Mount Coropuna in Arequipa, Peru, is 21, 079 feet tall. In 1911, a 61-year-old woman named Annie was trying to make it to the summit. Mountaineering in 1911 involved taking serious risks. There were no oxygen tanks or supportive equipment, nothing to aid a climber in high altitudes. All Annie had to rely on was her determination, her experience, and her desire to reach the top. On the ground, it was sunny and warm. Up near the top Annie could see nothing but ice and snow. It was an alien world she was climbing through, and as she got farther and farther up it was getting more difficult to breathe. The summit seemed both impossibly close and incredibly far away, but Annie was determined to make it.
Annie was born Annie Peck Smith on October 19th, 1850 in Providence, Rhode Island. The youngest of four children, with four older brothers, Annie grew up spending more time playing outside and rough-housing than inside learning household chores. In addition to being extremely athletic, Annie was also incredibly talented academically. She earned a bachelor’s degree and a masters degree in Greek, both from the University of Michigan. She worked for a time as a teacher, in both the United States and in Europe. Her intellect alone was enough to impress; In 1886, Annie became the first woman ever to be permitted to attend the American School of Classical Studies in Athens. To support herself when she wasn’t teaching, Annie gave lectures in Greek archaeology. However, she soon found that often her audience was more interested in her hobby of mountaineering than in her studies.
Annie first became enamoured with the thought of scaling mountains during one of her many trips to Greece. She traveled through Germany and Switzerland, and the sight of the Matterhorn awakened a desire in her to reach new height. She began practice climbs in the United States, finally conquering Mount Shasta in California in 1888. Six years later, she made it to the top of the Matterhorn. The ascent brought her notoriety in Victorian circles, as did her next climbs in Mexico, one of which secured her the women’s altitude record in the Western Hemisphere.
Many people were just as fascinated by her climbing outfits as they were with her any exploits. For starters, Annie climbed in pants. Her outfits caused a stir in Victorian circles, as she was seen as very improper. In addition to her clothing, it was also seen as reckless and irresponsible for a women to be gallivanting around the world climbing mountains. Annie stated once, “Although one is not inclined to be timid or nervous, it is nevertheless a trifle depressing to receive letters full of expostulation and entreaty: ‘If you are determined to commit suicide, why not come home and do so in a quiet lady-like manner?’” In addition to her athleticism and intellect, Annie was also an avid supporter of women’s rights. She advocated for the right of women to be treated on the same level as men, whether it was in mountaineering or the right to vote. In fact, when Annie made her ascent of Mount Coropuna in 1911, she placed a pennant reading “Votes for Women” on the peak.
During her life, Annie wrote many books describing her record-breaking climbs and describing the travels she took throughout South America. Through it all, she remained a fierce advocate for the rights of women to take up so-called “manly” activities. Whether she was causing a stir with her climbing outfits or setting altitude records in Peru, Annie lived her life doing exactly what she loved. ”Climbing is unadulterated hard labor. The only real pleasure is the satisfaction of going where no man has been before and where few can follow.” Annie climbed mountains for the rest of her life. Her last climb was of Mount Madison, in New Hampshire, at the age of 82 years old.