a mountaineering pioneer
In the early days of mountaineering, women wore long skirts and had to fight social norms to reach the highest peaks.
What attracted Therese Bertheau, a highly educated female teacher, in the late 1880s to devote herself to climbing – a sports up till then reserved for men only? The reason is probably as obvious as it was for men:
The Mountains offered solitude, danger and freedom.
Therese Bertheau was born right outside of Oslo, at Skjeberg, in 1861. She was educated as a teacher in languages English, French and Norwegian. At the age of 24, in 1885, she became interested in climbing. Her first summit was Uranostinden in Jotunheimen – which she reached together with a British tourist and a Norwegian mountain guide.
Ten years later, in 1894, she did something spectacular. She wanted to try to reach the peak of Store Skagastølstind at 2405 MASL. At eight o clock that evening, she reached the summit being the first woman ever. Her friend Antoinette Kamstrup, had promised her parents not try reaching this highly challenging summit and stayed at the cabin while Therese and her mates climbed to the top. Therese reached Store Skageststølstind eight times in her life.
So – at this time, in the late 1880s, we got a highly educated woman that was more than just slightly interested in outdoor living – this was quite unusual. This was men’s territory.
In the late 1900th century, it was not only the physicals challenges that made Therese’s achievements spectacular. A detail like women’s dress code in the mountain added challenges.
At that time, wearing long skirts was the norm.
Of course, it was not without risks, climbing mountains in skirts. There were many possible skirt-related incidents and disasters to keep in mind. For instance, Felicité Carrel attempt in 1867 to reach the summit of The Matterhorn with her father was prevented when her skirts ballooned in the wind and it was too dangerous to go on. A common compromise was to wear a skirt or dress as one left the hamlet, then take it off at the base of the mountain and climb in more sensible clothes. Mrs Aubrey Le Blond set off on a traverse of the Rothorn with her guide and came down the other side and realised that her skirt was still at the summit. There was no choice but to re-ascend and return to their starting point.
Therese climbed in a knee skirt in the mountain, which was replaced with an ankle-lined skirt when she approached a hamlet. And she did not wear a helmet, well, no one did at that time, but a little hat.
Therese Bertheau was a pioneer. She was not only Norway’s first female climber, but she was in fact also the first Norwegian to do sports climbing over a longer period of time. In 1896 she had a summit named after her, Tussetind a peak of 2043 MASL also known as Austre Holåtind. She became internationally famous for her pioneering mountaineering, and the famous British climber Willian Cecil Slingsby highlighted her as one who proved that mountain climbing was as much a sport for women as for men.
Therese Bertheau was elected to the board of the Norwegian Tourist Board in 1902 and became a member of the Norwegian Tindeklub in 1909.
In an interview with the women magazine URD in 1902, Therese was asked by the interviewer if she was afraid to fall down and get killed, whereupon Therese answered:
«I don’t think there is fear connected with that thought. But I sure would like to die close to the mountains, so I could see them».
Facts Therese Bertheau
- Born 23th November 1861 in Skjeberg, died March 1936
- Teacher and climber
- First woman to climb Store Skagastølstind.
- She reached almost 30 peaks, most of them being the first woman to reach.