Cathy O'Dowd (born in 1968) is a South African rock climber, mountaineer, author and motivational speaker, famous for being the first woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest from both south (25 May 1996) and north sides (29 May 1999).
Cathy O’Dowd, grew up in Johannesburg, South Africa, and attended top girls' school St. Andrew's School for Girls. She has climbed since her university days. At 21 she took part in her first mountain expedition, to the Ruwenzori in central Africa.
Southeast ridge route
Towards the end of 1995, she was finishing a Masters degree in Media Studies at Rhodes University when she applied for a place on the First South African Everest Expedition, and was selected to join the expedition. The team followed the route made famous by Edmund Hillary. Despite being the novice on the team, she reached the summit on 25 May 1996. One member of the South African party, 37 year-old Bruce Herrod died on the descent, and considerable controversy ensued. Both O'Dowd and Ian Woodall were accused of abandoning Herrod and falsifying the account of their separation. It was during the same climbing season, two weeks earlier, that six members of two other expeditions, as well as their experienced guides, American Scott Fischer and the New Zealander Rob Hall, had succumbed to the intense cold of a severe blizzard on their descent from the summit.
North ridge route
In 1998 she attempted the difficult north side of Everest, where George Mallory had disappeared in 1924. Her attempt ended hours from the summit when she came across Francys Arsentiev, a dying American woman. O'Dowd and some of her party decided to turn around and descend, leaving Arsentiev behind. Two of the Sherpas went on to the summit. A moving and harrowing account of this decision was told to Michael Buerk on the BBC Radio 4 programme 'The Choice' aired in November 2009. In 1999 she returned, and on this occasion succeeded, becoming the first woman in the world to climb Everest from both north and south sides. In 2000 she became the fourth woman to climb Lhotse, the world's fourth highest mountain.
East face route
In 2003 she made an unsuccessful attempt at a new route up the notorious east face of Everest.
In the spring of 2004 she joined British woman Rona Cant and Norwegian Per-Thore-Hansen on a dog-sled expedition of 650 km through the remote wastes of the Norwegian Arctic, from Styggedalen to Nordkapp, the most northerly point in Europe.
- Everest: Free To Decide - Cathy O'Dowd & Ian Woodall (Struik Publishers 1998) ISBN 1-86872-101-9
- Just for the love of it - Cathy O'Dowd (Free To Decide Publishers 2001) ISBN 0-620-24782-7
- Cathy O'Dowd - Extrembergsteigerin
- Profile - Telegraph
- Death on Everest
- News From Nepal - Latest Issue
- Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer | Outside Online
- MountainZone.com | Guides from the 1996 Everest Tragedy Exchange Their Views of the Deadly Climb in an Open Forum on The Mountain Zone
- Guardian Unlimited | Archive Search
- Cindy-Lou Dale | Writer, Reporter & Photo-Journalist
- The Team - Nordkapp 2004