10 May 2011

Cho Oyu 1959

It has been a while since I last posted something. I have been somewhat preoccupied by some research and archive work. Both have centred around the fascinating international all-women expedition of 1959 to Cho Oyu, the fifth highest mountain in the world. Here is a little bit of history...

In about 1958, Claude Kogan, a French swimwear designer and accomplished mountaineer, visited the Alpine Club in London to give a talk on Cho Oyu. Here she also presented her next venture: an international all-women expedition to put a woman on the top of Cho Oyu. Not only was Kogan obsessed to be the first woman on Cho Oyu, but she was also a feminist who strongly believed women were more suitable to high-altitude climbing than men. Three climbers from both the Ladies Alpine Club and the Pinnacle Club, Eileen Healey, Margaret Darvall and Countess Dorothea Gravina, were the British contingent, bringing in sponsorship from the UK newspaper The Daily Express.

Sadly, it was to end in tragedy when Claude Kogan, Claudine Van der Stratten and a sherpa were swept away as they were planning the final ascent from the final camp. To add to this, another sherpa perished in a separate avalanche during a desperate rescue attempt. With their leader and new climbing friends dead, the others abondoned the expedition and returned to find they had unwittingly reignited the debate about whether women should tackle such challenging climbs without help from men.

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