We are excited to introduce you to our friend and adventurer, Elise Wortley. We had the pleasure of meeting Elise at the Kendal Mountain Film Festival in November and were thrilled when she agreed to share her story on our blog. Enjoy!
In your own words, please tell our readers a little about yourself and your mission.
Hello! I’m Lise and I’m on a mission to change what it means to be an explorer. My project Woman with Altitude highlights stories of forgotten women adventurers and explorers from history, while showing that adventure can be accessible to all, and that women have a place in the outdoors. Woman with Altitude is here to empower women in the outdoors, from those who went before us, to female mountain guides, to adventure film makers and to show that adventure can mean many different things, from walking round the park, to climbing the world’s highest mountains.
How important is being outdoors to you?
Being in the outdoors is how I find meaning in the world. It’s where I feel the most free, and where my mind feels calmest. Over the last 10 years I have needed the outdoors more and more, and come to realise what an important part it plays in all of our lives, especially when it comes to mental health.
What’s been your favourite trip or adventure?
They have all been so different, but my journey through Iran has a very special place in my heart. I was completely blown away by the landscape there, with pristine, untouched mountains, some of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. I spent time with some incredible people, Iranians are so kind and hospitable. I had a badass female team with me, and a female owned travel company based in Tehran helped me to organise the trip. It was tough in the old equipment, but it was also completely magical.
Lise in Iran - Image Credit Olivia Martin McGuire
Without giving anything away, you spent an extraordinary amount of time living completely in nature for the Channel 4 series, Alone. What made you take part in such a huge test of endurance
Alone was the wildest ride I've ever been on! I had always had a deep desire to be fully immersed in nature, and I just couldn’t say no to the chance to live in one of earth's last great wildernesses, with the chance to live fully sustainably off the land and to remove my mind from the chaos of modern life. My panic attacks and anxiety are often eased by being in nature, so I wanted to see if I could go into this on a deeper level.
Lise in Alone - Channel 4's survival series
How did this challenge affect your relationship with nature and the outdoors?
I've done some quite extreme expeditions in the past, but this was by far the most challenging and emotional journey. It was incredible to fully become a part of nature, to really feel like I belonged there. I came to know all the different noises, and when the animals would come out, and I had a deep respect for every living thing around me. I find since this experience I realise how everything has it’s place, and how sacred our wild spaces are. I’ve also realised the importance of learning from indigenous communities, who know how to care for our wild spaces more than anyone, and who have lived off it for generations.
Tell us about your adventures as you follow in the footsteps of “Forgotten Female Adventurers”
Despite fleeting recognition, female pioneers climbed the highest mountains, walked the breadth of continents and uncovered some of our earliest civilisations, while fiercely defying societal norms, but throughout history they have always been overlooked compared to their male counterparts. I believe that we can still learn so much from these women today, and they still inspire so many women (and men!) to have the bravery to go on an adventure, however big or small.
I’ve been on a number of journeys following in their footsteps, from the Indian Himalaya, following in the footsteps of Alexandra David Neel, an explorer from the early 1900s who spent 14 years travelling across Asia to discover more about Buddhism and to reach the forbidden city of Lhasa. I've been to Scotland in the footsteps of Nan Shepherd and Jane Inglis Clark, and most recently been to The Valleys of the Assassins in the Alborz Mountains of Iran, following Freya Stark’s 1920s expedition. This summer I’m climbing Mont Blanc as the first women did in 1838, and I tell you it’s quite the outfit!
Lise on the Road to Kangchenjunga, The Himalayas
You explained at Kendal Mountain Film Festival, that you felt that the journey itself wasn’t enough to put yourself in their shoes, so you also ensured that you wore the same type of clothing that they would have worn. How was that for you? How did the clothing affect your journey and your opinion of the women that had taken on these adventures?
It’s fascinating to think how much clothing has changed over the last 100 years. I choose to do my adventures in exactly the same clothing and equipment as the women had back when they travelled, and this often consists of hard hobnail boots from 1900, lots of heavy wool and wooden backpacks!! I know that I would never truly understand what these women would have experienced or felt if I do it in modern clothing, I want to understand how difficult their journeys really were, and what barriers they would have faced through their clothing.
Lise wearing the clothing of the women who's adventures she undertakes
How important is it to you that women adventurers/explorers, specifically the ones listed on your website, have recognition in modern day records?
The outdoors industry needs new representation right now, to show women can be explorers, can climb mountains, are strong, are resilient - and that it is not just about conquering or winning but about connecting to the natural world. By highlighting these women’s incredible stories, I hope that they can inspire more women and girls today to get into the outdoors. A lot of these women were also never given the credit they deserve, so it’s also about preserving their stories, and giving them a voice and a platform they never had.
Please tell us a little about the charities that you have supported through your expeditions, and why you selected them.
I’ve supported a number of women’s charities through my trips who work in the regions that I visit, from Scottish Women’s Aid to Freedom Kitbags, a Himalayan based charity that provides reusable period kits to school girls.
How do you manage to find balance in your life, between your work and enjoying the outdoors as an act of leisure? Do you enjoy any other activities for relaxation?
I do really struggle to find balance. I have a busy job as well as organising my expeditions myself, and sometimes it’s hard to find much time to relax. I spend my spare time doing yoga, as I find this really helps to calm my mind and give me energy, and I also love to walk.
Elise in Iran in traditional clothing
What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
I’m not sure where I heard this one, but I always think of the phrase, ‘if you believe you can, then you are half way there’. It makes me realise that no idea is ever too wild. If you want to do something, don’t be afraid of what other people think or say. It also reminds me how important self-belief is. I think often women, especially when it comes to the outdoors, we have so little belief in ourselves, its important we are kind to ourselves and believe that we can do things.
In reference to the conversation held at Kendal, what is your perception of modern women’s outdoor apparel. Is there room for improvement?
Hopefully, with amazing companies like FINDRA, gone are the days when women's gear is just menswear dyed pink! But we still have a long way to go, and I do often find there isn’t as much choice for women, and often the clothes don’t fit all that well.
Sunday Inspiration from Elise!
What is your favourite Podcast?
Night time yoga nidra, and The Outdoors Fix!
Listen on Apple Music - https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/the-outdoors-fix/id1449415079
Listen on Spotify - https://open.spotify.com/show/1NEa0tO1Zog9TWkOeqyY9T?si=598e19ff077949dd
What is your favourite book?
I couldn’t choose my favourite book of all time – I have so many! My favourite book I have read lately is Silence by Erling Kagge. I also read Braiding Sweetgrass by indigenous writer Robin Wall Kimmerer – such an amazing book.
Favourite place to be outdoors?
The beach. I’m obsessed with the ocean, I feel a real sense of freedom when I’m near or in it.
Any inspirational quotes or poetry that you can share?
“I vow to show what the will of a woman can do”
Alexandra David Neel, 1920.
Check out Elise's website here - https://www.womanwithaltitude.com/
And her Instagram here - https://www.instagram.com/woman_with_altitude/
Stream Alone now on Channel 4 - https://www.channel4.com/programmes/alone/