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Cathy O’Dowd

speaker location icon Barcelona, Spain

Mountaineer and expedition leader

First woman to climb Everest from both the North and South sides

Expert on team dynamics, leadership and motivation

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. Her first ascent of Everest happened in the midst of the chaotic events that form of the basis of the ‘true story’ behind the Hollywood movieEverest.Cathy, who grew up in Johannesburg, South Africa, has climbed ever since leaving school. She was completing her Masters degree in Journalism, while working as university lecturer, when she saw a newspaper advert for a place on the 1st South African Everest Expedition. Six months later she was the first South African to summit Everest. Three years later she became the first woman in the world to climb the mountain from both sides. Finally she made one last expedition to Everest to try a new route on the Kangshung face.

The years she spent in the Himalaya were for her a degree ‘in living’. The insights she discovered about herself, and about individuals and teams under intense stress in the face of overwhelming challenge, are ones she has been sharing with her corporate audiences ever since. Her stories touch on themes of importance to anyone trying to run successful projects and get the best out of people. Cathy’s most challenging Himalayan epic was as part of team forging a new route on an 8000 metre peak. Although Cathy herself did not reach the summit, two of her teammates did, doing the first ascent of Nanga Parbat via the Mazeno ridge, and winning the prestigious Piolet d’Or for their achievement. She has turned this experience into a fascinating interactive case-study of successful project execution of truly innovative goals.

Our Comment

"Cathy is a natural story-teller and her passionate delivery produces an inspirational tale - dramatic, memorable and packed with metaphors pertinent to business - that draws in even the most demanding audiences. She further enhances her talks with spectacular photos of the mountain."


Just for the love of it

 

At 8am on 29 May 1999, Cathy O’Dowd, a 30-year-old mountaineer from South Africa, stepped onto the summit of Everest and into history. She had become the first woman to climb the highest mountain in the world from both its south (Edmund Hillary) and north (George Mallory) sides. To achieve this, Cathy has had to face the ultimate risks of Everest.

During her first ascent from the south in 1996, she and her team were trapped in the killer storm described in Jon Krakauer’s best seller Into Thin Air. They finally reached the summit, only to have the thrill of success snatched away when a team member disappeared on the descent. In 1998 Cathy, attempting the north side of Everest, stopped only a few hundred metres from the summit to try and help a dying American climber. The woman’s first words were ‘don’t leave me’. Yet Cathy eventually had to leave her to save her own life.

Now Cathy has captured the drama of her Everest climbs, her passion for the challenge of climbing mountains and her love for wild places in this story of her four attempts on the mountain. Cathy tries to answer the question of why, if climbing Everest can be so dangerous, people still want to do it.

In a new chapter, Cathy shares the previously untold story of her fourth Everest expedition, an attempt to climb a new route on the seldom visited and very risky east face of Everest. Storms, avalanches and crevasses all contributed to an expedition fraught with difficulty.

This is a book of challenge, of adventure, of love and life and death. This is Everest, the world’s highest mountain, climbed ‘just for the love of it’.

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