meet the expedition leader

Written by Chris Hunt Photography by Simon Verspeak

Today is International Women’s Day and yesterday, Becky Coles, one of our female expedition leaders passed her Mountaineering Instructor Certificate. If there’s a better excuse to check in and chat, we’d like to hear it.

Becky has been leading expeditions for over 15 years, and taken part in expeditions on all seven continents and in 75 different countries. She’s climbed 7000m peaks, bagged first ascents in South Georgia, Antarctica and Nepal, as well as a major ascent in the Hindu Kush mountains in Afghanistan. She’s a Wilderness First Responder, a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society an sits on the Mount Everest Foundation expedition committee. Member of the Alpine Club she’s also a brand ambassador for Lowe Alpine and amidst all of this, had enough time to complete a PhD in Glaciology.

We caught up with Becky fresh from her MIC course to hear her thoughts on today’s women in adventure.

Hey Becky, how’s it going?

    I’m just drawing breath having passed my MIC yesterday. After four pretty intense days I’m exhausted and completely drained, but quite chuffed.

    Who or what initially inspired you to follow such a life and career?

      I’ve always enjoyed the outdoors. I was mainly keen on seeing wildlife when I was young, then when I was 17 I went on my first expedition (as well as first flight and trip outside western Europe). The expedition was in South Africa and it really opened my eyes to travel, expeditions and how trekking can be a fantastic way to experience a country.

      The adventure community is pretty forward thinking, but what challenges have you faced as a woman in the industry or when travelling?

        People who don’t understand a place often tell you that you can’t or shouldn’t do something or go somewhere. It can be really off putting and make you feel like what you’re doing is reckless and selfish. I have now learnt how to decipher opinions worth taking heed of and those to filter out, usually with the question, have you actually been there?

        iceland-trekking Shot on expedition in Iceland © Secret Compass Find out more about this year's Iceland expedition here.

        We’re definitely seeing more women in adventure, but how do we inspire more people to embrace adventure be them male or female?

          You don’t have to do the biggest, scariest adventure you can think of as the first thing you do. It’s good to dream big, but work up to it. Have your first camping experience in your back garden before you set off to the other side of the world on an expedition which will involve wild camping. Taking the first step is always the most difficult. Sometimes life commitments can get in the way of the big dreams but life becomes less frustrating if you feel like you’re doing something towards a big trip, however small that might be.

          Fear is often the catalyst for all kinds of outcomes in adventure. What’s your advice on how to harness fear, knowing your personal limits and where to draw the line?

            Fear is a good thing, it can keep us safe, and is definitely something to listen to. However, it is always something to analyse, why I am I feeling fear? Is it just because this is a new experience, or is there something that isn’t right?

            In your opinion, who are the women really pushing the envelope in adventure in 2018?

              Ines Papert is an incredibly talented climber doing bold first ascents in remote areas and Tania Noakes is currently skiing the length of Norway solo.

              Becky Coles rock climbing ©Simon Verspeak

              What do you want to see change in adventure?

                There has definitely been huge momentum with women getting into adventure but there still a great disparity in diversity and opportunity from people from different backgrounds. I’d like to see society in general better reflected in adventure.

                What’s next for Becky Coles?

                  Yesterday I passed my Mountaineering Instructor Certificate. It’s the pinnacle of UK mountain qualifications and gives me the huge privilege to share my love for Scottish winter climbing with people. I’ve dedicate the last three winters to working towards the assessment. Today I’m drawing breath, so the future is wide open at the moment.

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