Ascent of Mont Blanc was not translated into English until 1992.

The photographs in the Women with Altitude display were sourced from the Ken Wilson archive. Most of these are black & white images taken during the 1960s and 1970s at the time he was editor of the influential magazine Mountain. He was particularly good at producing detailed crag shots, fine portraits and being in the right place at the right time e.g. first ascents at Gogarth including the likes of Joe Brown and Peter Crew. The Wilson Archive also contains an excellent collection of slides and prints sent in by climbers from all around the world, many of which were included in Mountain or in books published by Wilson under the banner of Diadem or Bâton Wicks.

The Outside Café also exhibits artwork and photography by Phil Gibson, Tim Hulley, Stuart Johnson, Katherine Rhodes and Sarah Tasker. Their work can be purchased through the shop. 

By Chris Harle
The 'Book Man'

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Chris Harle
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