An Extraordinary Women, Photographer and Mountaineer

Audrey “Lizzie” Hawkins-Whiteshed

Here, we celebrate a County Wicklow local (close to our home and heart) who took on the challenge and achieved many great things in the Mountaineering world, she became a pioneer for Women in Mountaineering.

Looking back allows us to see how far we’ve come. Getting safely up and down mountains is something we can take for granted. Tools, technology, the knowledge accumulated over time, it’s all part of this art that has been refined for centuries now. The following lady had a major influence in the mountaineering world. Forging a path for future generations of women mountaineers.

Early Life

Born in 1860; Elizabeth Hawkins-Whitshed (later known as Aubrey Le Blond) in Killincarrig, Greystones, Co. Wicklow. Lizzie married her first husband Captain Fred Burnaby in 1879 (who later died in battle in Sudan in 1885), from 1881 Lizzie started travelling around the alps in Switzerland trying to find a cure for a lung difficulty she was experiencing. She found herself in Chamonix now a world renowned alpine and mountaineering capital in the Alps.

Lizzie had a great taste for adventure and mountaineering, in 1881 she climbed two thirds of the way up Mont Blanc in ‘high heeled buttoned boots and shady hats’. The next summer she was more successful summiting Mont Blanc (4810m) not once but twice!

“It must have been something in this spirit that made me, in the days of my early youth, commence in a rather unconventional manner, my mountaineering career. Barely had i reached the tops of a few Chamonix peaks - I began ascending Mont Blanc from the french side, and a few days later going up and over from Italy - then i pined for something quite out of the usual routine’

-Elizabeth Le Blond from Mountaineering in the land of the Midnight Sun.

Over the next 20 years she spent much of her time in Switzerland, marrying for a second time in 1886 (her second husband died in 1892). Lizzie made many ascents in Summer & Winter including many first ascents.

In 1886 Lizzie wrote one of her books; High Life & Towers of Silence, quote:

“Madam” he continued feebly thumping his mattress with his fist; “madam” no women can go up Mont Blank“ in all this fresh snow, or no man either as far as that goes!”

-from a chapter titled ‘Tourists and others whom one meets’.

1900she married for a third time to Audrey Le Blond, where she would then be more known; Mrs Aubrey Le Blond. She later moved further north and spent 6 summers exploring and expeditioning around Norway, Lapland & the Arctic, where she made many first ascents and explored unchartered territory.

In 1907 Lizzie helped to establish the first women's climbing association in the world; the Ladies Alpine Club and became its first president, this was a great achievement of courage and inspiration for females when the world of mountaineering would seem a very masculine world.

“There is no manlier sport in the world than mountaineering”

-Elizabeth Le Blond, True tales of Mountain Adventures

Lizzie wrote many books of her mountain tales and adventures and was a keen photographer always having a camera with her. Her best known books are; True tales of Mountain adventures, Mountaineering in the land of the Midnight Sun and Adventures on the roof of the world.

She continued to travel widely, including parts of Asia and Europe, she maintained her involvement with the Ladies Alpine Club until she sadly passed in London in 1834, just a year after being reelected as its president. On this day, we pay homage to a pioneer in mountaineering, exploration and photography. She pushed boundaries, defied convention and prompts us to ask the question; why we explore?

#ChooseToChallenge this memorable year (2021) is the chosen theme by International Women’s day globally celebrates the achievements of women; socially, economically, culturally and politically.

“There is no question of beating any one else, as in a race or a game, or of killing an animal or a bird as in hunting or shooting. A mountaineer sets his skill and his strength against the difficulty of getting to the top of a steep peak. Either he conquers the mountain, or it conquers him”

-True Tales of Mountain Adventures By Aubrey Le Blond (Printed 1903)