Cathy O'Dowd

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Cathy O'Dowd (born in 1968) is a South African rock climber, mountaineer, author and motivational speaker. She was the first woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest from both south (25 May 1996) and north sides (29 May 1999).[1][2]

Cathy O’Dowd grew up in Johannesburg, South Africa, and attended 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.[3]

Everest expeditions[edit]

Southeast ridge route[edit]

Towards the end of 1995, she was finishing a master's 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 used by Edmund Hillary. She reached the summit on 25 May 1996. One member of the South African party, 37-year-old Bruce Herrod, died on the descent, his body was discovered the following year by an Indonesian expedition party lead by Anatoli Boukreev

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.[4][5]

North ridge route[edit]

In 1998 she attempted the 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.[6][7] She described this decision 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 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.[1]

East face route[edit]

In 2003 she made an unsuccessful attempt at a new route up the east face of Everest.

Other expeditions[edit]

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 Norwegian Arctic, from Styggedalen to Nordkapp, the most northerly point in Europe.[8]

Cathy O'Dowd has climbed mountains across southern and central Africa, in South America, in the Alps and in the Himalaya. She remains an active mountaineer, rock-climber and skier.

She married the First South African Everest Expedition leader Ian Woodall in 2001 and is currently living in Andorra in the Pyrenees.[9]


  • 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

See also[edit]


External links[edit]