Every year women in the world of adventure sports break through boundaries previously seen as unattainable. In 2017 alone, we witnessed an incredible leap in women’s rock climbing thanks to American Margo Hayes and Austrian Angy Eiter.
To get ready for a New Year full of incredible women’s achievements, here’s a list of five groundbreaking contemporary female adventurers.
The Climber: Lynn Hill
The iconic Nose of El Capitan in Yosemite Valley is rock climbing’s ultimate challenge. Throughout the eighties, the world’s best climbers all dreamed of completing the first free ascent. In 1993, the first one to achieve this once unimaginable feat was Lynn Hill who made it to the top in four days. She returned a year later to beat her own record and summited in just 23 hours.
The magnitude of her ascent can only be fully grasped given that since 1993 only two other climbers – Tommy Caldwell and Jorg Verhoeven – have managed to match Hill’s performance.
The Sailor: Dame Ellen MacArthur
To buy her first boat – an eight-foot dinghy – Ellen MacArthur saved her school dinner money for three years. At eighteen, she was already a sailing instructor able to afford her second boat, Iduna, which she single handedly sailed around the whole of Britain.
In 2004, she made her greatest sailing achievement: breaking the solo record for sailing non-stop around the globe. After 71 days, 14 hours, 18 minutes and 33 seconds at sea, MacArthur set the new world record – for both men and women.
She has since retired from her racing career and at the early age of 34 devoted herself to environmental activism and charitable work.
The Mountaineer: Pasang Lhamu Sherpa Akita
Named National Geographic’s People’s Choice Adventurer of the Year 2016, Pasang Lhamu Sherpa Akita was the first Nepali woman to become a mountaineering instructor. Following in the footsteps of her role model, Pasang Lhamu Sherpa, she climbed Mount Everest in 2007. In 2014 she summited K2 as part of an all women Nepali team.
Still in her thirties, Pasang Lhamu Sherpa Akita has a great mountaineering future ahead. She’s also known for environmental activism and delivering aid following the 2015 Nepal earthquake.
The Surfer: Keala Kennelly
Riding 50-foot monsters, Keala Kennedy of Hawaii is one of the few women excelling in big-wave surfing. It is a male-dominated sport and Kennelly frequently speaks out against the expectations placed on female surfers. “As an athlete, I know I’m a role model for young women,” she wrote in a viral piece for The Inertia. She refuses to adopt the cookie-cutter bikini model style, and chooses a head-to-toe neoprene suit instead. Big wave surfers use them to surf some of the biggest swells in the world, which rarely happen in warm waters.
Despite suffering gruesome face injuries, Kennelly continues to shred and pave the way for women in big wave surfing.
The Runner: Pam Reed
Pam Reed is not only one of the best female ultra runners in the world, but one of the best regardless of gender. She was born in 1961, a decade before women were allowed to participate in marathon races. Reed went on to win overall gold at the Badwater Ultramarathon, described as “the world’s toughest foot race,” not once, but two years in a row. (In 2002, she beat the men’s champion by more than three hours.)
Now 57, Reed continues to inspire. Having overcome anorexia and struggling against lifelong depression, she still runs gruelling ultra marathons and raises awareness about these issues.