The Oregon State University Sesquicentennial Oral History Project

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Stacy Allison Oral History Interview

Life history interview conducted by Janice Dilg.

July 21, 2014


Stacy Marie Allison was born in 1958 in Pocatello, Idaho. Early in her childhood, Allison's family moved back to Oregon, where her parents had grown up. The family settled in the Woodburn area, where Allison, the second eldest of five children, enjoyed piano, swimming, and tap dancing. In 1976 Allison graduated from Woodburn High School and that Fall she enrolled at Oregon State University, planning on someday becoming a nutritionist. Before long, however, her academic interests switched to Biology and, more importantly, her personal focus became mountain climbing.

Prior to her time at Oregon State, Allison had never been involved in mountain climbing. Indeed, her first climbing experience of any sort involved scaling and rappelling down a fifty-foot Douglas fir tree on campus. Later, during Spring Break of her freshman year, Allison traveled with two friends to Zion National Park, where she learned the basics of rock climbing. By the end of that trip, Allison realized that she wanted to devote her life to climbing. She completed the school year and then dropped out of OSU, taking up odd jobs to pay for climbing gear and to fund expeditions.

After continuing to develop her climbing skills at Smith Rock in central Oregon, Allison scaled her first mountain, Mount Washington, in January 1978. During these early years she climbed frequently with Curt Hare and Chris Mannix, both students at OSU.

In 1980, with Hare, Allison climbed Denali (also known as Mount McKinley) battling two storms along the way and taking eleven days to complete what would normally be a six-day climb. A group of older women climbers kept an eye on her during this trip, and afterwards one of them, Shari Kearney, offered Allison a spot on their forthcoming climb of Ama Dablam in eastern Nepal, scheduled for 1982. Allison joined these women as they became the first females to complete that climb. Not long after, Allison also became the first American woman to reach the top of Pik Communism (now known as Ismoil Somoni Peak) in the Soviet Union.

In 1987 Allison joined a group of friends in their attempt to climb Mount Everest. Working to place the first U.S. woman on Everest's summit, the group was slowed by a massive storm that slowed their progress, forced them to take refuge in a snow cave for five days, and eventually led them to turn around.

The following year, Allison make a second attempt at Everest. This time she joined a different group, the Northwest American Everest Expedition, led by Jim Frush and supported by three Sherpas. Hampered by a shortage of oxygen tanks as they neared the top, members of the group drew numbers to see who would go on to the summit. Allison's luck held out and, on September 29, 1988, she became the first U.S. woman to reach the summit of Mt. Everest.

After climbing Everest, Allison began a career as a motivational speaker focusing on leadership, collaboration, team building, and taking risks. In the meantime, she continued to climb in multiple countries. In 1993 she summited K2, the world's second highest mountain and one of the most difficult and dangerous to climb. That same year, she published her first book, Beyond the Limits, which was followed by Many Mountains to Climb in 1999.

Allison stopped seeking out big mountains after giving birth to her first child, but remains active with rock climbing, white water rafting, kayaking, mountain biking, and traveling with her family. In addition to her speaking career, Allison is also the founder of a general contracting company that specializes in the renovation of classic homes in Portland, Oregon, where she lives. She is also co-chair of the Climb for Clean Air/Reach the Summit programs – an Oregon fundraiser for the American Lung Association that trains and guides inexperienced climbers up mountains across the Pacific Northwest.