Interview by Stuart Worsfold
How did it all start for you with climbing? Did your parents climb as well or were they just walkers?
I got into the outdoors through walking with my parents, but they didn't do any climbing. Walking up Snowdon would be an extreme expedition for them. In fact, I didn't really like walking when I was small, especially if I could see how far I had to walk, so they find what I do now quite amusing.
What made you join the Alpine Club?
I joined the AC initially for the expedition grants, but continued to be a member because of the community of other members.
Where is your favourite place, or your perfect spring day climbing?
I love ice climbing on the Ben, although the other day when I was freezing doing some mixed climbing in the Cairngorms I was thinking about summer rock climbing.
Do you prefer snow and ice over rock?
Mostly, but I like the variety.
Do you get to the Alps a fair bit?
I try to go a couple of times a year, usually once to ski and then once in the summer when I'm often working. I am an International Mountain Leader so my work is leading treks. It's very civilised and is great as it's not too physically demanding so I have the energy and psyche to go alpine climbing on my days off. This year we popped up the Mittellegi Ridge on the Eiger, spent the night in the Mönchsjochhütte, then popped over to climb the Monch the next day, before heading back to work. In fact, it's a miracle I passed my IML as a couple of days before the summer assessment I was climbing the Kuffner Arete on Mont Maudit.
Do you ski mountaineer as well?
Yes, I really enjoy my skiing, tour and mountaineering, but I'm not going to the Alps this winter so it's just Scottish skiing for me.
Who are your female icons?
Lynne Hill was a real inspiration. Learning that she was the first person to climb the Nose free and then climb it the following year free in under 24 hours really opened my eyes to the possibilities to women being pioneers in climbing. I met Lynne when she came to Bristol for the Women's Climbing Symposium 2017. I got quite star struck. I learnt about Alison Hargreaves and her achievements later, not sure why, I guess it was the books I was exposed too. Her North Faces in a single season blows my mind. Ines Papert is another inspiration, climbing the Hurting in full on Scottish conditions and her technical new routes in places like Kyrgyzstan are very impressive.
Do you feel that women get a fair chance in the world of climbing?
There's a real energy at the moment for women in climbing which is fantastic to see and loads of super talented female climbers. I've personally benefited from some of the grants for women going on expedition like the Alison Chadwick Memorial Grant and Julie Tullis Memorial Award.
So you don’t think it is too bad on the whole, not too much of a misogynistic society?
I find people in the climbing community are some of the most open-minded, welcoming people. Any ignorance I've come across has mainly been from those who don't climb. I was once removed from leading an all-girls school group going on a expedition in Bolivia because the parents thought that their daughters would be safer with a man leading the group.
So no real negatives then?
There are without a doubt still barriers for women. How our society brings up girls means that they are not as comfortable pushing themselves out of their comfort zones, they are told to be careful more often than boys and put off doing sports. It is still less socially acceptable for women to spend prolonged periods of time away and indulge in activities that are perceived as risky, especially if they are mothers. This all translates to less women being involved in climbing especially in the trad. climbing, alpine climbing and mountaineering spectrum. But things are definitely changing, initiatives such as the women's trad. climbing festival and women's winter skills courses are all getting the message out there that women do have the ability to get into the mountains and climb or mountaineer. From an expedition perspective, when I was starting out, I found I had less opportunities compared to my male peers as it wasn't perceived that I could 'at least carry some of the loads and be a good craic', but this isn't just a gender thing, it's probably true for anyone who doesn't fit in to a particular image. It led me to organise my own expeditions which has now turned out for the best as I have people asking me if they can join my trips. My dream would be that one day there was equality in the mountains and the need for all women courses or grants became redundant, but we're not quite there yet.
What else do you do apart from climbing?
I like to travel, not just to climb. I got into the outdoors because I liked wildlife - probably the only reason I endured those long walks my parents dragged me on - and wildlife and the natural world still interests me. I read more nature writing than mountain literature. I also have a background in geography and science which I continue to be involved in in a number of ways. When I'm not climbing I enjoy cycling and open water swimming.
Is your work as a mountain leader mainly UK based or all over Europe/worldwide?
I hold the Winter ML, International Mountain and Mountaineering Instructor Award (MIA). I spend about a third of the year working overseas and the rest in the UK. Being freelance the work is really varied. I work for expedition companies like Jagged Globe, with groups of young people as well as the military to name a few. Last year my overseas work took me to Tanzania, Switzerland, Iceland, Russia (Elbrus), and Uganda with a couple on their honeymoon! In the UK I do most of my summer work in North Wales, the Peak District and Scotland based in Inverness or the Isle of Skye. In the winter, I rent a place near Glencoe.
So climbing and mountaineering is your life then?
Yes, I'm quite boring really.
What are your future climbing plans?
I've got a few ideas for first ascents expedition in the Greater Ranges. I'd also like to get to know the Alps a lot better and go to some areas which I haven't been to before.
So you would like to do a first ascent?
I've done five first ascents expeditions. I climbed four first ascents in South Georgia. I've been to eastern Tajikistan twice to attempt the same 6000m+ peak but it remains unclimbed. An expedition in the Wakhan Corridor, Afghanistan saw us summit a mountain on the Afghan/Pakistan border which we thought was a first ascent but it actually turned out to be climbed. In 2016, Simon Verspeak and I climbed a 6000m+ peak, Lasarmula, in the far west of Nepal that we believe was a first ascent. But, yes, I'd like to do more.