Lydia Bradey, the first woman to climb Mt Everest without supplemental oxygen, has been awarded the New Zealand Order of Merit.
The honour came as a complete surprise to the mountaineer, who was guiding in Nepal when the ‘official-looking’ envelope arrived at her home in Lake Hāwea, and was opened on her behalf by her partner Dean Staples.
“My award was given because I’ve moved areas of mountaineering forward – a ‘trailblazer for women in mountaineering’ is how they put it,” Bradey said.
Bradey doesn’t know what called her to climbing, but she took to it early, and by 17 she had climbed Aoraki/Mt Cook and Mt Aspiring/Tititea.
“I have no mountain history in my family, but I think, given the chance, most people would naturally gravitate to one type of what I call big nature; mountains, oceans, coasts or rivers,” she said.
Her most famous climb was a 1988 summit of Mt Everest without supplemental oxygen.
In addition to being the first woman to do this, she was the first Kiwi woman to climb Mt Everest, and the youngest New Zealander at the time to make the summit.
The achievement was all about finding her limits, Bradey said.
“I thought, how hard can it be? Not in a scoffing way, but with a real, humble curiosity of finding the limits,” she said.
Bradey has returned to Everest five times to guide groups to the summit.
Despite her achievements, Bradey said she is ‘quite chicken’ in the mountains, and fear is never far away.
“It recedes if you climb a lot, but then if you don’t do it for a while, it’s there when you go back again,” she says.
Bradey is looking forward to some new adventures this year, including a climb of Chile’s Ojos del Salado – the world’s highest active volcano – a rafting trip in the Grand Canyon, and the launch in France of her book Going Up is Easy.