Skip to main content
Original Issue


Annie Smith Peck, a teacher who believed she could do almost anything, scaled the Matterhorn and became the most famous woman climber of her day

Annie Smith Peck, a scholar and teacher of classic languages who had done some minor mountain climbing in her 30s, decided in 1895, at the age of 45, to try something really big. A determined woman with an adventurous spirit, she tackled Switzerland's Matterhorn (14,780 feet high), a feat no other lady had accomplished in that day. "Nothing to mountaineering," Annie said matter-of-factly when she came down from the summit. "Just a little physical endurance, a good deal of brains, lots of practice and plenty of warm clothing." With this formula firmly in mind, she was to go on climbing for nearly 40 years and become the most famous woman mountaineer of her day.

Her next goal was Popocatepetl in Mexico. Since this smoldering mountain was a continually erupting volcano, there was added spice to the climb. The Sunday World, having financed her trip in return for an exclusive account of her perilous ascent, was more than a little upset when she reported: "As it turned out, it wasn't a difficult climb at all, and a nice little boy reached the summit before I did." With liberal use of poetic license, the Sunday World rewrote her story and emblazoned it with the headline: MISS PECK ON POPO'S SUMMIT—THRILLING DETAILS OF THE Sunday World's WOMAN MOUNTAIN CLIMBER'S ASCENT. Said Annie, shocked at this freedom of the press, "I thought you would just want all the facts."

But all the mountains weren't that easy, even for indomitable Annie. In 1908, at the age of 58, she made five assaults on 22,205-foot Mt. Huascaràn in Peru, finally conquering the summit on the sixth. On the way down, one of her guides slipped and almost dragged them both to destruction. She also lost a glove and suffered a frostbitten hand. "I was scared for the first time in my life," Annie confessed, "but I said to myself, 'Accidents don't happen in my family,' and I went on down through the night." Her climb at that time was the highest ever made in this hemisphere by an American, and in honor of the occasion, the Peruvian government named the mountain's northern peak Cumbre Ana Peck.

She was 61 when she climbed Mt. Coropuna in Peru and triumphantly planted a flag on the summit, reading "Votes for Women." At 82, she climbed her last peak, New Hampshire's Mt. Madison, a mere 5,363 feet high. She regretfully gave up after this because she didn't want to worry her doctors. Three years later, in 1935, her strange and wonderful life came to an end.