Celebrating Women & The Great Outdoors
To celebrate International Women's Day 2017 on Wednesday 8th March, we spoke to some incredible women who just love the great outdoors and have done amazing things across all four corners of the globe.
We've spoken to mountain bikers, climbers, outdoor bloggers, and more about their achievements, what else they want to do, and who are their female role models.
Click on the links below to jump to a person's answers or just scroll down and read the whole lot...
When I started mountain biking, I did it to improve my fitness. Now I ride to challenge myself – both in terms of technique and fitness, for adventure, to spend time with my friends and for my mental health too: working out in the great outdoors is great therapy! Basically though, I ride because it’s fun.
Where are some of the best places you've ridden?
I’ve ridden some amazing trails – the rocky coastal path around Menorca was truly beautiful with ever changing scenery, and northern Spain has some great off-road riding too. In the UK, Dartmoor is a magical landscape, and I love the challenges thrown down by trail centres such as Afan and Coed y Brenin in Wales. But my favourite trails are the ones at home in the Surrey Hills. Even though they are familiar, they are consistently fun and offer a different experience every time you ride.
Where would you like to ride but haven't yet?
I’d love to go to California – which is where mountain biking started – to ride some of the trails there. But basically any combination of a beautiful landscape and fast, flowing trails is an ideal destination for me!
Any tips for anyone wanting to take up mountain biking?
Mountain biking is a little like skiing or horse riding: as well as fitness, you need to learn specific skills to help you maintain balance and speed over varied terrain. Once you have developed those skills then you can keep building upon on them and challenging yourself a little more. No matter how good you get, there will always be something new to try. That’s why it is so engaging.
If you are new to mtb then its important to understand how your mountain bike works and to make sure it is well maintained. It’s not rocket science, thankfully! Does it have full or front suspension and is it set up for your weight, for instance? Are the brakes serviced, is the tyre pressure correct, and do you know how to fix basic mechanical issues such as a puncture (and are you carrying the kit to do it)? Otherwise you may be faced with a long walk home!
You will definitely need to wear a helmet, and padded shorts and padded cycling gloves are a must-have on longer rides. Carry a water bottle too – it’s thirsty work, particularly on the climbs!
I’d recommend riding with someone who is experienced as they can give you advice, will know where to ride, and can show you the easier routes around tricky sections. It’s also a good idea to get tuition from a mtb coach – even one session can make a huge difference to your skills and confidence.
Do you have any female role models?
Rachel Atherton and Tracy Moseley are British pro riders who are amongst the best in the world and both give back so much to the sport.
My friends are also important role models to me. I have ridden with the same group of women for twelve years, and we ride together every week. Riding in a group provides motivation, friendship and support and I never tire of spending time with them.
Are the things you do not absolutely terrifying? Do you not worry what could go wrong?
I do a lot of things that scare me but I try to do them in an intelligent and calculated way. It's helped me a lot in life to have the experience of facing my fears and learning how to reduce risk.
You've done some amazing things, is there anything left you really want to do?
For me, having adventures and pushing my limits is really about the experience of being outside and living a free and joyful life. I hope to keep having adventures, big and small, for my entire life! Right now I'm really motivated to combine climbing with wingsuit BASE jumping - climbing up a mountain and flying off the top.
What advice do you have for anyone wanting to get into climbing?
Learn as much as you can about ropes, knots and safety systems: this will give you the confidence to know you can keep yourself safe without having to rely on someone else's knowledge.
Do you have any female role models?
I think very highly of Senator Elizabeth Warren.
Which of your many achievements stand out from the others?
I would say Everest because it was my ultimate goal and because I bonded the most with my team – none of whom I knew beforehand, but all of who struggled with me. Through temperatures which dropped as low as 40 below and winds that roared to 45 mph, our team of 10 dwindled down to six by summit day, just to climb the Hillary Step and walk those final feet to the tallest place on earth.
You've achieved so much, is there anything left you really want to do?
Of course! The Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench is the deepest known point in Earth's oceans at 10,994 meters, some 2,146 meters deeper than Everest is taller. That sounds like fun!
Do you have any advice for anyone wanting to follow in your footsteps?
Well, I don’t advocate climbing, per se, but I do advocate adventure and exploring. Both are useful, but the point is to let curiosity be your guide and to eventually graduate to a higher purpose where you can give back to science – especially climate change and sociology.
Do you have any female role models?
This is such an important topic because I didn't grow up with female role models, but that does not mean they did not exist. It comes down to exposure and it is worse these days with social media. Somehow we must find a way to separate the social media obsession with ‘celebrity’ and substitute people who do cool things that inspire. Perhaps sponsors could think outside the box and help aspiring role models rather than using sports agents to sign yet another football player, artist/singer, basketball player, etc. to sell a brand. So I’m up for it and I think women are out there, but they are hidden gems – diamonds in the rough, waiting to be polished and presented.
Vanessa is going to K2 in June 2017 and seeking sponsors. Anyone interested should contact her at [email protected]
You've been to some amazing places, what are some of your favourites?
That’s always such a difficult one to answer! But I would say that Antarctica is one that certainly takes some beating. Picture the wildest place you’ve ever seen, then imagine it on steroids! The mountains are bigger, the glaciers are bigger, the volume of wildlife is bigger – the sense of isolation – of being properly removed from anyone and anything is something you can feel in every ounce of your being.
Another favourite is the Sundarbans in Bangladesh - home to an abundance of wildlife including the Bengal tiger and the Ganges river dolphin. They are very hard to see, so there’s no guarantees, but the thrill of the ‘what if’ along with the incredibly friendly villagers and fishermen make it a very special place indeed.
Finally I’d have to say Fisherfield Forest in the far north of Scotland. It’s home to the official Middle of Nowhere (in the UK) which I sought out and slept in for a wonderfully wild night in my bivvy. It’s home to some of the best mountains on our beautiful island. As a wild camper it’s kind of my Graceland.
What else is on your bucket list?
People always say I travel a lot, but I swear the more I travel the more I want to see. I was lucky enough to take the Trans-Siberian train last year across Russia and now am desperate to go back to Lake Baikal in winter. I’d also like to see the remote Wrangel Island for the walruses and wooly mammoth tusks, the Kamchatka Peninsula with its explosive volcanoes. And I’d love to go back to Antarctica to see it from the New Zealand side.
Do you have any female role models?
When I was growing up, there weren’t that many that we were told about. The only one I remember was the climber Alison Hargreaves who sadly died on K2 when I was in primary school. I thought what she was doing sounded amazing, but then the media lambasted her for ‘leaving her children’ despite male mountaineers doing it all the time and never meeting the same criticism.
But as I’ve got older I have found and discovered some for myself. There’s Mabel Barker – a teacher who was famous for being a close friend of the ‘Caveman of Borrowdale’, Millican Dalton, but who actually put up an abundance of climbing routes in the Lakes and deeply believed in getting children (especially girls) into the outdoors and arguably pioneered the microadventure back in 1836.
Then there’s the wonderful walker and writer Nan Shepherd; the Victorian woman Isabella Bird who travelled the world and wrote about it; Gertrude Bell who – as well as putting up new routes in the Alps – was key to establishing what is now known as Iraq, being a key British official in the Middle East and a kick-ass explorer and archaeologist. These women are everywhere, hidden in the cracks of history. We need to shout about them more.
On a personal note I’d also say that the two female role models for me were my grandmother, who fought in WW2 and determinedly travelled the world after she was widowed, and my mum who sadly died far too young. She always told me to believe I could do anything and never give up trying. Because of her I never have…
Phoebe is also a prolific author, with titles including The Book of the Bothy and Extreme Sleeps: Adventures of a Wild Camper.
There is a huge and amazing community of outdoor bloggers here in the UK and around the world, and we were lucky enough to also grab a few minutes with some of the phenomenal women writing about their outdoor experiences.
We spoke with Tamsyn Smith (Fat Girl to Iron Man), Shell Robshaw-Bryan (Camping With Style), Zoe Homes (Splodz Blogz), Carol Cain (Girl Gone Travel), Lizzie Carr (Lizzie Outside), and Lauren Moseley (Helpful Hiker), and here's what they had to say...
What is it about the great outdoors that you love so much?
Tamsyn: I love being out in the fresh air and the changing terrain - who wants to run on a treadmill when you can go trail running?! I really enjoy the peace and tranquility of being outdoors, I also like experiencing the seasons and observing changes in nature.
Zoe: The outdoors is definitely my happy place. I love being out in the countryside, enjoying the fresh air and a little bit of exercise. I think it’s the views that do it for me the most; whether I’m looking at the endless landscape from the top of a mountain, the sea from a harbour wall, a flat landscape with a big sky, or nothing other than rows and rows of trees before me. The world is an amazing place and I just love to see it with my own eyes.
Shell: I love the disconnection from my hectic everyday life. Spending time in the great outdoors gives me the opportunity to slow down and focus my attention on the joys of nature. Being outdoors makes me think in a much more mindful way which immediately increases my sense of calm and wellbeing.
Lauren: Being outdoors is the best meditation! Being away from all the distractions and stress of everyday life and just focusing on the here and now is an amazing feeling. It also helps that I get to see some of the most beautiful views in Britain at the same time. As a hobby, getting outdoors pretty much has it all - and it's mostly free.
Carol: I love the silence of it. Although there is always sound around us, either from wildlife or the wind, it’s that disconnect from the world, from social media, from everyday that helps bring me back to centre. I feel like I can breath, like I find my focus, and can prioritise the things that matter most.
Lizzie: I love the sense of escape and freedom that it brings, and that you have no choice but to rely on yourself - it gives you a lot of confidence. There’s nothing quite like it battling against unpredictable conditions, and challenging landscapes to test your character and resilience. We learn so much about ourselves in these situations.
What do you enjoy about blogging about your experiences?
Zoe: I write for two reasons. The first is as a record of what I’ve been up to for my own benefit (a great way to keep hold of the memories), and the second is to hopefully encourage or motivate others to try similar things. Splodz Blogz is my little corner of the internet that allows me to share and engage with all kinds of people about things I enjoy – and it’s a great way of meeting new people who like the same things as me.
Lauren: I have always loved writing, so I really enjoy the physical process of blogging, but I also love inspiring people. It's great when someone comments on a post and tells me how much they enjoyed it. It's the best feeling ever when someone tries something new, or visits somewhere, because I recommended it.
Shell: Blogging about the adventures we go on gives me the chance to relive the experience. Instead of doing something and forgetting about it, writing about it means that I focus on it and tend to appreciate it so much more! Instead of my thoughts instantly moving on and then looking forward to the next thing, taking time to write about our adventures allows me to focus so much more on all the good things in life.
Lizzie: My blog is a documentation of milestones and memories to look back on in years to come. It’s also a way of sharing my journey to living a more active and adventurous life following my cancer diagnosis, using it as a way to show others that we can achieve the life of our dreams despite challenges and setbacks we face. I’m an environmental campaigner as well, and last year started a nationwide campaign to rid our waterways of plastic, so my blog also draws attention to the environmental issues affecting us today, like plastic pollution.
Carol: I didn’t grow up camping or hiking. It wasn’t something my immigrant parents really exposed us to. I didn’t discover my love for it until I had kids, and I had so many misconceptions as a city girl, as a woman of colour, about what that experience would be like. When I blog about it, I want to try to change the stereotype of who is an “outdoorsy” person. I want to show that it isn’t something limited to just one set group of people, and that it doesn’t have to be expensive, or something to be nervous about. We should all take some time to explore them and take in the gift of nature.
Tamsyn: Blogging is my creative outlet. I stared bloging as a way of keeping myself accountable, but I've been told that I have inspired others, which keeps me going.
What are the top 3 things on your bucket list?
Carol: I have only done segments of the Appalachian Trail. I would love to one day hike the whole thing. I have a few camping trips I would like to do this year, specifically in the spring and fall. I would like to return to Acadia National Park for a week long, no-social media, getaway.
Canada is celebrating its 150th anniversary in 2017 and as part of the celebration, they are offering free admission into their national parks. I am hoping to take my family on a camping/hiking trip there this year.
Lizzie: Where do I start…there’s still do much I want to see and do but the one that I keep coming back to is eco-adventuring through central and south America. To explore the Amazon, hike across Patagonia and paddle the cayes of Belize would be an incredible experience.
Zoe: The biggest dream that’s on there at the moment is to visit both Poles – North and South – somehow. I would love to ride a motorbike there, but to be honest just visiting would have me fulfilled on that one.
Second on there would be to do one of the UK’s long distance walks; I’ve chosen the West Highland Way and will be doing that with a couple of friends in October this year.
Third would be to drive the North Coast 500 up in Scotland, a part of the world I already love and have visited many times, but it’s a great reason to go back and explore even more.
Lauren: I am really keen to explore the Nordic nations, as they have stunning landscapes and interesting cultures. I think Norway is top of the list. Closer to home I'd like to visit more of Scotland, particularly the islands. I'd also like to have a go at wild camping, then maybe in the future I can attempt a long distance path over a few days.
Tamsyn: I'd love to run the Classic Quarter ultra marathon in my native Cornwall; swim around Brownsea Island; and cycle from Land's End to John O'Groats.
Shell: The biggest thing on my bucket list, I'm actually going to fulfil in April and I'm stupidly excited about it! I've always wanted to see manta rays in the wild, so I'm off to the Maldives to go diving and have chosen an island that will provide a high chance of seeing mantas. The next items high on my list are completing a 'challenge' - I'm thinking something along the lines of the Yorkshire Three Peaks and finally I also really want to snowboard in Utah, somewhere like Alta or Park City.
Do you have any female role models?
Lauren: There are some amazing female outdoor role models, and I've been lucky enough to meet some very inspiring people. I particularly admire people like Sophie Radcliffe and Sarah WiIlliams, who not only set themselves tough challenges, but share their passion and positivity so well.
Shell: I'm not one for celebrity culture, so when it comes to role models I tend to find I'm much more influenced and inspired by the people in life. I have a number of incredible female friends who I regard as being excellent role models for various reasons.
As far as well-known role models go though, I am part Burmese, so I would have to choose political campaigner Aung San Suu Kyi for her tenacity and sheer determination, and I'd also cite British snowboarder Jenny Jones as a role model. She's an incredible athlete and has won everything from the X Games to gold in the Winter Olympics, and reminds me that in many cases, age isn't a barrier or a valid excuse for not going for it, whatever 'it' might be.
Carol: I am a huge fan of Mirna Valerio, (aka Fat Girl Running) long distance runner, fellow mom, and breaker of stereotypes of what an outdoor loving woman looks like.
Joyce (aka @HikerGirl76) for her inspiring tales from the outdoors.
Beth of Wanderlust and Lipstick, for her work in inspiring women to travel the world.
Lizzie: I admire ordinary people that have the courage to find what they are passionate about and pursue it. Seeing people achieving extraordinary things - the type of stuff you don’t allow yourself dream about - in any area of life is really inspiring to me.
Tamsyn: Shu Pillinger (the fastest British woman to cross America by bicycle)... and Jo Pavey, just for proving that motherhood doesn't have to mean an end to competitive sport.
Zoe: In the age of social media I think we are fortunate that it’s easy to find females to inspire and motivate us in whatever it is we want to achieve. Just look at Anna McNuff, Sophie Radcliffe and Belinda Kirk, you can’t fail to be inspired by the adventures, expeditions and other things they get up to. And then there are my friends too – Tara, Michelle, Allysse and Jenni among others, each showing me day by day that we can have the lives we want, full of all kinds of fun adventures. I don’t know about you, but I need that reminder sometimes that normal people can have adventure too.
An enormous thank you to everyone who contributed, and we look forward to seeing what exciting things they, and all the other amazing women pushing boundaries in the outdoors, get up to.