125th anniversary of Suffrage in New Zealand

First female ascent of Aoraki/Mt Cook

3 December 1910

Freda du Faur, c 1910
Freda du Faur, c 1910 (Alexander Turnbull Library Ref: 1/2-001296; F)

In the cold, dark hours before dawn on 3 December 1910, Freda du Faur and her guides Peter and Alexander (Alec) Graham left their tent and started towards the summit of Aoraki/Mt Cook. Later that day, du Faur stood on the peak after becoming the first woman to complete the ascent – in record time.

Du Faur had begun working towards this achievement two years earlier. Interested in climbing as a youngster in Australia, she was inspired by photos of the Southern Alps to try mountaineering, and trained with the Hermitage’s chief guide, Peter Graham. For three months before the attempt, du Faur also trained under Muriel Cadogan at the Dupain Institute of Physical Education in Sydney.

Du Faur came from a well-off background and had the financial resources to train and travel. But as a woman, she also faced many disadvantages. She compromised on clothing by wearing a below-the-knee skirt over the knickerbockers and long puttees sported by male climbers.

On her first major ascent (Mt Sealy), other women at the Hermitage insisted she should not spend a night alone with a guide, even one as morally upright as Peter Graham. The chaperon, a porter, proved an incompetent climber and had to be held up by Du Faur on the rope when he slipped.

After climbing Aoraki/Mt Cook, du Faur moved to London with Cadogan, with whom she had developed a close relationship. She wrote about her mountaineering adventures in The conquest of Mount Cook and other climbs, published in 1915.

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