With Women’s History day on the 8th March and March being Women’s History month it seems appropriate to share a little about some of the women that Bridgedale find inspiring from across the ages.
Emma “grandma” Gatewood
Appalachian trail pioneer. Emma Gatewood left it late to discover the joy of the outdoors. Married to an abusive husband and mother to 11 children she set off from her farm on a what she described as a “walk” that would take her the length of the Appalachian Trail in the eastern United States, back in 1955 aged 67.
This turned out to be a false start (she had minimal clothing and kit, just an old shower curtain for shelter from the rain) but the next year she tried again starting from the southern end of the trail in Georgia, completing it months later at its northernmost end in Maine. She was the first lone female to successfully complete this extreme feat of endurance. With her appetite whetted, she came back to complete the trail twice more in 1957, and then again in 1964 at the ripe old age of seventy-six. She completed all of her hikes wearing men’s Converse high-top basket-ball trainers. One can only imagine how happy she would have been to have had a pair of the most comfortable hiking socks on the planet, namely our Bridgedale Women’s Midweight Merino Comfort walking socks. Who knows, wearing these she might have gone on to complete a 4th.
She was an Aussie born, Cambridge educated young woman whose Father had a passion for Alpinism and the mountains. This passion lived on with Sheila who developed a taste for climbing in Scotland and Europe whilst completing her studies in the UK. During a boat-trip to a Safari Holiday in Africa (her cousin was Chief Game Warden on a reserve in Kenya) she was persuaded to join an expedition to climb Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa at 5895m. Having set a pace that even her male companions found tricky to match she summited the peak on 30th of September, 1927, and in doing so became the first woman to have set foot on the summit (something one of the male members of the team was unable to do – having stopped short, exhausted, from the challenges of the ascent). An incredible feat from a determined young woman with a pioneering spirit, don’t forget at the time young woman undertaking this sort of activity was very much frowned upon by polite society.
A Peak District Local, and the first woman to successfully summit Everest without the support of Sherpa’s or oxygen. Indeed, she was the second ever climber to do so, male or female. A lifelong resident of the peaks, she discovered climbing at a young age and loved it enough to see past what was a male-dominated sport. She continued to climb and was renowned for her skill and athleticism, she was invited to join a US led expedition to the Himalayas in 1986 and this is where she first glimpsed Everest. There was a hiatus where she and her fellow climber husband (James Ballard) started a family, she climbed on though, albeit in the UK and the Alps, actually drawing plaudits and criticism in equal measure for climbing the infamous North Face of the Eiger whilst 6 months pregnant with her eldest, Tom. Everest was always in her mind however and once the family were established she moved her them from their beloved home in Belper, Derbyshire up to the Scottish Highlands where she trained in earnest for the ascent that would define her climbing career. She actually attempted the climb twice in 1995, but was forced back on the first attempt owing to the weather. Flash forward 6 months and she was back at Everest for a second, successful attempt, done the hard way with no Sherpa’s or oxygen supply. Her achievements are incredible, but she remains a somewhat divisive figure in UK Mountaineering circles and tragically she died with a group of 7 other male mountaineers whilst attempting to scale K2, another Himalayan peak (and the second highest in the world). A tragic end to an inspirational and hugely talented mountaineer, and mother of two.