Many women have reached Alaska’s mountain heights—today more than ever.
In the annals of mountaineering history, there was a time when women were excluded from serious climbing expeditions.
In the U.K., the Alpine Club was formed in 1857, but women were banned from the organization until 1975. In response, the Ladies Alpine Club was founded in London in 1907.
Women were among the founding members of The American Alpine Club in 1902, including Annie Peck and Fanny Bullock Workman. Refer to this website for more on the history of women mountaineers: https://americanalpineclub.org/library-blog/2018/2/5/for-the-lady-mountaineer
In 1958, the Mountaineering Club of Alaska (MCA) was founded, spearheaded by none other than a woman—Helga Bading.
There is a wave of talented female alpinists taking on what many consider one of the hardest guiding assignments in the world.
According to a National Park Service website https://www.nps.gov/dena/blogs/women-at-the-top.htm women usually make up 10% of the climbers of Denali. In 2018 there were 29 women guiding the peak and 60% of them were under 30 years old. Women made up 20% of the total guiding population.
What follows is a list of female mountaineers, primarily Alaskans, who have and are continuing to make extraordinary achievements in the mountains, both within Alaska and in other parts of the world.
When compiling such a list, one risks excluding some very accomplished female mountaineers, and for that, we apologize.
- Dora Keen – In 1912 she completed the first recorded ascent of the 16,286-foot East Peak of Mount Blackburn in the Wrangell Mountains.
- Barbara Washburn – Her first ascents of 10,204-foot Mount Bertha in 1940 and 13,382-foot Mount Hayes in 1941 drew considerable attention in the mountaineering community. In 1947, she became the first woman to summit North America’s highest peak, Denali, becoming an American mountaineering legend.
- Helga Bading – One of 17 honorary members of the MCA and a driving force behind its establishment, she completed 14 first recorded ascents (FRAs) in Alaska.
- Helen Nienhueser (formerly Wolfe) – Completed four FRAs in Alaska, co-authored 55 Ways to the Wilderness in Southcentral Alaska hiking guidebook.
- Grace Hoeman – Wife of famed Alaskan mountaineer Vin Hoeman, Grace climbed more than 120 peaks in Alaska, including the first all-female ascent of Denali. She made about 35 first ascents in Alaska, five of them solo. She died at age 49 on April 12, 1971, in an avalanche east of Eklutna Glacier.
- Dolly Lefever – She was the first American woman to climb the world’s seven summits (highest peak on every continent), including Mount Everest on May 10, 1993, at age 47.
- Wendy Sanem – second person (behind Jim Sayler) to climb all 120 peaks in Chugach State Park. She climbed all 21 Western Chugach 7000-footers.
- Karen Cafmeyer – Climbed all 21 Western Chugach 7000-footers; two FRAs in Alaska.
- Valerie LaRue – In 1978, became the first woman president of the Mountaineering Club of Alaska (MCA).
- Betty Ivanoff (aka Betty Brown aka Betty Menard) was the first Alaska Native female to climb Denali.
Other notable women mountaineers in Alaska include: Jayme Mack, Dona Agosti, Lois Willard, Marge Prescott, Harriet Kiester, Callie Van der Laan, Karen Courtright, Margaret Wolfe, Kathy Gorham, Jo Anne Merrick, Nina Faust, Paula Quering, Meg Leonard, Madeline Jones, Sandi McDonald, Eileen Cavanaugh, Nan De Good, Kathy Burke, Laurie Daniel, Barb Byrne, Marcy Baker, Katie Strong, Jen Aschoff, Katherine Cooper. Nancy Pfeiffer and Lila Hobbs.
There are also Priscilla Lukens, Vicki Jorgenson, Mindy Baum, Pam Bohl, Julia Moore, Helga Bashor, Dawn Groth, Dara Lively, Kathy Zukor, Patty McPherson, Karen Herzenberg, Annette Iverson, Carlene Van Tol, SaraEllen Hutchison, Debbie Arens, Rebecca Bissette, Yvonne Lamoureaux, Sarah Heck, Bridget Paule, Anmei Goldsmith, Vicky Lytle, Galen Flint, Elizabeth Bennett, Stacy Pritts, Jennifer DuFord, Deb Luper, Kathy Still, Carrie Wang, Deb Ajango, Vicky Ho, Sherrie Soltis, Meg Purdue, Leah Fortson…
And the list goes on.
More than ever, women are hearing the siren call of Alaska’s summits, whether in our backyard’s Chugach Mountains; in the Kenai, Wrangell, and Talkeetna Mountains; the higher peaks of the Alaska Range; or far to the north, the Brooks Range and beyond.
Special thanks to MCA’s Steve Gruhn for his assistance in compiling this list of women mountaineers, which we acknowledge is not all-inclusive.