With the Women’s Adventure Expo quickly approaching, we speak to Becky Coles from All But Essential Travel about her adventures and experiences that led her to this point, and where she hopes to go next!
Please tell us about the best adventure you’ve had in the last 18 months.
As an expedition leader I’m fortunate to have lots of adventure as part of my work. Over the last 18 months I’ve led a trekking expedition in the Wakhan Corridor, Afghanistan, led back-to-back teams on Aconcagua (6956m) (I was quite tired after these), taught students about geography in Iceland and Switzerland and a couple of days ago I got back from a remote mountaineering expedition in western Mongolia. I also moved up to Scotland again for the winter and climbed harder than I’ve climbed before by climbing Gemini (VI, 6) on Ben Nevis. That seems quite a lot! I always think I’m such a slouch and everyone is doing so much more than me.
Hardly a slouch, Becky! So, what’s next?
I’m planning to head to Nepal in the Autumn to attempt an unclimbed 6000m peak. This is a personal expedition. I think it’s really important to spend time doing expeditions for myself, rather than just for work, to develop my own skills and experience and to keep my love and passion for adventure.
What do you think is really exciting in the world of adventure at the moment?
Adventure’ seems to have become quite trendy at the moment. As you can tell by my use of the word ‘trendy’, I am not! I don’t really follow trends, just do my own thing depending on opportunity and what inspires me. It is great to see more women in the outdoors and getting involved with adventure. The Afghanistan trip and Mongolian expedition I led recently both had a 50/50 gender split. However, I feel that fewer women are doing independent and more technical expeditions. That’s the next step and would be great to see.
We agree! Who inspires you and why?
People who inspire me are authentic, tenacious, original, talented and honest.
Many of the people I’m inspired by come from the climbing and mountaineering community but there are also people who do other things. People like Lynn Hill, Gwen Moffatt, Ines Parpet, Lizzie Hawker, Nicky Spink but also people such as Annie Nightingale.
What are you most proud of being able to do today that you could not do a year ago?
I’ve become proficient in a loads of skills in the mountains in the last year or so. I knew the skills before but now I’m teaching them it means a whole new level of proficiency. I have just got beyond the really having to think about things and plan sessions and now can run them without loads of stress the night before! I still don’t sleep before a summit day when I’m leading a group on an expedition though.
We learn from our mistake and they have the ability to improve us, but people are scared to make mistakes. What would you say to a person who is scared of making mistakes?
I believe fear can massively hold people back, especially women, and this is relevant in all sort of aspects of life and work. As a climber, if I have a fear of falling then I can’t be the best climber I could be. That’s because I wouldn’t push myself to the limit, I won’t focus on the task, instead I’ll be preoccupied with what will happen if it goes wrong, which, in most cases, has pretty minor consequences. It’s the fear of it is a lot worse.
What are you doing for yourself right now, simply to improve your adventure?
Finding time and energy to have my own adventures. Adventure is a very personal thing. One person’s adventure could be another person’s everyday and to another could involve unjustifiable risk. I love helping people realise their adventure but I need to make space for my own adventures.
If you could make a 30 second speech to every woman, who is interested in adding more adventure into their life, what would it be?
I think Eleanor Roosevelt’s, “do one thing every day that scares you,” is timeless advice. By exposing ourselves to the unknown, the intimidating and the daunting, no matter how small, we become braver, more resilient and able to take on the world!
What do you think makes women feel more confident about planning their own adventure?
I’ve found the most confidence boosting thing when planning trips was having someone NOT think it was complete lunacy! When I planned a trip to Afghanistan for the first time I was expecting to be told it was a ridiculous idea so I kept my plans to myself. When I did tell people about my plans many people did rubbish it or didn’t take me seriously but a few people did believe in the trip and this made an enormous difference to me. These people then provided support and valuable advice which was instrumentally in the trip going ahead. When doing something different, especially if you’re not conforming to social norms, then it is scary to invite comment on your ideas but I believe it is really important as even if you only get one positive response that may be a gem that makes the adventure plans reality.
What is the top piece of advice you would pass on to a woman traveling independently?
I give this advice to men and women when travelling and trying to make a judgement on whether someone is trustworthy. It is a very simple rule and is founded on the idea that 99.9% of the people in the world are honest, kind people who want to help. Therefore, it is extremely unlikely that if you approach someone to ask to for directions, for example, that you have picked an unsavoury character, and when that person offers to take you there themselves then this is a genuine offer. However, if a person approaches you offering help, this changes the percentage chance of whether they will be trustworthy. I prefer to politely decline offers where someone has approached me. Be aware that the high percent of genuine people reduces in close proximity to airports, port town and around border crossings!
That is really good advice! When was the last time fear stopped you from doing something you wanted to do? And how do you deal with fear when you are on adventure?
I get scared all the time, especially when I’m climbing. If I am feeling scared, I analyse it (I’m a scientist). I think about likelihood and consequence. I don’t believe in the ‘6th sense’ as such, although I listen to that feeling, as there will be a reason that I feel that way and it’s important to understand why I do and analyse whether it’s justified. For example, if walking home in the dark in an unfamiliar place. The ‘6th sense’ may indicate danger but I always take note of who else is about. If there are other women and children I can be pretty confident it’ll be safe for me. If it’s just men lurking about I might take a different route or a taxi as a precaution.
What are the most important questions you think a woman can ask herself in life?
You only have one life. Is this the direction you want it to take? Don’t worry if you’re not there, the most important thing is that it’s the right direction. If you’re not moving in the direction you want, what steps do you need to take to start heading in the right direction? Remember, taking the first step is always the scariest.
Absolutely right – the first step is the toughest. Becky Coles is participating in the Lowe Alpine ‘Guide to Adventure’ Sessions at WAExpo 2016. These practical workshops will expand on more useful advice on how to break into the world of adventure and make it a greater part of your life. Becky’s workshop, ‘An Adventurers Life for me, please!’ addresses ways in which you can turn your personal dream into your reality.