Skip to main content
Original Issue


A gallant grandmother turns back after catastrophe strikes a unique Himalayan ascent

I wanted to keep on trying for the summit so that we might make the expedition a sort of crowning memorial for Claude and Claudine," said the mountain-climbing grandmother, Countess Dorothea Gravina, on Himalayan Mount Cho Oyu. "But I was alone." Indeed she was alone as she had these thoughts, but the indomitable countenance that the photographer caught as she reflected on the decision she had had to make will stand as a fresh testament to the spirit of an adventurous calling, heightened all the more because she is a woman.

Countess Gravina, 51, British-born wife of an Italian, had just taken command of an expedition up 26,867-foot Mount Cho Oyu after its leader, Mme. Claude Kogan of France, Mlle. Claudine van der Straten-Ponthoz and two Sherpa porters had perished in an avalanche at 23,000 feet (SI, Nov. 2). Their attempt to scale the sixth highest mountain in the world was a unique one: it was the first time in history that an expedition composed entirely of women (excepting guides and porters) had ever challenged such a peak. Failure was due not so much to a lack of skill as to a warm wind that loosened heavy accumulations of snow high on the ridges and sent an avalanche sweeping down on the climbers.

Reluctantly, after seeing to the construction of a cairn in honor of her comrades, Countess Gravina gave the order for the sorrowful descent.



GRIEVING GROUP of women climbers and Sherpas erect memorial cairn and plaque (left) at base camp 19,200 feet up Cho Oyu before turning back. The tin plaque honors four who perished in an avalanche 4,000 feet higher up the Himalayan peak. Icy pinnacles, or séracs, in background are result of glacial action.