Cathy O'Dowd – Keynote Speaker

The first woman in the world to climb Mount Everest

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Specialist Subjects

  • Think Like An Explorer
  • Reaching New Heights
  • Adventure
  • Leadership
  • Teamwork
  • Risk Management
  • Project Management
  • Women in a man’s world
  • Overcoming obstacles
  • Achieving goals


  • English
  • Spanish


Cathy O’Dowd is the first woman in the world to climb the world’s highest mountain from both its north and south sides. Her first ascent of Everest happened in the midst of the chaotic events that form of the basis of the ‘true story’ behind the Hollywood movie Everest.

Cathy, who grew up in Johannesburg, South Africa, has climbed ever since leaving school, both rock-climbing and alpinism. `Her first expeditions were to central Africa and the Andes, followed by a year exploring the Alps.

She was completing her Masters degree in Journalism, while working as university lecturer, when she saw a newspaper advert for a place on the 1st South African Everest Expedition. Six months later she became the first South African to summit Everest.

Three years on she became the first woman in the world to climb the mountain from both sides. She made one last expedition to Everest to try a new route on the Kangshung face. She has written a book about her Everest experiences, Just For The Love Of It.

The years she spent in the Himalaya were for her a degree ‘in living’. The insights she discovered about herself, and about individuals and teams under intense stress in the face of overwhelming challenge, are ones she has been sharing with her corporate audiences ever since.

Her stories touch on themes of importance to anyone trying to run successful projects and get the best out of people.

Surf ski in South AfricaCathy canyoning in SpainCathy climbing in SpainCathy ski mountaineering in CanadaCathy O’Dowd jumping into the Ordiso canyon in SpainCathy on Nanga ParbatCathy trail running in AndorraCathy O’Dowd on a sea kayak trip in the Finnish archipeligoCathy on the summit of Everest

Cathy has been a professional speaker for 27 years and has presented her message to companies in 46 countries on six continents. She is a Fellow of the Professional Speaking Association of UK/Ireland, who have given her their highest award, the Professional Speaking Award of Excellence.

Cathy’s most challenging Himalayan epic was as part of a team attempting a new route on an 8000 metre peak. Although Cathy herself did not reach the summit, two of her teammates did, doing the first ascent of Nanga Parbat via the Mazeno ridge, and winning the prestigious Piolet d’Or for their achievement.

She has turned this experience into a fascinating interactive case-study of successful project execution of truly innovative goals.

Cathy lives in Andorra, in the Pyrenees mountains, from where she pursues her speaking career, and explores the mountains of Europe. In her free time she does technical rock-climbing, ski-mountaineering, canyoning and sea kayaking.

In 2023 Cathy is focused on canyoning and sea kayaking adventures, with trips to places including Morocco, Madeira, Utah and Crete. Through the summer she is travelling through Scandinavia with her sea kayak.

Popular Talks by Cathy O'Dowd

Think Like An Explorer

A dramatic story of managing uncertainty while navigating a new route in the high Himalaya. Cathy has turned this extraordinary experience into a case-study of the challenges of being a pioneer, and she takes the audience with her in this interactive presentation.
Your people will be on the team, experiencing the uncertainty, participating in the key decisions and living with the consequences.  An adventure keynote experience unlike anything you have seen before.
Join the expedition with an interactive adventure. The climbing team is confronted with a series of crucial choices. Facing the intense uncertainty of pioneering a new route, they need to take decisions under pressure, with limited information and many unknowns. What should they do? What would the audience do? Cathy challenges them to join in at these key decision moments.

Reaching New Heights

Teamwork and leadership from the slopes of Mount Everest.
The place where mountains and business meet is with people: ambitious people tackling overwhelming challenges in high-risk, high-stress environments – high achievers whose natural ambition drives them to competition rather than cooperation, yet who need to collaborate effectively in high-performing teams.
With honesty and humour, Cathy shares the ways in which we create our own disasters and shows how we can overcome our mistakes, refocusing teams to push upwards to summit success.
A real-world case-study of the reasons for failure on projects, and the keys to success for peak performing teams. In mountains, as in business, there is much about the external environment that cannot be controlled. The place where we can most easily and quickly improve our effectiveness is in the attitude of our people – how focused, motivated and efficient our teams are.

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