Cathy O'Dowd keynote speaker
Cathy O'Dowd keynote speaker

Cathy O’Dowd

First woman to climb Everest from both north and south sides

Speaker Themes

  • Teamwork and leadership in high-stress environments
  • Executing plans and dealing with risk
  • Goal-setting

Travels from

Andorra or London, UK


Cathy O’Dowd is the first woman in the world to climb Mount Everest, the world’s highest mountain, from both its north and south sides.

A superb story-teller, Cathy draws on her extraordinary experiences as a climber to provide invaluable lessons for businesses about teamwork, leadership and succeeding in high-stress environments.

She was completing her Masters degree in Media Studies at Rhodes University, and working as university lecturer, when she saw an advert in a newspaper for a place on the first South African Everest Expedition. She was one of 200 women who applied for the Everest place, and was the one finally selected. The team followed the route made famous by Edmund Hillary. Despite being the apprentice on the team, on 25 May 1996 Cathy reached the summit. It was, however, a tough introduction, as British team-mate Bruce Herrod was killed on the descent.

In 1998 she took on the challenge of the treacherous north side of Everest, where George Mallory had famously disappeared in 1924. Her attempt ended just hours below the summit when she stopped to try and save a dying American woman.

In 1999 she returned once more, and succeeded, becoming the first woman in the world to climb Everest from both north and south sides.

Cathy O’Dowd has written two books about her Everest experiences, Everest: Free To Decide, co-written with Ian Woodall, and Just For The Love Of It.

In 2000 she became only the fourth woman in the world to climb Lhotse, the world’s fourth highest mountain. And in 2003 she returned to Everest one more time to make a bold but ultimately unsuccessful attempt to climb a new route on the notorious east face of Everest.

Cathy remains an active adventurer. From taking a dog-sled expedition through the remote wilderness of the Norwegian Arctic to the northern-most point of Europe, to tackling the sheer rock walls of Yosemite National Park, she always has new goals and experiences in mind.

Cathy has also climbed the Mazeno ridge of Naga Parbat. Where countless international climbing teams have tried and failed, her team managed it. They planned their route thoroughly with strategic decisions, maintaining clear leadership in uncertain times and encouraging innovation in the face of challenges. Cathy has successfully summited Mount Logan, the second highest peak in North Africa.

For more information on Cathy O’Dowd’s speaking topics, contact Leo at leo@vbqspeakers


Cathy is an impassioned and amazingly vivid story-teller. Her presentations take audiences on an emotional journey that really drives home her lessons about teamwork, how to deal with risk, and achieving the impossible.

What is it that makes some teams crumble and others succeed?

What tools do you need to ensure that you conquer your Everest?


“Cathy will take you on a journey to the top of Everest. Your emotions will feel the highs and lows. However the main thing is the lessons about yourself and team dynamics. I highly recommend Cathy as Speaker and an author. Even after seeing her speak the book made me wipe a tear from my eyes!” — Scott Bell, Founder, UK Firewalk

“Cathy is an exceptional inspirational key note speaker. Her story about what it takes to climb Mount Everest from a team and management perspective is compelling and the key messages of the utmost relevance. “Get rid of Hippie Racers” and “Ask the Sherpas” became immediately part of our management language… Very powerful!” — Stephan Schulz, CFO, Hartmann Group

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