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Vanessa O'Brien
O'Brien at the top of the Aiguille du Midi, Chamonix, France
Born 2 December 1964 (1964-12-02) (age 56)
Nationality British and American (dual nationality)
Occupation Mountaineer, Explorer, Aquanaut and Author
Known for First woman to reach Earth’s highest (Mount Everest) and lowest (Challenger Deep) points (Guinness World Record), First American woman to summit K2 and first British woman to summit K2, First completion of the Seven Summits by a woman in 295 days (Guinness World Record), First woman to complete the Explorers Grand Slam in less than one year
Awards Guinness World Record 2020, Fearless Girl 2019, SES Explorer of The Year 2018, Guinness World Record 2013

Vanessa Audi Rhys O'Brien (born 2 December 1964) is a British and American mountaineer, explorer, aquanaut, author and former business executive. On June 12, 2020, O'Brien became the first woman to reach Earth's highest and lowest points, receiving a Guinness World Record. She became the first American woman to climb K2 and the first British woman to climb K2 (as a result of her dual nationality) on 28 July 2017, successfully leading a team of 12 members to the summit and back on her third attempt. She is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society (RGS) and a Member of The Scientific Exploration Society (SES).

O'Brien received a Fearless Girl Award in 2019 and was awarded Explorer of The Year in 2018 by SES. She set a Guinness World Record for climbing the highest peak on every continent in 295 days, the fastest time by a woman. O'Brien has also skied the last 60 nautical miles or 111 km to the South Pole and North Pole completing the Explorers Grand Slam in 11 months, becoming the first woman to do so in under a calendar year and the 8th woman in the world to accomplish this.

Early life

Vanessa Audi Rhys O'Brien was born on 2 December 1964 and grew up in Grosse Pointe Farms, Michigan. O'Brien attended New York University School of Professional Studies (SPS) where she received her Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Executive MBA in Finance from NYU’s Stern School of Business.

O'Brien worked as a Director of Finance and Business Development for Morgan Stanley, Barclays Bank, and the Bank of America.

Ambassador, board and research roles

O'Brien is an Honorary Advisory Board member of the Scientific Exploration Society. She is also a Community Ambassador for the outdoor equipment company, Arc'Teryx, Soho, New York, and a Goodwill Ambassador for Pakistan, an Honorary Ambassador of the US Nepal Climbers Association Inc., and is an active member of The American Alpine Club. O'Brien previously held board positions at The Explorers Club, the American Pakistan Foundation, and was a former Advisory board member for Thomson Safaris. O'Brien has contributed to a number of research and scientific projects including investigating the effects of nocturnal hypoxic exposure on high-altitude mountaineering (Explorers Club Flag No. 206 to Manaslu's summit at 26,759 feet), testing the thinning of high altitude glaciers (Explorers Club Flag #132 to the Godwin-Austen Glacier at 16,500 feet), and illustrating the impact of climate change at the equator in advance of COP21 in conjunction with Project 25Zero.

Summits and poles

Having trekked to Mount Everest base camp and reached the summits of a number of notable mountains, including five of the world's fourteen 8,000-meter peaks (Shishapangma, Everest, Cho Oyu, Manaslu, and K2), including summiting two eight thousanders back-to-back just 8 days apart (Shishapangma and Cho Oyu), O'Brien decided to build on her passion for mountaineering and set herself the challenge of achieving the Explorers Grand Slam. The Explorers Grand Slam entails reaching the Seven Summits, the North and South Poles, as well as meeting the Three Pole Challenge.

Challenger Deep

O'Brien joined Caladan Oceanic's Ring of Fire expedition to the Pacific Ocean to survey the bottom of the three pools that constitute Challenger Deep in partnership with NOAA. On 12 June 2020, Victor Vescovo and O'Brien descended to the "Eastern Pool" of Challenger Deep spending three hours mapping the bottom, with the dive scanning approximately one mile of desolate bottom terrain, finding that the surface is not flat, as once was thought, but sloping, and by about 18 ft (5.5 m), subject to verification.

Other sports

After taking the American Red Cross flag to the North Pole in 2013, O'Brien completed the Boston Marathon in 2017 to help the American Red Cross raise over $512,000 for charity.

O'Brien has the following photography credits at Forbes magazine for Motorsports in 2018 covering The National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) Four-Wide Nationals at zMAX Dragway in Charlotte, NC: Don Schumacher, Leah Pritchett, Tony Schumacher, and Antron Brown. O'Brien also has the following photography credits at Forbes magazine for Motorsports in 2015 covering Pocono Raceway: Justin Wilson, Mario Andretti, Rick Mears, and Sage Karam. Additional photos include Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi, Mike Hull, and Pippa Mann.

Mountaineering expeditions

Vanessa Obrien on Top of K2 Summit in Northern Pakistan 8,611m, July 28, 2017
O'Brien on top of K2 Summit, Northern Pakistan, 8,611m, on 28 July 2017, at the moment she becomes the first American woman to summit K2
The Seven Summits 2
Mountain Height Date Climbed Location
Kilimanjaro 19,340 ft. 10 March 2013 Africa
Everest 29,035 ft. 19 May 2012 Asia
Denali 20,320 ft. 19 June 2012 N. America
Elbrus 18,510 ft. 15 July 2012 Europe
Carstensz Pyramid 16,023 ft. 23 September 2012 Oceania
Kosciuszko 7,310 ft. 3 October 2012 Australia
Vinson Massif 16,050 ft. 5 December 2012 Antarctica
Aconcagua 22,841 ft. 20 January 2013 S. America
Three Poles Challenge
Mountain Height Date Climbed Location
Everest 29,035 ft. 19 May 2012 Asia
South Pole 89 Degree 15 December 2012 Antarctica
North Pole 89 Degree 16 April 2013 Arctic Ocean
Other Expeditions
Mountain Height Date Climbed Location
Everest 18,500 ft. 28 April 2010 Asia (Nepal)
Shishapangma (Central) 26,273 ft. 4 October 2011 Asia (Tibet)
Cho Oyu 26,906 ft. 12 October 2011 Asia (Tibet)
Lobuche East 19,700 ft. 14 April 2012 Asia (Nepal)
Mont Blanc 15,781 ft. 25 June 2014 Europe
Manaslu 26,759 ft. September. 25, 2014 Asia (Nepal)
Cayambe 18,996 ft. 30 May 2016 Ecuador
Chimborazo 20,564 ft. 6 June 2016 Ecuador
K2 28,251 ft. 28 July 2017 Asia (Pakistan)
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