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

Editor’s Note – Monthly Ticket is a CNN Travel series that explores some of the most fascinating topics in the world of travel. In July we set out to explore the world’s greatest hikes.

(CNN) — Elise Wortley didn’t want to be an adventuress. After moving from rural Essex to busy London in her late 20s in 2017 and being diagnosed with anxiety, she took up walks to calm her mind.

But her small steps gave way to unexpected adventures.

As Wortley read about Franco-Belgian explorer Alexandra David-Néel, she kept replaying the details of her groundbreaking journeys to Tibet. Besides hiking, David-Néel spent two years camping and sleeping in caves – all in the clothes of their time.

“A lot of[female explorers]dressed up as men because it was easier,” explains Wortley. But others hiked, climbed, biked, camped and more in petticoats – yet another hurdle these women had to overcome in order to be taken seriously and achieve their dreams.

In addition to recreating famous hikes, Wortley began searching for the same period-specific clothing and gear that the women had used to better understand their ways of thinking.

“I’ve found that I understand her reading and writing a lot better now that I’ve done it in the old stuff,” says Wortley.

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

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

Emily Almond Barr

Visiting Iran in the middle of a pandemic is difficult in itself, but tracking down a vintage 1930s Burberry coat to wear for the trek is also a challenge.

To follow in the footsteps of British-Italian explorer and travel writer Freya Stark, Wortley needed 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 attire Stark wrote so passionately about in her travel journals — namely, a 1930s Burberry raincoat that the explorer wore on her travels.

It took weeks and lots of emails to antique collectors, but Wortley finally found one of the coats — along with a matching hat — in time to wear on their trek.

“It does feel a little crazy to spend a chunk of your hard-earned life savings on a 1930s Burberry coat to wear on a crazy trip,” Wortley wrote on Instagram at the time, “but it felt real.” like doing the right thing.”

That’s not all. For her David Néel trip to Tibet, Wortley not only carried her gear and supplies—she carried a 1920s-style wicker chair, just like the one her inspiration had worn herself.

Where the path leads

Wortley says she has a list of “about 150” adventurers whose travels she would like to follow. But considering that she pays for most of her travel herself — she’s recently attracted a few sponsorships from brands like North Face and Clinique — she’ll have to consider which ones to pursue next.

The pandemic has only made that more difficult. A trip closer to home was a hike up Ben Nevis, the highest peak in the UK, which emulated a journey by writer and explorer Nan Shepherd.

Shepherd, a Scotsman who lived through most of the 20th century, is best known for her book The Living Mountain, in which she writes passionately and lyrically about people connecting with nature.

It was Shepherd’s words on Wortley’s mind as she watched day-trippers try to get to the top of Ben Nevis as quickly as possible, only to say it was them.

She points out how much of the “explorer” literature is about bragging rights, with mostly white Western men wanting to say they were the first person to walk anywhere, climb something, or name a place. In fact, some male explorers would stop visiting an area if women had been there, claiming its beauty was ruined or the thrill gone.

Wortley says she has a list of

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

Olivia Martin McGuire

More feet on the trail

She reaches out to local women to accompany them on some or all of the treks, depending on how they feel comfortable, and raises awareness of the history of female adventurers.

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

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

Meanwhile, Wortley was inspired by Jane Inglis Clark to plan her Ben Nevis expedition. Clark co-founded the Ladies’ Scottish Climbing Club, believed to be the oldest all-female climbing club in the world in 1908. Wortley reached out to current members of the club—who still organize hikes and walks today—as well as descendants of original members to find their traveling companions.

Still, the idea of ​​a multi-day trek through the Himalayas with a chair strapped to your back might put some people off the idea of ​​going outdoors. Wortley says that while she enjoys challenging herself, the key takeaway from her work is that the world belongs to everyone.

“These women were badass,” says Wortley, “but you don’t have to be fit to pull that out of nature or have a little adventure.”

your goal? To encourage other women to experience nature on their own, away from the stress of everyday life.

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