Blum, Arlene 1945–

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Blum, Arlene 1945–

PERSONAL: Born 1945, in Chicago, IL; children: Annalise. Education: Graduated from Reed College; University of California, Berkeley, Ph.D.

ADDRESSES: Home—Berkeley, CA. Office—P.O. Box 5455, Berkeley, CA 94705.

CAREER: Chemist and mountaineer. Has led mountaineering expeditions around the world, including to Mount Denali, 1970, and Annapurna, Himalyan Mountains, 1978. Instructor in mountain trekking courses; instructor at Stanford University, Wellesley College, and University of California, Berkeley. Speaker at conferences and seminars.

AWARDS, HONORS: Gold Medal, Society of Women Geographers.


Annapurna, a Woman's Place (nonfiction), Sierra Club Books (San Francisco, CA), 1980, 20th anniversary edition with new preface and afterword by Blum, 1998.

Breaking Trail: A Climbing Life (autobiography), Scribner (New York, NY), 2005.

Contributor to periodicals, including National Geographic, Smithsonian, and Science.

ADAPTATIONS: Rights to produce a television miniseries based on Annapurna, a Woman's Place were bought by National Broadcasting Companies, Inc..

SIDELIGHTS: Arlene Blum is a seasoned mountain climber and a chemist whose achievements have proven that women can succeed in fields that have traditionally been dominated by men. Although she is well known for her climbing adventures, Blum's primary area of expertise is chemistry. While still in high school, she was placed into an accelerated program for chemistry and math. She flourished in the demanding program, and by the time she entered college she had decided to pursue chemistry as a career, though this was a difficult field for a woman to break into at that time. Blum went on to work as part of a team that was instrumental in discovering the dangerous carcinogenic properties of a flame retardant that was in common use in the material for children's pajamas. Thanks in part to Blum's work, the chemical was banned from use in textiles.

During college, Blum took a course in high-altitude climbing. She enjoyed exploring Oregon's volcanic mountains so much that the subject of her undergraduate thesis was the analysis of volcanic gases. While in graduate school, Blum joined mountaineering expeditions into Mexico and the Andes Mountains of South America. When she applied to become part of a climbing expedition in Afghanistan, however, she was rejected because of her gender. It was traditionally held that women could not handle the extreme elevations of the highest Asian mountains and that the presence of women in such a climbing team would be detrimental to male morale. Blum was also turned down when she attempted to join an expedition up Mount Denali in Alaska. Also known as Mount McKinley, at 20,320 feet this peak is the highest in North America. Determined to make the climb, Blum organized an all-female team, and on July 6, 1970, the six women made history by being the first such group to scale the peak. Blum organized and led other all-female expeditions as well, including one that successfully scaled Annapurna, a peak in the Himalayan range that is the tenth-highest mountain in the world.

Blum relates stories from her many expeditions in her autobiography Breaking Trail: A Climbing Life. She takes readers along for the ride as she moves from the feelings of victory upon scaling a summit to the horror and grief of losing friends to an avalanche and accident. The author also looks back on her childhood, illustrating the key events that led her to tackle such difficult challenges as an adult. The book "should be required reading" for a younger generation that has not experienced the bias against women that Blum did, according to Danise Hoover in Booklist. Hoover further praised the book as "an engaging, well-written adventure." A Kirkus Reviews writer found Blum's use of mountaineering jargon to be somewhat "off putting," but also concluded that the story will "appeal equally to armchair alpinists and to veterans of women's lib campaigns."



Blum, Arlene, Annapurna, a Woman's Place, 20th anniversary edition, Sierra Club Books (San Francisco, CA), 1998.

Blum, Arlene, Breaking Trail: A Climbing Life, Scribner (New York, NY), 2005.

Great Women in Sports, Visible Ink Press (Detroit, MI), 1996.


Booklist, July, 2005, Danise Hoover, review of Breaking Trail, p. 1889.

Canada and the World Backgrounder, January, 1995, "Reach for the Top," p. 11.

Kirkus Reviews, August 1, 2005, review of Breaking Trail, p. 824.

Smithsonian, October, 1983, Arlene Blum, "Two Mountaineers Hike the Himalayas from End to End," p. 107.


Arlene Blum Home Page, (November 15, 2005).

Berkeley Daily Planet Online, (November 15, 2005), Ken Bullock, interview with Arlene Blum.

Emerging Leader, (November 15, 2005), Kristin Woods, interview with Arlene Blum.


Environmental Directions (sound recording), Educational Communications (Los Angeles, CA), 1999.