Alison Hargreaves

(1962—1995) mountaineer

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(1962–95) An English mountaineer who began a professional climbing career in her early twenties, having failed to gain a place to study geography at universities in good climbing locations. Joining British and American expeditions to the Himalayas in 1986 and 1987, she climbed the north face of the Eiger in 1989, while five and a half months pregnant. Hargreaves secured national coverage for her feat, the controversy over her portending motherhood overriding the uniqueness of her achievement in becoming the first British woman to make the ascent. Lacking secure sources of finance for her climbing, her economic problems escalated when her husband's outdoor equipment business went bankrupt in 1993. To escape creditors, they moved to the Alps with their two children, and Hargreaves embarked on high-profile solo climbs. This strategy was adopted too in 1995, this time without her family supporting her on the expeditions, in a plan to scale the world's three highest peaks in a single year. Climbing Everest alone in May 1995 gained her a book contract, and the funding to pay off her debts and plan the climb of K2. She reached the summit in July, but was killed in a storm during the descent, along with six others. The death of Hargreaves stimulated wide debate about the responsibilities of motherhood and parenting, and the gendered cultural politics of the professional sporting world more generally. Her husband's decision to take the children to visit ‘mum's last mountain’ in the autumn of 1995—accompanied by a BBC camera crew—sparked further commentary and controversy on the allegedly voyeuristic and maudlin exploitation of Hargreaves's death.

From A Dictionary of Sports Studies in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Sport and Leisure.

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