"I want to do what mum did" - Alison Hargreaves' son to solo Eiger north face at 17

Posted: Aug 02, 2006 02:00 pm EDT

(MountEverest.net) Alison Hargreaves was a bold woman. She was the first female climber to solo the six most famous north faces in the Alps. She also achieved the first female Everest summit without supplementary O2, climbing on her own and carrying her tent along the way up. I'd rather live one day as a tiger, than 100 years as a lamb, the British ace climber once said and as a tiger she died, in 1995 on K2. A sudden storm engulfed a group of climbers on their way down from the summit, taking the life of five of them.

Mums long shadow

Alisons legend has survived her, and affected deeply those close to her like her son Tom. Now Tom Ballard has announced he will follow in his mothers foot steps on the Eiger North face, in a likely reckless style: Solo and in winter. Tom is only 17 years old. "I want to do what mum did, he told journalists earlier this week.

In fact, Tom has somehow already climbed the route back in 1988 when he was in the womb of his 6-month pregnant mother. The difference is, Alison was already a very experienced alpine climber when she tackled the classic Heckmair route on the face Tom, on the other hand, hopes to launch a career as a professional climber with this ascent.

No details have been release on Tom's previous climbing experience. Regardless, the Eigers north face demands highly technical skills, especially if the climb is to be done solo. Besides, the Eigernordwand presents serious objective dangers, and it has a pretty scary record of accidents.

Father Jim Ballard: Its Toms decision

During her life, Alisons choice to be a mother and a professional climber at the same time raised both praise and criticism. She was 32 when she died, leaving behind a husband and two children: 6 year old Tom, and 4 year old Kate. Six months after the tragedy, Alisons husband Jim also gained some bitter comments when he decided to take the orphaned children on a trek to the place where Hargreaves had met death. Jim also took along a filming crew to record the moving episode.

As for young Tom's plans, Jim Ballard told The Times: It is Toms decision to want to attempt to climb the Eiger and he wants to do a specific route. He is the young boy with a famous mother and he wants to climb one of the most notorious mountains in the world, but I am anxious that no one puts pressure on him.

A solo climb and a BBC crew around

The fact that a BBC team will be recording the climb doesn't seem to put any pressure on Jim. According to The Scotsman, the British Broadcasting Channel is believed to be paying around £100,000 to film the venture. The BBC will film the Eiger trip for a program titled 'Children of the Mountains'.

A spokesman for the program said: "I visited the family a few months ago. He (Tom) is very muscular and I think he is going to turn into a genius climber. He is like Spiderman with ability and grace when he climbs."

According to plans, Tom and his sister Kate (currently 15 and a keen snowboarder) will travel to the Alps in winter. After several weeks of training, Tom hopes to climb the Eiger between January and February.

Alison Jane Hargreaves was born in the UK in 1962. She started climbing at 13 years old, and soon started tackling alpine faces. Eventually she became the first woman to solo the classic north faces in the Alps. In 1985 she achieved the first ascents on Lobuche and Kangtega (Himalaya), together with Jeff Lowe and Mark Twight. In 1988 she soloed the Heckmair route on the Eigernordwand when six-months pregnant.

In spring 1995 she became the first woman to summit Everest without supplementary O2 or Sherpa support. Three months later she summited K2, also w/o O2. Sadly, she was swept off the mountain during a storm on her way down. Eight other climbers would die on K2 that season. She was 33 years old when she died. She was married to Jim Ballard and had to children, Tom and Kate.

The Eiger (3970m) is one of the best known peaks in the Swiss Alps, and the 2000m tall Eigernordwand (its north face) is one of the most feared alpine walls. Between 1935 and 1977, 43 climbers died there some of the bodies remained on the wall for years. The first winter climb of the classic route (opened in 1938 by Harrer, Heckmair, Kasparek and Vörg) was achieved by Walter Almberger, Toni Hibeler, Toni Kinshofer, and Anderl Mannhardt, in March, 1961.


The infamous Eigernordwand is one of the most feared North faces in the Alps. Image by the late Milen Milchev, who summited Eiger via the wall in a three-man team in March 2002, courtesy of ClimbingguideBg (click to enlarge).
In 1988 Alison Hargreaves soloed the Heckmair route on the Eigernordwand, six-months pregnant. File image of Alison courtesy of Desnivel.
courtesy Desnivel, SOURCE