Hargreaves, Alison (1962–1995)

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Hargreaves, Alison (1962–1995)

English-born mountain climber. Born in England in 1962; died on Pakistan's K2 on August 13, 1995; grew up in Derbyshire, England; middle of three children of John and Joyce Hargreaves (both mathematicians); lived in Spean Bridge, Scotland; married JamesBallard (a climber), in 1988; children: To (b. 1989); Kate (b. 1991).

On August 13, 1995, Alison Hargreaves disappeared with five other climbers while scaling Pakistan's K2, situated in the Karakoram range bordering Pakistan and China. At 28,251 feet, K2 is the world's second highest summit and one of the most dangerous, because it is subject to sudden harsh storms and high winds. Only 134 climbers have conquered the mountain, while 50 have died trying. But Hargreaves, who maintained that she was just as vulnerable driving to London, felt "there was no gain without risk."

Four months earlier, she had entered the record books as the first woman, and second climber, to reach the 29,028-foot summit of Mount Everest, the world's highest peak, alone and without supplementary oxygen. She stood at the summit for 40 minutes and later told interviewers, "It was the best moment in my life."

Hargreaves became fascinated with mountaineering at an early age, when her parents took her climbing on Ben Nevis, Britain's highest peak. "I teamed up with another girl of my own ability," she told Bill Birkett. "We used to go to youth hostels and take a rope. Two girls in a youth hostel with a rope was highly novel, for all the other women were just walkers." At age 15, while climbing Black Slab at Stanage, Hargreaves was pulled to the ground, suffering a compound fracture of her left leg and a broken right heel, when a climber fell and grabbed her rope. Soon, her climbing companion lost interest, because, even with her injuries, Hargreaves was climbing higher and harder. "I started climbing with blokes. Just following them up routes, and for a long time I became a second."

But, despite her size at 5′2", she preferred to lead. Quitting school at 18, she moved in with another climber Jim Ballard; they were married in 1988. That year, while six months pregnant, she climbed the north face of Switzerland's Eiger. Unable to find a sponsor for Alison's climbing, the couple packed up the family—they now had two children—and camped in Switzerland, living out of an aged Land Rover. While Jim cared for the children, she climbed, becoming the first person in one season to conquer the six major Alpine north faces, including the Eiger and the Matterhorn. In 1986, she was the first from Britain to ascend the Kangtega in the Khumbu Nepal region of the Himalayas.

After two weeks at home in Scotland following her success on Mount Everest, Hargreaves left for Pakistan to prepare for her assault on K2, arriving on June 25. Reaching the second-stage camp at 22,500 feet in mid-July, she made a solo attempt to conquer the summit but was pushed back by a blizzard. For the next month, longing to be home with her husband and children, she sat out storm after storm on the mountainside. Finally, on August 13, despite signs of continued bad weather, she decided to make one last attempt. She set out with five others. By evening, they radioed that they had reached the summit. Soon after, another howling storm tore into the mountain and continued throughout the night. Experts theorize that the climbing party was literally blown off the side of the mountain. All told, seven were killed that night, and Hargreaves' body was seen out of reach near Camp 2. Because of the difficulties in retrieving the bodies, they will remain on the mountain.

Hargreaves' husband had been preparing for that fatal moment throughout their years together. "I suppose what's most comforting to me is that she was on her way down—she had conquered K2," he said. "I can hear her repeating her favorite saying," he continued. "'One day as a tiger is better than a thousand as a sheep.'"


Birkett, Bill, and Bill Peascod. Women Climbing: 200 Years of Achievement. Seattle, WA: The Mountaineers, 1989.

People Weekly. September 4, 1995, pp. 69–70.

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