Stacy Allison: The First American Woman to Summit Everest

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Stacy Allison / Photo by Andrea Lorimor

Name: Stacy Allison

Hometown: Woodburn

Age: 54

Sport: Mountaineering/rock climbing

Books: Beyond the Limits, Many Mountains to Climb

Profession: General contractor and motivational business speaker

You started rock climbing in college. Why did you move on to mountain climbing, and what fueled your passion to climb the world’s tallest peaks?

I did a winter ascent of Mount Washington in the Cascades, and we got caught in a blizzard. I discovered that I had a capacity to overcome the physical challenge and push through. After that, I sought more challenging mountains, such as Mount McKinley. I didn’t think about climbing Everest until I had the skills. Back then, no one was guiding Everest—you had to rely on yourself to be physically capable of standing on top of the world.

How did becoming the first American woman to summit Everest change your life?

It didn’t change who I am as a person. It was a stepping stone, and it made me a role model—a responsibility I don’t take lightly. When I speak to audiences about teamwork and leadership and risk-taking, I have to be truthful. I have to live the talk.

There have been many deaths on Everest, including the loss of your longtime friend and climbing partner, Scott Fischer. Was death on your mind when you undertook this feat?

No. Mountaineers know the risks before they go, know the statistics. For most elite climbers, fear is a distraction that takes you away from focusing on the tasks at hand. If you’re thinking about death, you need to leave. You always think you’re coming back. It’s the people you leave behind who are the most afraid, because they don’t know what’s going on moment to moment.

What scares you the most?

I’m really afraid of the ocean. I worked on a fishing trawler in Sitka, Alaska, when I was 19, and I was terrified the entire time.

In 1993, you led an expedition to K2, the world’s second highest mountain and perhaps the most technically difficult climb. Tell us about that expedition.

I led the climb which included three Canadians and four Americans. We succeeded in getting three to the top. While the rest of us waited at 26,000 feet, one of the Canadians fell 8,000 feet to his death. As the leader, I had a responsibility to turn around. A storm moved in, and we barely got off the mountain alive.

What are the life lessons you take from mountain climbing?

You can’t do it alone. You accomplish things by working together with other people, utilizing their strengths and resources. Push through your fear, try things that take you out of your comfort zone. Understand that failure is part of the process toward success. Finally, dream big—why limit yourself? If you don’t try, you’ll never know.

Visit Stacy’s website beyondthelimits.com

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