There was a period in recent history where women were not permitted to attend climbs of the world’s tallest mountains. The Himalayas, Everest, even lesser expeditions- these climbs were considered out of a woman’s athletic abilities.
Scientist and avid mountain climber Arlene Blum had been kept from high-altitude climbs for a number of reasons, including feelings among male climbers that a woman would destroy the masculine brotherhood of their climbing groups, and the assumption that a woman could not be physically or mentally strong enough to complete the world’s hardest climbs.
And it wasn’t just Blum. Women were discouraged from climbing in general, and this glaring lack of expectations moved Blum to act.
She organized several women-only climbs and treks, including the American Women’s Himalayan Expedition. This expedition aimed to give women the experience to join mixed gender treks, as well as give women the experience to be able to lead their own climbs. They chose to climb Annapurna, a part of the Himalayas and the tenth highest summit in the world at 26 thousand feet.
The expedition was backed by the American Alpine club, and supported by National Geographic and Johnson & Johnson. The group also sold these shirts to fund their expedition:
If you want an original Annapurna Women’s Expedition tee, you can find one in our store HERE!
In 1978, the climb commenced. Ten women began the climb, armed with extensive training and the desire to succeed. While Blum herself did not make it to the summit, four climbers did. This group included the first two Americans (and first two American women) to reach the peak of Annapurna.
The climb was fraught with avalanches, frostbite, and conflict. And sadly, as is common with high-altitude climbs, two climbers, Alison Chadwick-Onyszkiewicz and Vera Wilson, died on the tumultuous journey.
Aided by second-wave feminism sentiments, Arlene Blum’s expedition pushed for acceptance of the reality that women needed to be respected in more than just the home and traditionally female occupations for any level of gender equality to be reached. A male-dominated society, as it was, could not simply hand women voting and property rights without also changing their expectations for what women could achieve.
The Annapurna Women’s Expedition was just one example of how women of the 70s and 80s pushed back against the notion that they were objectively dissimilar to men, and that this divide could somehow keep them from some of the highest levels of success
Take inspiration from Arlene Blum: go climb a mountain, because you belong at the top!