Trailblazing women of the Southern Alps: you don’t get much better than Freda Du Faur

Ever heard of Freda Du Faur?  No, not many people have. 

Despite the fact that she was an absolute legend and pioneer of mountaineering in New Zealand and Australia, her story is relatively unknown.  Hopefully all that is soon to change with a possible movie of her life story in the works.

historic Graham brothers Freda du Faur copy

Freda Du Faur with guides Peter and Alec Graham


It’s the early 1900’s mountaineering in New Zealand was starting to gain serious momentum.  The snowy peaks of the Southern Alps was a breeding ground for a growing number of climbers, many of whom would go on to become, well, icons (think Sir Edmund Hillary, the Graham Brothers).   

It’s probably worth taking a moment to appreciate the considerable achievements these mountaineers were able to make given the equipment they had on hand.  First ascents, cutting new routes and building huts were all carried out without the high level of clothing and equipment we take for granted today.  This was a time before Gore-tex, Kevlar cable, lightweight packs and high-performance clothing.  These pioneers scaled alpine peaks and passes wearing hobnail boots, carrying heavy ropes and sometimes even wearing tweed jackets.  They didn’t have helmets and there was no such thing as a carabineer until 1911.  Talk about a challenge.

Sounds pretty tough, right?  Even tougher if you were wearing a dress.

Freda Du Faur was a trailblazing woman of the mountains who accomplished many extraordinary mountaineering achievements and first ascents in the early 1900’s.  And thanks to the archaic expectations of the day, she did it all while wearing a dress.

Australian born, Ms Du Faur accomplished amazing things in a field dominated by men.  In a time when women were expected to conform to a strict set of norms, Freda bucked convention.  Her time spent in the mountains unchaperoned would have done more than raise eyebrows.  But Du Faur didn’t let it stop her.  She overcame common disapproval and went on to achieve great things in her own right.  All whilst wearing a skirt below her knees (over a good pair of knickerbockers).

Freda climbed her way into the history books when she became the first woman to summit Aoraki/Mount Cook in 1910.  She did this with her long-time guides, Peter and Alec Graham.  The trio achieved many accomplishments together including a summit of New Zealand’s second highest mountain Mt Tasman in 1912 and the Grand Traverse of the three peaks of Mount Cook in 1913.  In only four mountaineering seasons, Freda climbed all the major peaks in the Southern Alps.


Legends of the West Coast

Around Franz Josef Glacier, we’re big fans of Freda Du Faur.  Her story is interwoven with the legends of West Coast mountaineering – Peter and Alec Graham.  Peter and Alec were also trailblazers of mountaineering and Freda was their most famous client.

Peter Graham is still recognised today as one of New Zealand’s finest ever climbers and Alec is considered to be one of the country’s most versatile climbers.  The Graham Brothers ran The Franz Josef Glacier Hotel for nearly 25 years where they were responsible for transforming Franz Josef from a mining town to a world-renowned tourist town.   Many consider the brothers’ greatest achievement to be the network of huts and tracks they built throughout the district.


Bringing Freda to the big screen

Jump to 2015 and Anita Ross is the woman who has written a film script about Freda Du Faur that will hopefully bring her amazing story to the big screen.

The film script portrays a woman who refused to conform to the expectations of the day. She reached great heights on mountains and for women in general. 

Anita Ross’ script is currently getting some great pick up on the crowd-funding site  Funds raised will help Anita get the extra help and mentorship to get the script onto the big screen. 

Franz Josef Glacier Guides recently made a pledge and we hope Anita will get the full amount of $3,500.  Keep up to date with Anita's progress on her Facebook page.

Let’s hope we see Freda up on the big screen very soon.