Who Was the First American Woman to Climb Everest?

To be the first climber from your country to climb Mount Everest is a great ambition. But to be the first woman from your country is even harder to achieve.

Stacey Allison was the first American woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest, arriving there on September 29, 1988.

She showed all the usual traits of determination, ambition, and hard work to achieve her goal. Read on to find out how she did it…

The First Woman from the USA to Climb Everest: Stacy Allison

Stacy Allison studied at Oregon’s State University, and while there went on a road trip to Zion National Park in southwestern Utah near Springdale town. She loved the rock climbing on the orange-colored Navajo sandstone – and got hooked for life (source: everesthistory.com)

Next was Mount Washington in New Hampshire, then Mount Huntingdon in Alaska. Her partner broke his ice axe only 200 feet from the summit and they had to retreat (I once broke my ice axe on Mount McKinley, and it leaves you feeling that you have lost a limb!) (source: wikipedia).

After that Stacey topped out on Mt. McKinley, then went on to an all-woman climb of Ama Dablam, the spectacular 22,495 foot mountain near Tengboche Monastery on the trail to Mount Everest.

Her first attempt on Everest was as part of the The North Face American Everest Expedition. A ferocious storm trapped the climbers in a snow cave, and continuing winds forced a retreat.

Undeterred, Stacey returned in 1988 as part of the Northwest American Everest Expedition. Finally she relised her ambition of becoming the first American woman to stand on the summit.

Since then Stacey Allison became a successful expedition leader on K2, a considerably more difficult and dangerous mountain.

The American Flag on a summit

Other Women Everest Summiteers from the American Continent

When wondering about the first “American” women to climb Everest, you need to define your terms. Do you mean the first South American woman? The first North American woman? And does that include Canadian? Or the first woman from the United States of America? With or without oxygen? Here are all the answers…

Sharon Wood was the first Canadian and North American woman to summit Mount Everest, back in 1986.

Aretha Duarte, a Brazilian, was the first Black Latin American woman to climb Mount Everest, in 2021.

“May 23, 2021, the day I made history and reached the top of the world, but mostly it was also the day the power of a simple question changed my life forever: ‘What moves you?’ Duarte said, “I never thought it would be possible.”

Arethe Duarte (source: travelnoire.com)

And Carla Perez was the first South American woman to summit without oxygen.

So, as someone has said before me “It all depends what you mean…”

Who Was the First American Woman to Climb Everest Without Oxygen?

If you climbed up to Mount Everest’s summit without oxygen but died on the descent, would your climb count?

On May 23rd, 2016 Melissa Arnot became the first American woman to both reach the summit and return without supplemental oxygen.

However, another American-born woman had preceded her by 18 years but hadn’t been able to return to Base Camp and tell her story. Read on for more…

In 1998 a Hawaiian-born American woman, Francys Arsentiev, 40, climbed to the summit of Mount Everest without oxygen together with her husband Sergei Arsentiev. Using the North Ridge route they summited late in the day and had to spend the night out at over 8,000m.

Somehow they became separated during the night. Sergei descended, realised his wife was nowhere to be seen, and then climbed back up the mountain carrying oxygen and medicines.

Two Americans with a flag on a mountain summit

Meanwhile, Francys Arsentiev had slowly descended the mountain. After two abortive rescue attempts she died where she lay, still clipped into the fixed ropes. Sergei Arsentiev also died on his rescue attempt to save his wife’s life (source: wikipedia).

Her body lay on the mountain in full view of passing climbers and she gained the epithet “Sleeping Beauty.” (source: trekebc.com). She is one of the many dead bodies in Everest’s Rainbow Valley, which you can read more about here.

This tragic story contains a paradox: had they climbed Mount Everest? And so was Francys Arsentiev the first American-born woman to climb Everest without supplementary oxygen?

Certainly Melissa Arnot is credited with being the first US woman to climb and safely descend the mountain (source: wionews.com).

I had to decide on this conundrum for myself in connection with my search for the body of George Mallory on the same route. An analogy helps: if the Americans had landed on the moon in 1969 but been unable to return to Earth, could it be said that they had reached the moon? Yes, of course, is the answer. But surviving to tell the tale counts for a lot.

You might also want to read the fascinating tale of the first American man on Everest, as well.

About Graham Hoyland

Graham was the 15th Briton to Climb Mount Everest. He has spent over two years across nine expeditions to the mountain and is the author of Last Hours on Everest, the story of Mallory and Irvine's fatal ascent.