Interesting outdoor careers: Sian Sykes interview

Posted by Tina Gardner on 15/01/2014
Sian at Macchu Picchu with Huayna Picchu in the background

Sian Sykes swapped a high flying, well paid job in London for a completely different pace of life in North Wales. What inspired her to give it all up and what does she miss most about city living?

How did you get into the outdoors? Has hill walking always been the activity/sport that you enjoyed the most?  I virtually grew up on a mountainside. I was born and brought up on the edge of Snowdonia, and I have been active in the mountains since I was young. My first taste of wild camping took place when I was just three weeks old and I haven’t looked back.

Since then, I’ve travelled the world, building up vast experience of trekking, climbing, leading and teaching.  I have dabbled in other sports, like horse riding, but I am always drawn back to the mountains. It is where I feel most happy and free. I love the mountain environment in all weather conditions, it’s always changing.

What triggered your 'career change'? How's it going and do you have any regrets so far?  I had no idea when I was growing up that you could develop a career in what you really loved. So, like Dick Whittington and his cat, I headed to the city (minus cat) in order to pursue a career in Digital Advertising.

I have been lucky enough to work with really exciting global brands but the 18 hour days demanded of a Project Manager were taking their toll. I loved the daily challenges and had a lovely team around me, but it was time to slam on the breaks and rethink my life choices. I’d like to call the next phase an early mid-life crisis, during which time I moved back to Wales. And that’s when I first heard about Mountain Training.

I signed myself up to do my Summer Mountain Leader Award and Single Pitch Award, which I gained in rapid succession. Then the doors started opening for me. I've had great opportunities to lead clients up the most amazing mountains in the UK and lucky enough to even lead worldwide expeditions. I've been told my love for the outdoors is infectious and I enjoy nothing more than inspiring clients to get out into the wild to fulfil their aspirations. That’s why I created my business Psyched Adventures.

I don’t have any regrets, but readjusting to a significantly reduced income has been harder to adapt to than I thought it would be! And I miss cheeky cocktail evenings with the girls in London. Having said that though, my aspirations have dramatically changed and nothing is more important to me than being in the mountains and inspiring others to get out and experience wilderness.

Why does the International Mountain Leader award appeal to you?  The next chapter of my career development is pursuing my International Mountain Leader award. It’s a great award to hold and it will allow me to gain additional credibility, experience and skills.

What’s the best mountain adventure you’ve had since starting your Mountain Training journey?  This year I was lucky enough to visit Nepal to recce a new trekking route for the business. I was thrilled to summit my highest mountain yet, so pretty chuffed! I really enjoyed the Manaslu circuit; it was such a varied journey, with incredible scenery and amazing people.

What do you do with your award(s) on an average day?  At the beginning of my outdoor career I did a lot of 3 Peaks Challenge work, but since I set up Psyched Adventures, I now do private guiding and skill-based courses too. I help people develop their knowledge, allowing them to enjoy the mountains in a safe way. We are a provider for the new Mountain Training Hill and Mountain Skills Scheme that launches in April 2014 and the course will certainly give people the skillset to get out in the mountains with confidence. We will make it accessible to all abilities, so it's very exciting to be launching soon.

What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to someone thinking about doing a Mountain Training award?  It may seem daunting but just go for it! Who knows where it will lead? My advice is to be true to yourself and keep going forward.

What are your plans for your future in the mountains?  I want to qualify for the International Mountain Leader award and extend our expeditions beyond the UK.

Where’s your favourite place in the mountains?  Away from the masses, I like to find solitude and nothing can beat a breath-taking sunrise.

What’s your scariest moment in the mountains?  After climbing Ben Nevis, I experienced a total whiteout and had to carefully navigate myself off the mountain. It was great experience to test my abilities and skills. I was lucky enough not to be benighted on the mountain.

What’s your favourite bit of kit you take with you on a day out hill walking?  I can’t do without my walking poles. They really look after my knees. And after years walking in the mountains, it’s time to take care of them!

Read a follow-up interview on Mountain Training's website.

This article is part of a series of articles on the BMC website celebrating Mountain Training’s 50th anniversary year in 2014.



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