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Cathy O'Dowd – Keynote Speaker

The first woman in the world to climb Mount Everest

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Specialist Subjects

  • Adventure
  • Leadership
  • Teamwork
  • Risk Management
  • Project Management


Cathy O'Dowd – Keynote Speaker

The first woman in the world to climb Mount Everest

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Cathy O'Dowd
The first woman in the world to climb Mount Everest

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Cathy O'Dowd is the first woman in the world to climb Mount Everest, the world’s highest mountain, from both its north and south sides.

Cathy remains an active adventurer. From taking a dog-sled expedition through the remote wilderness of the Norwegian Arctic to the northern-most point of Europe, to tackling the sheer rock walls of Yosemite National Park, she always has something in mind.

She was completing her Masters degree in Media Studies at Rhodes University, and working as university lecturer, when she saw an advert in a newspaper for a place on the 1st South African Everest Expedition. She was one of 200 women who applied for the Everest place, and was the one finally selected. The team followed the route made famous by Edmund Hillary. Despite being the apprentice on the team, on 25 May 1996 Cathy reached the summit. It was, however, a tough introduction, as British team-mate Bruce Herrod was killed on the descent.

In 1998 Cathy O'Dowd took on the challenge of the treacherous north side of Everest, where George Mallory had famously disappeared in 1924. Her attempt ended just hours below the summit when she stopped to try and save a dying American woman.

In 1999 she returned once more, and succeeded, becoming the first woman in the world to climb Everest from both north and south sides.

Cathy O'Dowd has written two books about her Everest experiences, Everest: Free To Decide, co-written with Ian Woodall, and Just for the love of it.

In 2000 Cathy O'Dowd became only the fourth woman in the world to climb Lhotse, the world's fourth highest mountain. And in 2003 she returned to Everest one more time to make a bold but ultimately unsuccessful attempt to climb a new route on the notorious east face of Everest.

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