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First British woman to reach the summit of Everest celebrates D of E Diamond Anniversary with Oakham


Oakham School was delighted to celebrate the Diamond Anniversary of the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme by hosting an inspiring talk of adventures from across the globe by Rebecca Stephens MBE, the first British female to reach the summit of Everest.

Oakham is renowned for offering the Duke of Edinburgh Award, having run the scheme for the last 56 years, for being the first school to reach 1000 Gold Award holders, and to have achieved an astonishing 5000 Awards in 2011! Rebecca, who was also the first British woman to scale the Seven Summits (the highest mountain on each of the seven continents), praised the School for “embracing the D of E Award with such enthusiasm”.

Rebecca joked that whilst she personally hadn’t had the opportunity to take part in the D of E Award Scheme during her school days, she has spent the rest of her life ‘catching up’! She extolled the values of the Award, describing it as a “wonderful, enriching experience” that helps build confidence and encourages pupils to work collaboratively. She outlined that whilst other educational approaches may come and go, the Duke of Edinburgh Award has been offering this wonderful provision consistently for 60 years.

Her talk focused on her assent of the world’s highest mountain, 23 years ago, where she climbed shifting ice crevasses with her heart in her mouth, battled the so-called 8K ‘death zone’ and spent just 5 minutes on the summit. She enthralled students with her tales of how she dispatched her reports – lugging a typewriter around with her and working with carbon paper and Tippex. They were astonished to hear how she was unable to know whether her reports of her ascent, trusted to strangers to fax them back to London, were arriving or even being published!

She also talked about the challenges of the other six summits; the fact that she had climbed three before knowing about the Seven Summit project, and then racing to climb the final four mountains in just five months to become the first British female to do so (and to retain her sponsorship!) She finished by describing her involvement, over the past 20 years, with the Himalayan Trust – a charity that works to help the mountain people of Nepal.

During her lecture, Rebecca offered students some sage advice – that now, reflecting on all of her travels, she rarely thinks about the summit. Instead she focuses on the journey, because this, along with the people you meet along the way, is what “matters most”. Oakham’s D of E students (of which there are around 300 every year) have certainly taken part in some exciting journeys and expeditions during their time the School – including what we believe to be the first ever D of E trip to the Falklands, alongside expeditions to Nepal, Mongolia, Borneo and Peru!

Students in the audience, some of whom had climbed Mount Kilimanjaro (one of the Seven Summits) on a recent school trip, thanked her for answering all their questions and for her inspiring lecture.

Published: June 6 2016

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