American Women's Himalayan Expedition

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The American Women's Himalayan Expedition was a 1978 expedition to Annapurna which placed the first two women, and first Americans, on its summit. The expedition was led by Arlene Blum and consisted of ten women, mostly American, and six sherpas. On October 15, Vera Komarkova, Irene Miller, Mingma Tshering Sherpa and Chewang Ringjin Shepa summitted Annapurna via the Dutch Route.[1]


The all woman nature of the expedition was designed by Arlene and Alison Chadwick-Onyszkiewicz during a 1972 expedition on Noshaq. Arlene, who having previously been rejected from high altitude expeditions as a woman[2] stated “Few American women ever get a chance to climb that high, to lead, or even to participate in a major expedition. No American woman [had] ever climbed to 8000 meters, and only seven women from any country [had] ever climbed that high. We [hoped] this climb [would] give a number of women sufficient experience so that they can be invited on mixed expeditions, or organize their own." [3]

The team spent a year raising the money neede for the climb, mostly by selling T-shirts with the slogan, A Woman’s Place is on Top.[4] They also received sponsorship from the American Alpine Club and support from the National Geographic Society and Johnson & Johnson.[3]


Led by Blum, they underwent psycholocial tests and individual training programs.[5] They reported being determined to forge their own leadership methods and styles independent of the male lead expeditions before them.[6]

They approached the mountain siege style, leaving Pokhara with more than 12,000 pounds (5,400 kg) of supplies. Annapurna is known for its avalanches, and this season was no exception with the first of many hitting camp one on September 26. They had reached camp four by October 8, and planned to setup a final camp before the summit.

The first summit team consisting of Vera Komarkova, Irene Miller, Mingma Tsering Sherpa and Chewang Ringjin Sherpa reached the top on October 15. Chadwick-Onyszkiewicz and Watson were keen to make a second summit attempt with a large team, however many expedition members were sick, had frostbite, or were exhausted from recent summit attempts. They decided to continue anyway, with only Wangyel left at camp five. They failed to make a scheduled radio call, and their bodies were found by Lhakpa Norbu and Mingma below camp four, three days later.[7][8]

Historical significance[edit]

Initial reports from the New York Times called the climb an inspiration to women, noting that women's mountaineering in America had 'come of age'.[9][10] Blum's book on the expedition, Annapurna: A Woman's Place, was cited by Kitty Calhoun as an inspiration to later mountaineers.[7]

At the time, the expedition received some criticism by men, including David Roberts, for having Sherpas forge a path to the summit on an all women's expedition and for perceived poor decision making leading to the deaths of Alison and Vera.[11] This was denounced by Blum as hypocritical, since there were no objections to Sherpa forged paths on recent all-male expeditions and that (at the time) there had been one death for every summit on Annapurna.[12] The expedition gained some attention due to its symbolism and relevance to second wave feminism.[6]


  1. ^ "Victory on Annapurna proves women capable on dangerous peaks". Christian Science Monitor. 18 November 1980. Retrieved 8 February 2018 – via Christian Science Monitor.
  2. ^ "Climb Every Mountain - Jewish Women's Archive". Retrieved 8 February 2018.
  3. ^ a b "American Women's Himalayan Expedition, Annapurna 1 - AAC Publications - Search The American Alpine Journal and Accidents". Retrieved 8 February 2018.
  4. ^ "A Woman's Place Is on Top". Wired. 2005-09-26. Retrieved 2018-02-08.
  5. ^ Kramar, Piro; Drinkwater, Barbara L. (1980). "Women on Annapurna". The Physician and Sportsmedicine. 8 (3): 93–99. doi:10.1080/00913847.1980.11948582. PMID 29256747.
  6. ^ a b "XX Factor: A Woman's Place Is On Top". 2017-04-11. Retrieved 25 February 2018.
  7. ^ a b Ives, Katie (11 April 2017). "An Oral History of the First U.S.—and Female—Ascent of Annapurna". Retrieved 8 February 2018.
  8. ^ Ed Viesturs, David Roberts (2011-10-04). The Will to Climb: Obsession and Commitment and the Quest to Climb Annapurna. ISBN 9780307720443. Retrieved 11 June 2018.
  9. ^ Grace Lichtenstein (11 November 1978). "Himalayan Scaling Called an Inspiration to Women". New York Times. Retrieved 10 June 2018.
  10. ^ Ruth Robinson (1977-10-10). "A Team of American Women Seeks to Scale Nepal's Heights". New York Times. Retrieved 10 June 2018.
  11. ^ Maurice Isserman, Stewart Angas Weaver, Dee Molenaar (2010). Fallen Giants: A History of Himalayan Mountaineering from the Age of Empire. p. 425. ISBN 978-0300164206. Retrieved 11 June 2018.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
  12. ^ Rassler, Brad (24 October 2016). "Climbing's Greatest Storyteller on the Fight of His Life". Retrieved 8 February 2018.