Marianne Schwankhart

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Torres del Paine
Cerro Torre

Marianne Schwankhart (born 2 September 1976) is a South African rock climber, specialising in big walls. In 2004 she became the first woman to scale the East face of the Central Torres del Paine in Chilean Patagonia. In February 2005 she climbed the "Compressor" route on Cerro Torre. On 21 August 2005 Schwankhart, in the company of Peter Lazarus, James Pitman and Andreas Kiefer reached the top of Trango Tower in Pakistan,[1] becoming the third woman to step on the summit.


Schwankhart was born in Johannesburg. She started her schooling in Plettenberg Bay and matriculated in 1994 in Johannesburg. From there she enrolled in a course of fashion design at the Witwatersrand Technikon, but soon changed to Fine Art. She started climbing in 1996 with the Witwatersrand Technikon Mountain Club, where Alard Hufner and Matthew Murison became her mentors and climbing companions. When they finished their studies in 1998 they set off for Europe. Schwankhart and Hufner worked in the UK for 6 months and then left for the States with Mike Mason and Dermot Brogan. Here they climbed in 9 different states over a period of 5 months including Yosemite, where they started on the "Leaning Tower" and then went on to climb "The Nose" and "The Zodiac" on El Capitan in August 1999 - their first experience of big walls. Schwankhart returned briefly to South Africa at the end of 1999 before returning to the UK to resume work. While there she explored climbing areas in England, France and Spain. Her interest in photography grew to the extent that she decided to study photography in South Africa, joined the National college of Photography in 2001 and finished her diploma by the end of that year.

In 2002 she worked briefly at the Sowetan newspaper before joining the Sunday Times. At the end of 2003, she, Alard Hufner, Mark Seuring, Mike Mason, Dermot Brogan and Voytek Modrevski set out to do a second ascent of the Torres del Paine route, which the South African team led by Paul Fatti had climbed 30 years earlier and had never been repeated. She became the first woman to ever climb the east face of the central tower. In early 2005 she returned to Patagonia and climbed the "Compressor Route" on Cerro Torre with Douard le Roux. In August of the same year she climbed the Nameless Tower in Pakistan with Peter Lazarus, James Pitman and Andreas Kiefer. June 2006 saw her embarking on her first adventure documentary film with James Pitman and microlight pilot Mike Blyth. They set out to climb the 3 biggest faces in Southern Africa, with all approaches via microlight. It took 2 weeks to cover more than 5 000 km and 3 big walls being Blouberg, Spitzkoppe, and "Oceans of Fear", a route on the Klein Winterhoek Mountains of the Western Cape. Their movie was shown at the Banff Mountain Film Festival in 2007.

In April 2007 she moved from the Sunday Times to The Times, a daily newspaper, and continued to document news events. In early 2008 she returned to the Torres del Paine in Chile and climbed all three of the towers via the Monzino route, Bonington route, and the North ridge of the South Tower. Two years later, in 2010, she attempted Fitzroy with Andreas Kiefer, but had bad luck with the weather. Instead they climbed various routes on the other peaks in the Fitzroy range - De la S, Guillemette, Rafael.

Later that year, she joined Pierre Carter, as project photographer, in his bid to paraglide off the summit of the highest mountain on each continent. Schwankhart and Carter flew in tandem in order for her to capture the full experience on film. In July 2010 they flew off Mount Elbrus in Russia, the highest mountain in Europe. In December of the same year they summitted Aconcagua in Argentina, the highest mountain in South America, but could not fly from the summit due to gale-force winds. In September 2011, they successfully flew off the summit of Kilimanjaro.

At the same time, she joined the 'Sunday Times Travel Weekly' as a full-time adventure photographer with journalist, Claire Keeton. Together they travel the subcontinent in search of adventure activities as holiday destinations.

In January 2012, she explored and climbed some of the big walls in the Cochamo valley, Chile, with climbing partners Mark Seuring, Peter Lazarus and June Fabian.


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