Called to the Mountains

Posted by Sarah Stirling on 06/06/2020
Kirsty Pallas: Called to the Mountains

Called to the Mountains has just been released on BMC TV. This meditative, beautiful black and white short film focusses on Kirsty Pallas, a 26-year-old outdoor instructor and mountain rescue member from Oban in Western Scotland. Sarah Stirling catches up with Kirsty to discover more about the film and, as Kirsty's maternal side of the family are Indian, diversity in the British outdoors.

The meditative appeal of Western Scotland's remote, seemingly endless mountains form the backdrop to this beautiful black and white film, which focusses on one of Oban's local heroes.

An avid climber, 26-year-old Kirsty Pallas has been a full-time outdoor instructor for Hebridean Pursuits since she was 17, and is also a member of the local mountain rescue team. 

Kirsty lives a simple, wholesome life on the West Coast, knitting cardigans, growing vegetables and spending most of her time outside, instructing, climbing, walking, scrambling and swimming. She's genuine and friendly with a Yorkshire accent that had firmly embedded by the time her parents moved their young family to Oban, hoping to offer the children a bit more outdoor space and wildness. They came to the right place, as this beautiful film reveals.

WATCH: Called to the Mountains on BMC TV:

Sarah: Hi Kirsty, how’s lockdown been going for you on the West Coast of Scotland? 

Kirsty: It's been kinda tough and kinda not! We've had probably the best two months of weather, and all the crags will be so dry, but obviously no chance of climbing, which has been hard. But once I accepted that, it's been quite nice. I've spent a lot of time exploring locally round Oban and finding hidden spots, something I wouldn't usually do. 

I also started dipping in the sea from mid April, which has been great, it would usually be June before I'd go in without a wetsuit. I've been doing oher bits and pieces to fill the time, too, like knitting a cardigan (hopefully this one won't take as long!) and slowly learning Spanish.

How did you come to star in this lovely little film? 

I was introduced to Crusoe and Ali through a mutual friend in Oban. They were coming up to visit and wanted to make a couple of documentary style short films. My friend Jane suggested me as the subject of one of them, and it took off from there.

How long have you been doing what you do; is your sole income summer and winter from guiding? 

I'm 26, and I've been outdoor instructing since I was 17. It's been my full-time job since then, and became year-round instructing when I completed my Winter ML assessment at 23. My current job is Operations Manager at Hebridean Pursuits Outdoor Learning, which incorporates multi-activity instructing with admin and finance management, too.


All photos: Kirsty Pallas Collection

Where did you live before you moved to Oban and why did your family move there? 

We used to live in Guiseley, a town in West Yorkshire. Although it wasn't city centre, my parents wanted to bring us up somewhere with more outdoor space and wilderness. We'd looked at a few different places first, but we loved Oban and everything just fell into place.

Tell us more about why you love living there? 

Oban has a bit of everything, with mountains, sea, beaches and small crags all close by. There's a great community. A lot of people are here to spend time outdoors through a whole variety of sports. It also generally has drier and sunnier weather than places closer to the mountains, so it's great for getting out for a swim or boulder.

How did you get into climbing in the UK?

I actually started winter climbing before I started rock climbing. The senior instructor at the company where I was an outdoor education apprentice was really keen on winter mountaineering and climbing, so it all started with ridges and gullies round Glencoe back in 2012. A couple of years later I started rock climbing with friends I had met working through my outdoor qualifications, and it's been all I think about ever since.

How often do you get called out on Mountain Rescue? 

We get anywhere between 15-35 call outs per year, but they don't space out evenly through the year, and often come in a run of two or three then quieter for a while. We can be called to help lost walkers, search for overdue hill-goers, carry out folk who have had a small slip or trip, do a technical rescue of someone who has had a nasty fall on steep ground, or an avalanche rescue shout.

Your mum is Indian. Who are your non-white role models in the climbing world?

A few I have admired for a while are Molly Thompson-Smith and Aby Iyer from the UK, Prerna Dangi and Gowri Varanashi from India, and Irene Yee, Shelma Jun, Kathy Karlo, Meagan Martin and Favia Dubyk in the US. I've become aware of many more recently and I'm really pleased to have been introduced to all these climbers and outdoor enthusiasts.

All these climbers are women, as I'm more inspired by female climbers, but obviously there are plenty of great male role models including Trevor Massiah from the UK, Kai Lightner and Fred Campbell in the US, and Pete Hoang in Canada.

How can we encourage more minority groups into climbing and hill walking?

There needs to be space created for minority groups to feel comfortable and know their voices are going to be heard. It can be very intimidating entering a space where you don't see anyone you identify with, or anyone who looks like you.

My experience of this is from the outdoors being very male-dominated, especially in leadership roles, but there are still a few female figures there, so I can't imagine what it's like when there's no one like you there. I also think it's essential that we listen to people from minority groups on how we can encourage more participation, rather than trying to decide what will work for them.

Why do you think that climbing and mountaineering in Britain is still predominantly a white sport?

One of my favourite quotes is "We cannot be what we cannot see". If you don't see people of colour (POC) climbing, then you're unlikely to think of it as an option available to you or a space open to you. If you don't see a POC in an advert for outdoor gear, are you still going to spend your money on something that doesn't look like it caters to you?

There's also systemic racism here which means that generally POC are less likely to be in a position to have the opportunity to climb. Whether that's because they have to work more hours and have less free time, or they don't have the disposable income to get started, or they live in a more disadvantaged area with no means to get into the countryside, all of these are barriers which POC face in accessing the sport. Starting by dealing with these barriers directly, will allow increased accessibility into the sports and outdoor spaces we all love.

What sort of kit do you find doesn’t come in a decent women’s version?

There's a whole variety of kit, from jackets that aren't as high spec as the mens, to gloves only available in men's sizes and the small still being far too big, to shops that only stocks men's winter boots so you can't try any on. Things are getting better, but there's still huge difference in the amount of choice as well. One company I looked at this winter had 32 mens products and eight womens products, is that really going to encourage me to buy from them?

I've heard of some women putting another rucksacks back insert in to make it fit a shorter back better, but a lot of the time, women end up buying mens gear as there isn't a women's version that's suitable. This then skews the sales figures too, so companies don't see the demand of high quality women's kit, or decide to make it all pink, purple or teal.

Favourite crag for summer, and for winter? 

Ooh, this is a tricky one, I've still got so many places to explore! I think for summer it would either be the Ardnamurchan Ring Crags, or somewhere in the NW with lovely Lewisian Gneiss. For winter it's got to be Ben Nevis, there's just such a variety. But again, so many more areas I need to explore.

Favourite walk? 

I don't think I can pick one, a lot of what I love is the people I get out with too, so it all depends really. But if it involves ridgelines, scrambling, big open views, or bluebells, woodland and empty shoreline, I'm there.

Film Credits

Produced by: Drift Studio: www.driftstudio.london @driftstudiolondon
Starring: Kirsty Pallas @kirstypallas
DOP: Crusoe Weston @crusoeweston
Edit: Ali White @ali_ofg
Music by: Fred Baty @fcbaty
Sound Mix: Adam Durbridge

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Anonymous User
09/06/2020
Great article - made me think a lot, especially about POC and their reprsentation in guidebooks, advertising etc. And a wry smile for the comments on womens technical clothing! It is indeed a dispiriting situation.
Anonymous User
12/06/2020
Refreshing to see a different kind of adventure film. Not just a buff male nails climber. This film is inspiring yet achievable and raises some interesting points whilst showing some lush scotish countryside. (just a heads up I am a male climber and it still appeals more like this please)

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