Vanessa O'Brien

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Vanessa O'Brien
Vanessa O'Brien at Aiguille du Midi
Born (1964-12-02) 2 December 1964 (age 53)
Grosse Pointe, MI, USA
Nationality American/British
Occupation Mountaineer, Explorer, Public Speaker
Known for 1) First American woman to summit K2 and first British woman to summit K2. 2) First woman Guinness World Record holder to summit the Seven Summits in 295 days. 3) First woman to complete the Explorers Grand Slam in less than one year.
Awards SES Explorer of The Year 2018

Vanessa Audi Rhys O'Brien (born 2 December 1964), is a British-American mountain climber, explorer, public speaker and former business executive. She became the first American woman to climb K2 and the first British woman to climb K2 (as a result of her dual nationality) on 28 July 2017, successfully leading a team of 12 members to the summit and back on her third attempt.[1][2][3] She is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society (RGS), a Fellow of The Explorers Club (TEC), and a Member of The Scientific Exploration Society (SES).[4][5]

O'Brien was awarded Explorer of The Year in 2018 by SES.[5] She climbed the highest peak on every continent and has a Guinness World Record for doing so in 295 days, setting a record for the fastest time a woman first achieved this goal.[6] O'Brien has also skied the last 60 nautical miles or 111 km to the South Pole and North Pole completing the Explorers Grand Slam in 11 months,[7][8] becoming the first woman to do so in under a calendar year and the 8th woman in the world to accomplish this.[9] In addition, O'Brien reached 200 mph riding with Mario Andretti at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2018[10], completed the Boston Marathon running 26.2 miles in 2017 to help the American Red Cross raise over $512,000 for charity.[11], and as part of a test of bulletproof clothing was shot at point blank range by Miguel Caballero with a .38 long revolver in 2013.[12][13]

Early life[edit]

Vanessa Audi Rhys O'Brien was born on 2 December 1964 and grew up in Grosse Pointe Farms, Michigan. After graduating from Grosse Pointe South High School, O'Brien briefly attended University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan and then New York University where she received her Bachelor of Arts in Economics.

Professional career[edit]

After receiving her BA from New York University, O'Brien joined the Financial Management Program at GE Capital. After graduating from the FMP program and winning the Pinnacle Award for outstanding performance, GE Capital sponsored O'Brien for an Executive MBA in Finance at the Stern School of Business, New York University. After GE Capital, O'Brien contributed to Capital One before moving overseas to hold various London-based positions as the Director of Finance and Business Development for Morgan Stanley, Barclays Bank, and the Bank of America.[14][15]

Advisory, board and research roles[edit]

O'Brien is an Honorary Ambassador of the US Nepal Climbers Association Inc.,[16] and is an active member of The American Alpine Club. She is a former Board member of the American Pakistan Foundation[17] and a former Advisory board member for Thomson Safaris.[18] O'Brien has contributed to a number of research and scientific projects including investigating the effects of nocturnal hypoxic exposure on high-altitude mountaineering (Explorers Club Flag No. 206 to Manaslu's summit at 26,759 feet[19]), testing the thinning of high altitude glaciers (Explorers Club Flag #132 to the Godwin-Austen Glacier at 16,500 feet[20]), and illustrating the impact of climate change at the equator in advance of COP21 in conjunction with Project 25Zero.[21]

Summits and poles[edit]

Having trekked to Mount Everest base camp and reached the summits of a number of notable mountains, including five of the world's fourteen 8,000-meter peaks (Shishapangma, Everest, Cho Oyu Manaslu, and K2), including summiting two eight thousanders back-to-back just 8 days apart (Shishapangma and Cho Oyu), O'Brien decided to build on her passion for mountaineering and set herself the challenge of achieving the Explorer's Grand Slam.[22] The Explorer's Grand Slam entails reaching the Seven Summits, the North and South Poles, as well as meeting the Three Pole Challenge.[23]

Motorsports (2015-2018)[edit]

In May 2018, O'Brien achieved 200 mph at Indianapolis Motor Speedway riding with Mario Andretti[10]. In April, O'Brien captured four race cars as they attempted to hit 300 mph in under 4 seconds during the NHRA’s Baptism by Nitro event at Charlotte Motor Speedway’s 4-wide zMAX Dragway[24].

O'Brien has the following photography credits at Forbes magazine for Motorsports in 2018 covering The National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) Four-Wide Nationals at zMAX Dragway in Charlotte, NC: Don Schumacher, Leah Pritchett, Tony Schumacher, and Antron Brown[25][26][27]. O'Brien also has the following photography credits at Forbes magazine for Motorsports in 2015 covering Pocono Raceway: Justin Wilson, Mario Andretti, Rick Mears, and Sage Karam[28][29][30][31]. Additional photos include Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi, Mike Hull, and Pippa Mann[32][33][34][35].

Mountaineering expeditions[edit]

O'Brien on top of K2 Summit, Northern Pakistan, 8,611m, on 28 July 2017, at the moment she becomes the first American woman to summit K2
The Seven Summits 2
Mountain Height Date Climbed Location
Kilimanjaro 19,340 ft. 10 March 2013 Africa
Everest 29,035 ft. 19 May 2012 Asia
Denali 20,320 ft. 19 June 2012 N. America
Elbrus 18,510 ft. 15 July 2012 Europe
Carstensz Pyramid 16,023 ft. 23 September 2012 Oceania
Kosciuszko 7,310 ft. 3 October 2012 Australia
Vinson Massif 16,050 ft. 5 December 2012 Antarctica
Aconcagua 22,841 ft. 20 January 2013 S. America
Three Poles Challenge
Mountain Height Date Climbed Location
Everest 29,035 ft. 19 May 2012 Asia
South Pole 89 Degree 15 December 2012 Antarctica
North Pole 89 Degree 16 April 2013 Arctic Ocean
Other Expeditions
Mountain Height Date Climbed Location
Everest 18,500 ft. 28 April 2010 Asia (Nepal)
Shishapangma (Central) 26,273 ft. 4 October 2011 Asia (Tibet)
Cho Oyu 26,906 ft. 12 October 2011 Asia (Tibet)
Lobuche East 19,700 ft. 14 April 2012 Asia (Nepal)
Mont Blanc 15,781 ft. 25 June 2014 Europe
Manaslu 26,759 ft. September. 25, 2014 Asia (Nepal)
Cayambe 18,996 ft. 30 May 2016 Ecuador
Chimborazo 20,564 ft. 6 June 2016 Ecuador
K2[3] 28,251 ft. 28 July 2017 Asia (Pakistan)

Other adventure and exploration[edit]

After taking the American Red Cross flag to the North Pole in 2013,[23] O'Brien successfully completed the Boston Marathon,[11] becoming one of the top 8 fundraisers for the American Red Cross on April 17, 2017, helping to raise over $512,000.[36]

Race Details
Statistic Result
Bib # 26015
Net Time 5:16:00
Overall 24851/26411
In Gender 11098/11973 (Female)
In Division 1142/1223 (F50-54 Age Group)

In 2013, as part of a test of bulletproof clothing, O'Brien was shot at point blank range by Miguel Caballero with a .38 long revolver.[12][13] This revolver pushed a bullet out at 1,184 feet per second, faster than the speed of sound at 1,125 feet per second.


  1. ^ POKHREL, RAJAN. "Vanessa O'Brien, John Snorri set record as 12 scale Mt K2". The Himalayan Times. Retrieved 28 July 2017. 
  2. ^ "Vanessa O'Brien becomes the first British-American woman to climb K2". Dunya News. Retrieved 31 July 2017. 
  3. ^ a b Samaa Web Desk. "British-American woman conquers K2, holds Pakistan flag atop". Samaa TV. Retrieved 31 July 2017. 
  4. ^ "American Mountain Climber Vanessa O'Brien to Ascend K2 Mountain in Northern Pakistan". American Pakistan Foundation. Retrieved 1 June 2016. 
  5. ^ a b "SES Explorer Awards 2018". The Scientific Exploration Society. Retrieved 1 March 2018. 
  6. ^ "Mountaineering" (PDF). Guinness Book of World Records 2017. Guinness Book of World Records 2017. Retrieved 1 December 2016. 
  7. ^ "Boston's Vanessa O'Brien Completes 'Explorers Grand Slam' in Record Time". Boston Globe. April 2013. 
  8. ^ "Woman Completes Explorer's Grand Slam in Record Time". May 2013. 
  9. ^ "Seven Summits Climber Continues to the Ends of the Earth to Reach Goal". March 2013. 
  10. ^ a b Clash, Jim. "Mario Andretti Takes Intrepid Fans Around The Indy Speedway At 200 MPH". Forbes. Forbes. Retrieved 31 May 2018. 
  11. ^ a b "2017 Boston Marathon Results". Boston Globe. Retrieved 17 April 2017. 
  12. ^ a b Clash, Jim. "Bulletproof Clothing: What Does It Feel Like To Get Shot?". Ask Men. Retrieved 26 November 2013. 
  13. ^ a b "Shot!". YouTube. YouTube. Retrieved 20 November 2013. 
  14. ^ "Boston woman tackles peaks at a record pace". Boston Globe. April 2013. 
  15. ^ "Boston College Club Woman Vanessa O'Brien to Become the First Woman to Complete the Explorer's Grand Slam". January 2013. 
  16. ^ "USNCA Members – Honorary Ambassador". US Nepal Climbers Association. Retrieved 25 August 2016. 
  17. ^ "American Pakistan Foundation Confirms Vanessa O'Brien to the Board of Directors". American Pakistan Foundation. Retrieved 3 October 2016. 
  18. ^ "Advisory Board". Thomson Treks. Retrieved 25 August 2016. 
  19. ^ "The Explorers Log" (PDF). The Official Newsletter of the Explorers Club. 46 (4): 22, 24, 26, 27. Fall 2014. 
  20. ^ "The Explorers Club Log, Fall 2015" (PDF). The Explorers Club. The Explorers Club. Retrieved 1 September 2015. 
  21. ^ Taylor, Andrew. "Australian Museum's Tim Jarvis leads mountain climbs to campaign on climate change". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 14 September 2015. 
  22. ^ "Vanessa O'Brien: What Attracted me was the Goal". May 2013. 
  23. ^ a b "Loren's Badass Chick of the Week: Vanessa O'Brien". May 2013. 
  24. ^ "Baptism by Nitro". YouTube. YouTube. Retrieved 1 May 2018. 
  25. ^ Clash, Jim. "Drag Racing Legend Don Schumacher Is Afraid Of Spiders But Not Much Else". Forbes. Forbes. Retrieved 1 May 2018. 
  26. ^ Clash, Jim. "Four Questions for NHRA Top-Fuel Drag Racing Star Leah Pritchett". Forbes. Forbes. Retrieved 7 May 2018. 
  27. ^ Clash, Jim. "An Interview With The Great Don Schumacher". Forbes. Forbes. Retrieved 30 April 2018. 
  28. ^ Clash, Jim. "Verizon IndyCar Racer Justin Wilson Dies Of Head Injuries From Pocono 500 Race Sunday". Forbes. Forbes. Retrieved 24 August 2015. 
  29. ^ Clash, Jim. "IndyCar Immersion Program: My 190-MPH Wild Ride With Mario Andretti". Forbes. Forbes. Retrieved 25 August 2015. 
  30. ^ Clash, Jim. "IndyCar Legend Rick Mears Before Sonoma Championship Shoot-Out: Be Patient". Forbes. Forbes. Retrieved 27 August 2015. 
  31. ^ Clash, Jim. "Lifestyle SEP 1, 2015 @ 09:11 PM 5,106 The Little Black Book of Billionaire Secrets IndyCar Rookie Sensation Sage Karam After Fatal Pocono Crash (Fourth in a series)". Forbes. Forbes. Retrieved 1 September 2015. 
  32. ^ Clash, Jim. "Scott Dixon Ecstatic And Mournful As Newly Crowned IndyCar Champ". Forbes. Forbes. Retrieved 4 September 2015. 
  33. ^ Clash, Jim. "Chip Ganassi's Philosophy Key To Dixon's 2015 IndyCar Championship". Forbes. Forbes. Retrieved 4 September 2015. 
  34. ^ Clash, Jim. "IndyCar Team Target Chip Ganassi's Secret Weapon: Mike Hull". Forbes. Forbes. Retrieved 7 September 2015. 
  35. ^ Clash, Jim. "IndyCar's Pippa Mann On Breast Cancer, Racing Macho Men". Forbes. Forbes. Retrieved 16 October 2015. 
  36. ^ "American Red Cross Massachusetts' Fundraiser: Team Red Cross 2017". Crowd Rise. Retrieved 17 April 2017. 

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