It was International Women's Day earlier this week, so we caught up with International Mountain Leaders Becky and Julia. They're truly international. Between them, they've been to every continent.
In brief, what's your job all about?
Becky Coles I work as a freelance outdoor instructor and expedition leader and as a result my work is pretty diverse. As an expedition leader I work all over the world, leading both young people and adults on expeditions. When I'm in the UK I mainly work as a climbing instructor, as well as teaching navigation and supervising many Duke of Edinburgh expeditions.
Whilst finishing my PhD in Glacial Geomorphology I set up a business, all but essential travel, which runs workshops for people planning to travel independently or organise their own expeditions. I will be delivering an expedition planning workshop at the Sheffield Adventure Film Festival in April.
Julia Tregaskis-Allen I am an International Mountain Leader and Nordic Ski Teacher with a background in fitness, outdoor education, personal training and triathlon coaching. Along with another International Mountain Leader, Lindsay Cannon, we set up and are Directors of Tracks and Trails a private guiding and adventure travel company. Our trips are based mainly in the Alps and Scandinavia offering both bespoke and scheduled holidays for groups, individuals and families in cross country skiing, snowshoeing, trail running, walking tours, Nordic walking and biking.
Why did you choose to work abroad rather than in the UK?
Becky Coles I love to travel, and climbing and trekking has taken me to some interesting parts of the world. However, it isn't just about a mountain for me, it's about the journey; the people you meet along the way, the insight into their lives, physical, logistic, linguistic and administrative challenges to overcome, and experiencing first-hand the huge variety of landscapes that are found on Earth. It's essentially about exploring, and if it's a new place or new experience for me, then I believe that is exploration. If I can share the experience with a group of people who can humour my enthusiasm for this, then that’s even better.
Although I love overseas travel, I still love exploring closer to home. As tiny as our little island is, it has an incredibly diverse landscape which creates a playground for outdoor enthusiasts. I always enjoy coming home and equally value my UK work. Any expedition objective, home or abroad, is not the reason why I go anywhere, it is just the excuse to go there.
Julia Tregaskis-Allen Prior to working full time in the Alps I was working in the UK as a freelance outdoor instructor in Dorset, Wales, the Peak District and then for several years in Scotland. Having always had an interest in travel, languages and bigger adventures I was looking for a way of combining work and play in the mountains both in Europe and internationally so the International Mountain Leader seemed the obvious next step in my career.
Do you get to travel a lot for work or are you based in one place?
Becky Coles Trekking, climbing and other random adventures, both for personal trips and work, have taken me to all 7 continents and over 60 countries; which isn't too bad having only taken my first flight when I was 17 for an expedition I took part in, in South Africa. In 2011 I had the ridiculous idea to go to Nepal, do some trekking and mountaineering, and then travel home overland, via a couple of mountains in Central Asia, before backpacking to the Caspian Sea and catching a cargo ship to the Southern Caucasus and then continuing to Europe and home. It took 9 months and was quite an adventure.
Over the last 12 months I've led expeditions in Morroco (Toubkal), Peru, Tanzania (Kilimanjaro) and an all-women’s team in Jordan (Wadi Rum), as well as travelling to the Alps and Pyrenees for my International Mountain Leader assessments. This year I will be leading an expedition in the Wakhan Corridor, Afghanistan for Secret Compass and in Ecuador for Jagged Globe, as well as undertaking a personal expedition in Tajikistan; all places I have been to previously. When I'm in the UK I base myself in Sheffield.
Julia Tregaskis-Allen I do travel a lot yes! During our summer and winter season we base ourselves in Chamonix which allows us easy access to run holidays in the French, Swiss and Italian Alps. Some trips go further afield to Turkey, Spain, Norway and Slovenia. Then during the 'inter season' April/October/November we sometimes work on a freelance basis in other parts of the world such as Nepal, India, South America, South East Asia and Africa.
What other Mountain Training qualifications did you gain on your way to becoming an International Mountain Leader?
Becky Coles I am a Summer Mountain Leader (the prerequisite for the International Mountain Leader), as well as having my Winter Mountain Leader. In the past year I've been quite busy, as I not only completed my International Mountain Leader Summer and Winter assessments but I also passed my Mountaineering Instructor Award . This would not have been possible without the financial support I received from the Austrian Alpine Club and Tanya Bocking Memorial Fund, for which I am very grateful.
Julia Tregaskis-Allen Apart from the pre-requirements of the International Mountain Leader I also obtained my Single Pitch Award. In other activities I hold the Trail Cycle Leader Award and am a Level 2 Kayak Coach.
Who inspires you?
Becky Coles I'm inspired by people who are pioneers, and don't allow themselves to be constrained by the roles and expectations their societies and communities have.
American climber, Lyn Hill, inspired me when she became the first person to free climb The Nose, Yosemite. She was not only the first woman to accomplish this but the first person and, seemingly not content with this achievement, returned a year later to become the first person to climb The Nose, free, in under 24 hours.
Last year I met one of my heroes, in fact I practically stalked her, after spotting her blue VW Beetle outside a Kathmandu hotel. I admire Elizabeth Hawley for her spirit of adventure, first travelling to Nepal in the 1950s and later staying and appointing herself as the chronicler of Himalayan mountaineering. Her contribution to mountaineering rivals any mountaineer's.
Good friend and recently qualified IFMGA Guide, Tania Noakes, has also been of great inspiration to me. I did my first alpine climb and ski tour with her and she has taught me that women cannot only be equal to men in technical competence in the mountains but also physical ability.
Julia Tregaskis-Allen I love hearing stories from people with ambition to achieve new goals & follow dreams on all levels and from all walks of life - be it travel, sport, health or any other life adventure!
Where's the wildest place you've been with your Mountain Training awards?
Becky Coles It doesn't get much wilder than the Wakhan Corridor, Afghanistan, which I'm very much looking forward to visiting again this year.
Last year I walked Hadrian's Wall with an Australian dressed in Roman armour; proving that you don't need to go overseas for totally random experiences.
Julia Tregaskis-Allen Wild is good, it makes you feel alive! Prior to obtaining the International Mountain Leader I worked for several years with my Mountain Leader award on worldwide educational expeditions; this took me to some amazing places and remote mountain environments. Travel with young people offers a leader different sets of challenges and also huge rewards. It's with these groups I've led numerous trips to the Himalaya and Africa on one month trips. In Madagascar I led a trip to the jungle before the times of satellite phones and mobiles; it soon became very clear as we travelled into the mountains that tourism and walking 'for pleasure' were new concepts there. The hill tribes that we met only spoke their dialect of Malagasy meaning communication was challenging to arrange porters and a local guide, a female guide was unheard of, maps didn't exist and a call for help could mean a 4 day walk!
What plans do you have for your future in the mountains?
Becky Coles I'm looking forward to not doing any qualification assessments for a while as it's been a bit intense over the last year. I will be concentrating on using my new qualifications as well as building my business. I want to lead exciting expeditions as well as plan my own trips. With my business I'm on a mission to give people confidence, practical advice and inspire them to plan their own adventures.
Before Christmas, Andy Cave contacted me on behalf of Lowe Alpine, who wish to sponsor me, which is very exciting, and I'm looking forward to being part of the Lowe team.
This winter I have enjoyed getting back into Scottish winter climbing, after a break due to spending several winters in the Alps. Having spent the past year doing back to back NGB assessments I'd like to pause for breath before embarking on another scheme, but I think I'll gradually build the experience I need for Mountaineering Instructor Certificate.
Now I have my International Mountain Leader I hope to work in the Alps, and would especially like to be involved with DofE groups which are undertaking overseas expeditions.
Julia Tregaskis-Allen I will always enjoy the feeling of travelling under my own steam on foot, skis, climbing or by bike anywhere in the world. I feel very privileged to have a career that enables me to stay inspired, be outside, healthy and able to meet people from all walks of life. The longer I spend in the Alps I realise how much more there is to see with relative ease of planning; travel time is never that long but offers maximum adventure at any level. It’s safe to say that I am never happier then when I'm planning a mountain journey, be it with work, my friends, husband or adventurous Mum.
Do you think being a female in the outdoor industry has affected your journey to success?
Becky Coles I think whether you are male or female it is not easy to make a career from outdoor instructing and expedition leading, and I have certainly found this. In parallel with freelancing, setting up a business, in whatever industry, is hard work and uncertain, a fact that I am sure any business owner would agree with.
However, it seems that there is a demand for female instructors and leaders within the outdoor industry, especially those with higher level qualificaitons and lots of personal experience. I am increasingly seeing companies wanting to reflect the demographic of their client base in the leaders which they employ. Sometimes people are a little surprised when I don't fit the stereotype they have of an expedition leader or climbing instructor but, with my breadth of experience, backed-up by my qualificaitons, I find it easy to reassure them. A long time ago I had an expedition cancelled as the parents of an all-girls group wanted a male leader to lead their expedition, but this has been a completely isolated case. Most people, both men and women, find it reassuring that I don't fit the stereotype, as it reaffirms that they also don't have to be a certain 'type' to undertake any of the expeditions or activities they'd like to do.
Julia Tregaskis-Allen No, not now in the Western world. From my experiences working as an International Mountain Leader you'll find an equal number of men and women doing the job and this seems to be the case in most of the alpine countries too. In many ways being a female has had its advantages as more and more women wish to put walking groups together, and for some single female travellers, having a female guide gives them the confidence to travel. It's also accepted in the greater ranges/ popular worldwide trekking /guiding areas with local crew (porters, guides, Sherpas) to have a female leader.
This article is part of a series of articles celebrating Mountain Training’s 50th anniversary year in 2014.