Women With Altitude: Preserving History, One Hike at a Time

Editor’s Note – Monthly Ticket is a CNN Travel series that sheds light on some of the most fascinating topics in the world of travel. In July, we hit the trails to explore the most beautiful hikes in the world.

(CNN) — Elise Wortley did not want to be an adventurer. After moving from rural Essex to London in 2017, when she was in her late twenties and diagnosed with anxiety, she started taking walks to calm herself down. ‘spirit.

But his small steps give way to unexpected adventures.

Reading about the Franco-Belgian explorer Alexandra David-Néel, Wortley continued to obsess over the details of her groundbreaking travels in Tibet. Besides hiking, David-Néel camped and slept in caves for two years, all in the clothes of his day.

“A lot of (women explorers) dressed as men because it was easier,” says Wortley. But others have hiked, climbed, biked, camped and more in petticoats – yet another hurdle these women must overcome to be taken seriously and achieve their dreams.

In addition to recreating famous hikes, Wortley began researching the same period-specific clothing and gear the women had worn to better understand their state of mind.

“I found I understood their reading and writing a lot better now than I did in the old stuff,” Wortley says.

Wortley wants to encourage other women to experience nature on their own terms, away from the stresses of everyday life.

Emilie Almond Barr

Visiting Iran in the midst of a pandemic is difficult on its own, but finding a vintage 1930s Burberry coat to wear for hiking is also difficult.

To follow in the footsteps of Italian-British explorer and writer Freya Stark, Wortley had to secure visas and accommodation for her visit to Iran’s Alamut Valley, often referred to as the Valley of the Assassins.

But she was determined to do it in the same clothes that Stark so passionately wrote about in her travel diaries, namely a 1930s Burberry raincoat that the explorer wore on her travels.

It took weeks and numerous emails to antique clothing collectors, but Wortley finally found one of the coats – complete with matching hat – in time to wear it on his hike.

“It drives you a little crazy when you spend a lot of your hard-earned savings on a 1930s Burberry coat to wear on a crazy trip,” Wortley wrote on Instagram at the time, “but it was really the right thing to do do.”

That’s not all. For her David-Néel jaunt to Tibet, Wortley didn’t just take her gear and supplies with her — she carried a 1920s-style wicker chair, just like the one her inspiration had brought herself.

where the road leads

Wortley says she has a list of “about 150” female adventurers whose travels she would like to follow. But given that she pays for most of her trips herself – lately she’s been attracting sponsors from brands like North Face and Clinique – she has to be judicious about which ones she pursues.

The pandemic has only made this more difficult. A trip closer to home was a hike to Ben Nevis, the UK’s highest peak, which replicated a trip by writer and explorer Nan Shepherd.

Shepherd, a Scotswoman who lived through most of the 20th century, is best known for her book “The Living Mountain,” in which she writes with passion and lyricism about people connecting with the outdoors.

Those were Shepherd’s words Wortley had in mind as she watched day-trippers try to get to the top of Ben Nevis as quickly as possible just to say they had been.

She points out how ‘exploratory’ literature is all about bragging rights, with most white men in the West wanting to say they were the first person to go somewhere, climb something, or name a place. . In fact, some male explorers no longer visited an area once the women had been there, claiming that its beauty had been ruined or the thrill gone.

Wortley says she has a list of "about 150" adventurers whose travels she would like to follow.

Wortley says she has a list of “about 150” female adventurers whose travels she would like to follow.

Olivia Martin McGuire

More feet on the trail

She reaches out to local women to join her on some or all of the hikes, depending on their comfort level, and raises awareness of the history of female adventurers.

While traveling, Wortley tries to hire a local guide. It can be daunting, as many of these areas are sparsely populated.

For her trip to India, Wortley found local guide Nadia through Intrepid Travel, a UK-based company she worked for in the past.

Meanwhile, when planning his expedition to Ben Nevis, Wortley was inspired by Jane Inglis Clark. Clark co-founded the Ladies’ Scottish Climbing Club, believed to be the oldest all-female climbing club in the world in 1908. Wortley contacted the club’s current members – who still run hikes and walks today – as well as the descendants of original members in order to find his traveling companions.

Still, the thought of a multi-day trek through the Himalayas with a chair strapped to your back might scare some people off from getting outdoors. Wortley says that while she likes to challenge herself, the most important lesson of her job is that the world belongs to everyone.

“These women were badass,” Wortley says, “but you don’t have to be in good shape to pull this off the hook or have a little adventure.”

His goal ? Encourage other women to discover nature in their own way, far from the stress of everyday life.

“On one trip, I literally only had my notebook to write in. So I really learned to sit down and be. I’d love to do that, actually — just take out a bunch of people, maybe being people who are obsessed with their phones or social media and things like that, just put all the phones in a box overnight and ask people to sit down and slow down.”


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