Fanny Bullock Workman
Fanny Bullock Workman (1859-1925) spent eight seasons exploring glaciers and mountains of the Karakoram and Punjab Himalaya between 1898 and 1912. She had made modest, guided ascents in the Alps with husband William Hunter Workman (1847-1935) interspersed with bicycle trips around Europe beginning in 1889. Cycling adventures, over time, took them to Algeria, Morocco, and Egypt, and then to South Asia, where they toured India, Burma, Java, and Ceylon. In 1898, as a break from touring, they trekked out of Srinagar and past Leh to the Karakoram La and then traveled across India to Darjeeling to attempt to walk around Kanchenjunga.
The beauty and challenges of the Karakoram enthralled them. They returned with Swiss or Italian guides and porters to explore and climb, among others, the Biafo, Hispar, Chogo Lungma, and Siachen Glaciers. Fanny climbed to 22,410 feet on Pyramid Peak, now called Spantik, in 1903 and in 1906 to the summit of Pinnacle Peak in the Nun Kun, estimated then to be 23,264 feet.
As a couple, Fanny and Hunter shared planning and executing expeditions and co-authored lavishly produced books illustrated with their photographs and wrote journal and magazine articles. They were proud and jealous of their accomplishments and were pleased to be honored by the American Alpine Club and Club Alpine Française. In 1905 Fanny became the second woman (after Isabella Bird Bishop) to lecture at the Royal Geographical Society in London and was pleased when she could add FRGS after her name—Fellow, Royal Geographical Society.
Honor of highest…the controversy, 1908-1910
Annie Peck climbed the Mexican volcanoes of Popocatepetl and Orizaba in 1897, when Orizaba (est. 18,160 ft.) was thought to be the highest summit in North America. She claimed the altitude record for women.
In 1899 American expatriate Fanny Bullock Workman made three first ascents in the Karakoram that exceeded Orizaba’s elevation: Siegfriedhorn, est. 18,650 ft.; Bullock Workman est. 19,450 ft.; and Koser Gunge, est. 21,000 ft. In 1906 she, with a guide and porter reached the summit of Pinnacle Peak (23,264 ft.) in the Nun Kun Massif.
Annie focused on searching for “the apex of America,” targeting Huascarán in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca. She succeeded in 1908, on the lower (north) summit. The mountain’s true elevation wasn’t yet known and newspapers published estimates ranging from 23,000 to 26,000 feet. Annie estimated 24,000 feet as likely, and if so she, not Fanny, held the altitude record for women.
On the September 1908 day of Annie’s success, Fanny and Hunter were finishing their season’s exploration of the Biafo and Hispar Glaciers. Fanny learned of Annie’s claim and wasn’t going to lose her record to an estimate. In June 1909, Fanny hired French surveyors to triangulate Huascarán. Their report arrived in November: Huascarán’s North Peak, the one Annie and her guides climbed, was 21,812 feet and South Peak 22,187 feet. Fanny dispersed the results far and wide in journals, magazines, and newspapers. She devoted a chapter in The Call of the Snowy Hispar (1910) to repeat survey findings and to take Annie to task.
Annie reiterated in 1910 that 23,000 or 24,000 feet were estimates only and that she couldn’t be responsible if they were taken as exact figures. Fanny’s 1906 record on Pinnacle Peak stood until 1934, when Swiss Hettie Dyhrenfurth with husband Günter Dyhrenfurth and party reached the western summit of Sia Kangri (formerly Queen Mary Peak, named by the Workmans) estimated to be 24,000 feet.
--Written by Sallie Greenwood, mountaineering historian and bibliophile. She is working on Women in High Places: The Pioneers, a history of women climbers.