First American Woman on Top of the World

I met Fran Yarbro when I was 17 and she was 15. We were both on the varsity volleyball team at The American School in Switzerland. We spent two hours together every afternoon at practice. She was a natural athlete and good at volleyball as well as all the other sports she played and an excellent skier. She was beautiful. But she was tough. Nobody messed with Fran.

From high school she went on to get a Masters degree from the International School of Business in Arizona. She lived most of her life in the mountains, mainly in Colorado. She was also a mountain climber. When she was 33, she was climbing Annapurna and met Sergei Arsentiev. Sergei was famous in Russia for being one of the best climbers ever. He had climbed all the major mountains in Russia as well as Everest. In 1992 they climbed Mt Elbrus in the Caucasus and Fran skied down. They were married that same year and soon moved to Colorado together.

Fran had a dream. She wanted to summit Everest without oxygen. On May 22, 1998, Fran became the 8th woman to summit the north face of Everest, she was the first American woman to summit the north face of Everest, and she was the first American woman without oxygen to summit the north face of Everest. Fran was 40 years old and she had realized her dream.

And then it all went wrong.

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  1. Thank you for sharing this truly heart-stirring story.

    …Нет алых роз и траурных лент,
    И не похож на монумент
    Тот камень, что покой тебе подарил,-
    Как Вечным огнем, сверкает днем
    Вершина изумрудным льдом –
    Которую ты так и не покорил…

    They have conquered that mountain peak so their lifestory is even more glorious.

  2. I’m very glad you told this story. Fran and I were introduced to technical climbing together on a high school climbing course near Andermatt Switzerland. We joked then about climbing Everest, it was on both our bucket lists. As adults our paths diverged, she stayed in the mountains she loved and I became a business traveler. I was in a hotel room in Frankfurt when a mutual friend called me to tell me abut Fran’s terrible passing.

    I had not heard that Ian Woodall had come back to put her to rest, nor that her summit had been confirmed, it warms my heart. Fran died the way she lived, close to the edge and living her dreams. Francys Elena, may you Rest in Peace.

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