Blazing a trail 1/5

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In an industry that’s long been dominated by male adventurers, five of the UK’s most boundary-pushing female explorers talk about the trials and triumphs of being a woman in the wild. Part 1 of 5.

Words: Hannah Ralph. Illustrations: Adrianna Bellet

Laura Bingham

Explorer and adventurer


‘We wanted them to know from the start that we, the females, were leading this expedition’

Adventurous beginnings
Anything that gets you into the outdoors at an early age is likely to have a positive effect on you in later life. I remember learning the Countryside Code — if you find a gate closed, leave it closed, that kind of thing. It embeds something within you, an appreciation for the outdoors, which I don’t think I ever lost.

Defining moments
On our all-female descent of the Essequibo (the largest river in Guyana), we would hear jaguars growling near our tents — it’s a strange sound, a bit like a snuffle. The pumas would whistle, caimans would linger metres from our kayaks. Then there were the flesh-eating parasites and foot infections… There were a lot of hairy moments out in the jungle!

Woman to woman
Put your hair in French plaits. My husband (Scout Ambassador Ed Stafford) would ask why I was bothering with plaiting my hair, and I had to tell him — it’s nothing to do with vanity, it’s strategy! French plaits stop your hair from knotting with sweat, which is, literally, one less headache.

Power games 
In South America, our local guides (all male) would tell us to wait while they set up camp. That was really frustrating, and something we’d hoped to avoid. We even instructed our cameraman to let us get off the plane first to greet them, because we knew they’d start by shaking the hand of the only man with us. We wanted them to know from the start that we, the females, were leading this expedition.

Getting started
Think of your standard gap year, and then do the exact opposite. The key to carving out a successful adventure career is to do something so wild, so specific, that everyone has to sit up and take note. But to get to that stage, you need confidence in your skills — something I gained when training for the Mountain Leader award.

Parting words 
Look people in the eye, don’t take no for an answer, and don’t expect to make money on your first expedition. If you want to make a career out of adventure, you’re going to need to dip into your own pocket, but if it’s your passion and you have a unique enough angle, you will make it work.

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