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  • Erste am Seil. Pionierinnen in Fels und Eis by Caroline Fink and Karin Steinbach
  • Annette R. Hofmann
Fink, Caroline and Karin Steinbach. Erste am Seil. Pionierinnen in Fels und Eis. Innsbruck: Tyrolia Verlagsanstalt, 2013. Pp. 304. Photographs and index. 29.95€ cb.

The years 2010-2011 were quite exciting for women’s mountaineering. The media constructed a “race” between the Austrian Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner, Spain’s Edurne Pasaban, and the South-Korean Oh Eun Sun. The question was which of them would be the first woman to have climbed all the eight-thousanders. The self-claimed victory of the Korean is questioned by the climbing community. It is suspected that she skipped one peak. Pasaban probably made the “race,” but it was Kaltenbrunner who reached all of those peaks, without supplementary oxygen or the help of sherpas.

This story made women’s mountaineering visible all over world; this had not always been the case although women have been part of Alpinism from early on despite the fact that they often were excluded from the male hiking and climbing expeditions, male climbing groups, and even from some of the Alpine clubs or huts. Women’s successes on first ascents were not always acknowledged; sometimes they were even concealed. Their male climbing partners would get the credit due to the fact that women would modestly give men the right of way for the last parts of a strenuous climb, allowing them to be the first to reach a peak. This has changed over the decades, but still, there are examples of climbing women who are ridiculed or excluded.

Although this is a German publication, it is of international interest. The Swiss and German writers Caroline Fink and Karin Steinbach mention over 200 female mountaineers and climbers from all over the world in their book. The book describes chronologically the successes of women mountaineers: first ascents but also records in speed climbing, number of peaks, discovery of new routes, etc. Each new time period is introduced by a chapter about the changes in women’s mountaineering, from its being a leisure-time activity to its sportization, which is also connected with media interest, sponsors, etc.

The life stories of twenty-six individual climbers are told in individual chapters of about six to eight pages based on research or personal interviews with the women. Each story is summarized again on one page that provides a quick overview on that women’s life and achievement. All chapters have several photographs in black-and-white and color.

Among the individual biographies are those of the American Meta Beevort, who reached the top of the Montblanc in France in 1865, and Britain’s Elizabeth Burnaby- Main-Le Blond, who—besides other accomplishments—made some of the first winter ascents in the 1880s and 1890s. The German Eleonore Noll-Hasenclever, who climbed over 150 four-thousanders, was a pioneer in climbing without a leader and even more, she led others—almost unthinkable during the first decades of the twentieth century. One can also read about Britain’s Monica Jackson who organized the first women’s expedition [End Page 122] to the Himalayas in the 1950s or the Japan’s Kei Taniguchi, who was the first woman ever honored for her extraordinary first descent with the prestigious French award “Piolet d’Or” in 2009. There are stories about women who hiked eight-thousanders without supplementary oxygen or about those who try to use as little gear as possible, like the American solo climber Steph Davis. The reader also learns that despite all those success stories, just like in many other sports, when it comes to leadership positions, there are only a small number of women who are certified mountain guides. The U.S. shows the highest number with 6.3 percent; in most European countries it is less than 2 percent, as the authors mention (p. 236).

The stories tell about the search for pure nature, freedom, and crossing boundaries— boundaries that are closely connected to getting hurt, losing a limb due to cold weather or even one’s life. They tell about women of different time periods, from various regions of the world...


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pp. 122-123
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