Biography of U.S. Mountain Climber Fanny Bullock Workman Part 2

About the American mountain climber Fanny Bullock Workman, biography and history of the U.S. traveler.


FANNY BULLOCK WORKMAN (1859-1925). Traveler and mountain climber.

As a respite from their bicycling, they took a side trip into the Karakoram Mountains, mostly on foot, in the summer of 1898. They fell in love with the "snows." That fall, they tried an expedition into the mountains of Sikkim, but it fell afoul of government delays, late rains, and recalcitrant porters. The Workmans, with their brusque American manners, never learned to deal with Indian servants in the smooth British fashion. They told of a harrowing night on the return journey, trudging in the dark, whipped by a cold wind, down a rain-wet treacherous path which "wound among projecting rocks, was crossed by gigantic tree roots, and was bordered on either side by precipices." Their coolies, carrying supplies, had lagged far behind, and they spent the night sitting up in a primitive cabin. It was during that trip that Fanny fell into a crevasse at Snow Lake and had to be pulled out by ropes, emerging with her hat still on her head. Yet they left with regret, looking back to where, "far within Nepal, Everest, with its giant sister, rose straight and creamy from a lapis lazuli plinth of hill and cloud."

From 1899 to 1912 the Workmans conducted seven expeditions into the Karakoram range and the western Himalayas, about which they wrote five thick mountaineering books. Much of the territory was un-mapped. The peaks they scaled were higher than those in Europe, and there were no amenities like alpine huts. Supplies and outfits had to be shipped from Europe. Coolies, porters, guides, assistants, and mapmakers had to be hired. Scientific and photographic projects had to be planned. They split duties. For one expedition, William might take care of ordering and hiring, while Fanny planned scientific and photographic work; for the next, they would switch. They measured altitudes and temperatures, named new peaks, studied glacier movement and structure, recorded the physiological effects of high altitudes, filled in uncharted areas on maps. Sometimes they were wrong. Upon occasion they mistook one peak for another. Nonetheless, their work was immensely valuable to geographers and mountain climbers.

Fanny set a new altitude record for women when, in 1899, she climbed 21,000-ft. Mt. Koser Gunge. On their 1902-1903 expedition to the head of the Chogo Lungma Glacier, she broke her own record by climbing 22,568-ft. Mt. Lungma, and in 1906 on 22,810-ft. Pinnacle Peak in the Nun Kun, she set a record that would last 28 years. The Workmans could claim other records: William set a man's altitude record, and in 1908 they completed the longest ice journey yet made--75 mi.--by traversing the Biafo Glacier and Hispar Pass in the Hunza Nagar region.

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