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Kogan, Claude (1919–1959)

Kogan, Claude (1919–1959)

French mountaineer. Born in 1919; died in 1959; married Georges Kogan (a mountaineer), in 1945 (died 1951).

Ascended North Face of the Dru (1946); was first female lead of South Ridge of Aiguille Noire de Peuterey (1949); made second ascent of Quitaraju (1951); made first ascent of Salcantay (1952); made first ascent of Nun Kun (23,400 ft.) in Kashmir (1953); made first ascent of Ganesh Himal in Nepal, with Raymond Lambert (1955).

Made an honorary member of the Ladies' Alpine Club; lectured on her climbs to an unprecedented joint meeting of the men's and women's Alpine clubs in London.

Born in 1919, Claude Kogan began climbing in the Belgian Ardennes. During the German occupation of France, she moved to Nice and built up a small business, designing swimwear for women. While there, she met and married another mountaineer, Georges Kogan. After World War II, the couple joined the Groupe de Haute Montagne and made ascents in the Dauphine and Chamonix, as well as the North Face of the Dru (1946) and the South Ridge of the Aiguille Noire de Peuterey (1949) with Claude in the lead.

In 1951, Georges and Raymond Leininger made the first ascent of Alpamayo in the Andes; a few days later, Claude Kogan and Nicole Leininger went higher to Quitaraju (20,276 ft.). But six months after, Georges fell ill and died. A saddened Kogan returned to the Andes and made the first ascent of Salcantay (20,500 ft.) with Bernard Pierre.

On October 26, 1954, despite high winds and freezing temperatures, Claude Kogan, Raymond Lambert, Denis Bertholet, Jean Juge and two sherpas sat at Camp IV preparing for an attempt on Cho Oyu (26,906 feet) in the Himalayas. An Austrian team had made two failed attempts the week before. Of the Swiss team only Kogan and Lambert headed for the top. Wrote Lambert: "I was surprised to see how enfeebled the expedition was becoming, with the exception of Claude Kogan and myself. Our companions were no longer putting up a fight; they could hardly struggle against the cold and were letting death creep upon them without striking a blow to defend themselves.… [T]he wind was sweeping all before it corrupting moral strength as well as physical."

While the others and the sherpas retreated, Lambert and Kogan struggled on—with wind gusts at such high velocity that they sometimes had to crawl. "I tried to make the wind help me by leaning forward on it," wrote Kogan, "but immediately it dropped and I found myself face downwards on the snow with all my breath gone. … Never had I had so furious a struggle with the elements." They fought the wind for five hours but had to retreat to base camp. They had, however, reached 25,600 feet, the highest point ever attained by a woman.

But Kogan had unfinished business with Cho Oyu. In 1959, she suggested a Women's International Expedition (Expédition Feminine au Nepal) to the Himalayas. With Kogan as their leader, the powerful team included Eileen Healey (née Gregory), Dorothea Gravina , Margaret Darvall , Loulou Boulaz , Claudine Van der Stratten , Jeanne Franco , Collette le Bret , Micheline Rambaud and two daughters and a niece of Sherpa Tensing, who had climbed Everest with Edmund Hillary.

On September 29th, Kogan and Van der Stratten, with Ang Norbu as sherpa, left Camp III

to establish Camp IV and attack the summit. But the weather turned warm the following day and waves of avalanches began to rumble down Cho Oyu. When contact with Camp IV and Kogan was lost, the other camps were forced to retreat to base camp. The weather improved on October 3rd and an exploring party set out for Camp IV. The report came back: "It was swept clean."

Lambert, one of mountaineering's greats, once wrote of Kogan: "For her an expedition is not an athletic feat; it is an essay in the poetics. She brings to it the same passion that filled the first seekers of gold or the companions of Magellan. For Claude, mountaineering is one long search for the Route to the Indies." She was considered one of the best.

sources:

Birkett, Bill, and Bill Peascod. Women Climbing: 200 Years of Achievement. London: A. & C. Black, 1989.

Lambert, Raymond. White Fury. London: Hurst and Blackett, 1956.

Williams, Cecily. Women on the Rope. London: Allen & Unwin, 1973.

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