Inspiring quotes from female adventurers

December 10, 2020 8 min read

Illustration of Ann Daniels © Chellie Carroll

Illustration of Ann Daniels © Chellie Carroll, Fantastic Female Adventurers

There’s no doubt that the majority of adventure books published over the years have been primarily written by and about men, however at Vertebrate we’re proud to have published a variety of adventure books written by and about inspirational women, particularly female climbers and mountaineers.

As a tribute to the female voice, we have compiled a selection of some of our favourite quotes and passages from Adventures in Mind, Clouds from Both Sides, Fantastic Female Adventurers, To Live and Waymaking.

We hope these words will inspire you to embark on your own adventures – whether it’s a big one in the future or just a small one near home …

Looking to the Five Sisters of Kintail while riding the Scottish Coast-to-Coast in 2010.

Above: Looking to the Five Sisters of Kintail while riding the Scottish Coast-to-Coast in 2010 © Heather Dawe

‘I wanted to really live. I need to spend time in beautiful places. Big hills and a big sky keep life in perspective. The mountains have been around for ages. We're not here for very long – you've got to make the most of it.’Heather Dawe, Adventures in Mind

‘While the feeling of failure was and is always hard to handle, it is in these places that I learned the most about myself and continue to do so. I hate failing. But if there is not an element of risk or doubt, then where is the challenge? Overcoming fears with belief, fitness and determination is where the drive to succeed is established.’Heather Dawe, Adventures in Mind


Above: Wasdale © Heather Dawe

‘The thrill of climbing is addictive. Gripping tiny holds, arms screaming and legs wobbling as lactic acid builds up in your muscles, looking to make that crux move on a steep rock face with nothing but the distant ground far below to focus the mind. Nothing else matters but that moment of pure, intense living. The surrounding mountains, sea and sky exemplify the moment. These aged giants are a reminder of mortality; of the end.’Heather Dawe, Adventures in Mind

‘Connecting with physical mountains is one route to the mountains of the mind. The combination of a healthy mind and body in the mountains is a powerful thing, a heady narcotic. It gives you the belief you need to achieve.’Heather Dawe, Adventures in Mind

A quick rest stop while cycling through the Flathead Valley with Shaun and Eric. Tour Divide 2011.

Above: A quick rest stop while cycling through the Flathead Valley with Shaun and Eric. Tour Divide 2011 © Heather Dawe

‘People are always asking why I climb. There is no short easy answer. It is a love, a great desire, a passion to be with the mountains, like a sailor feels for the sea. Mountains are all individual, like people. Each one has its own character, shape, composition of terrain, vegetation, animal life, type of rock, steepness and mood. Every side of a mountain is different as well, and again like people their moods can vary, particularly with the weather.’Julie Tullis, Clouds from Both Sides

‘There are many comparisons to be made between mountains and the human race. You can love them, but you do not always have to like them, and I often have a love/hate relationship, particularly when struggling for survival. There are times when you are sad to leave them, but others when you are relieved, glad to be away from the inevitable sheer hard work of achieving the closeness necessary to get to know them. But in a short while you long to be back and start dreaming, hoping, planning, scheming to make it possible.’Julie Tullis, Clouds from Both Sides

‘Life is made of dreams. If it were not there would be nothing to live for. Everyone has some ambition, to gain someone's love, own something special, reach the top of a career or even just have enough to eat. And when one wish is fulfilled, another replaces it. So it is with mountaineering, and just as in all desires the conception of the idea, the hopes, the plans, the small steps of success, especially after failure, are just as thrilling as when the dream actually comes true. Reaching the summit is not everything. Whatever results something is gained from simply trying to make it happen.’Julie Tullis, Clouds from Both Sides 

Illustration of Jin Jeong © Chellie Carroll

Above: Illustration of Jin Jeong © Chellie Carroll, Fantastic Female Adventurers 

‘I didn't think I could cycle there in the middle of winter, but thanks to my decision to just try, I made it. It was an amazing feeling to do something I thought was impossible. I think if you want something, there will always be challenges. It is normal to feel afraid. This is why you should always just try!’Jin Jeong, Fantastic Female Adventurers

‘Our first climb was covered with ice, and it was bland, like climbing slippery stairs. But on the second day the ice on the rocks was thawing and my next climb was like going up a series of walls, with cracks and chimneys – which are deep, wide gaps in the rock that you can fit your body into – and with steep slabs of smooth grey rock ... yet there were holds for your feet and hands. Icy cold water was streaming down all of it, but I loved every minute. I was tested. My body had to work inching up cracks, hauling itself up chimneys. And my brain was also needed: concentration, balance and judgement. But really, all I felt at the time was fulfilment: I had found adventure.’Gwen Moffat, Fantastic Female Adventurers

Illustration of Gwen Moffat © Chellie Carroll

Above: Illustration of Gwen Moffat © Chellie Carroll, Fantastic Female Adventurers

‘Reaching the Cape Reinga lighthouse meant more to me than winning an Olympic gold medal. I was so proud of myself – and grateful for my body, that had carried me all that way. Somehow I had changed into a woman capable of crossing rivers and spending days alone in the wild. And I had learned that even if you think you can’t do something, you should start anyhow and see what happens.’Anna McNuff, Fantastic Female Adventurers

‘Thousands of metres below us the cloud was a white sea, with jagged, dark peaks like islands. Above us the dark blue of the sky was so intense it was almost black. Beyond the mountains, on the horizon, the blue sky hugged the roundness of the Earth’s edge. There was nothing on the planet that was higher than us – only aeroplanes and spaceships. Then suddenly it hit me. I was standing in a place that no Welsh woman had stood before! I was so proud.’Tori James, Fantastic Female Adventurers

‘Aim high. It doesn’t need to be Everest. Everyone can achieve more than they think. If a five-foot-one-inch farm girl from Wales can climb the world's highest mountain, just imagine what you can do if you dream big and remove the limits you set on yourself!’Tori James, Fantastic Female Adventurers

Illustration of Tori James © Chellie Carroll

Above: Illustration of Tori James © Chellie Carroll, Fantastic Female Adventurers

‘The summit of Everest! The view is exceptional, as are the emotions that are surging through me. Such beauty! What a divine gift to be here, high on the highest mountain on Earth, among these icy sentries. I have finally realised my childhood dream; I have a new lease of life, I am reborn.’Élisabeth Revol, To Live

‘I was twenty years old when I caught the climbing bug. I binged on summits. I ascended many routes and faces in the Alps over a period of ten years. I was looking for difficulty and performance. Effort, elevation, excitement, stress, questions, then fulfilment – this cocktail satisfied me a little more each time.’Élisabeth Revol, To Live

Bivouac at 6,600 metres on the Diama glacier. View of the Hindu Kush and Afghanistan.

Above: Bivouac at 6,600 metres on the Diama glacier. View of the Hindu Kush and Afghanistan © Élisabeth Revol

‘The shadows stretch and lengthen. The sun will set soon. In a moment, the cold will be intense and bitter, but the sunset is dazzling. In my life as a Himalayan mountaineer, I have never seen such a beautiful spectacle. Magical. The sea of cotton-like clouds covers all the mountains except for Nanga, which tears majestically through the purple sky. Here we are, the sky passing from pink to a bright and cold shade of blue, from a warm atmosphere to a biting cold.’Élisabeth Revol, To Live

‘The Himalaya in winter fascinate me. For me, this is extreme adventure, the pinnacle of what can be achieved in the mountains. Following one of my returns from Nanga, I wrote: “On this mountain, every day is a reward, a step towards the unknown, a step towards the discovery of oneself and one’s potential. We seized these moments up there, where the heart is self-sufficient, filled with joie de vivre.”’Élisabeth Revol, To Live

Sunset on Nanga, just before the long three-week jet stream period.

Above: Sunset on Nanga, just before the long three-week jet stream period © Élisabeth Revol

‘For me, being in the outdoors is revitalising, rejuvenating, and inspirational. I can’t help but feel that the mountains hold some kind of innate power. The gravity of their beauty and grandeur pulls me in and ignites my desire to explore and discover. During my journeys I find a deeper connection between myself and the majesty of these wild places.’Lizzy Dalton, Waymaking

‘My excitement at being among mountains continues into my sixties. These days, just being there is enthralling enough, and my sketchbooks record this. The paths are shorter and it’s about the looking, the gentle breathing, and the pleasure of watching and responding to the world moving round me, rather than about the distance and the summit.’Caroline Eustace, Waymaking 

Titcomb Basin © Lizzy Dalton

Above: Titcomb Basin © Lizzy Dalton, Waymaking

‘I had lots of time alone with my thoughts on these rambles yet felt strangely detached from the worries that usually swarmed my conscience: career, cash flow, current events, correspondence, complexion and cellulite were concerns for humans elsewhere, in other lands. There wasn't much I could do about anything, anywhere, or for anyone, from up on a windy hill. The only important things there were heat, hydration, food, good socks and how soon the sun would set. I felt open and present and calm. I’d arrived in that strange semi-mythical place called “the moment”. And it felt divine.’Solana joy, Waymaking

‘The higher we climb, the deeper the snow. The forest gradually shifts to alpine fir. Slim as reeds, they appear smaller and smaller as less of their height emerges from the rising snowpack. The rime and the wind create fantastical shapes, and the snow ghosts lean and droop, bowing under the weight as if in a royal receiving line. The morning brightness dims as we inch upward into a squall. The flakes swirl around us, seething past our goggles. We move through the forest of snow ghosts, each of us alone in the privacy of the snowstorm.’Bernadette McDonald, Waymaking

[untitled 1] © Krystle Wright

Above: [untitled 1] © Krystle Wright, Waymaking

‘At 4,000 metres the sun was intense, loosening ice and rock, making the surrounding peaks gleam. Jagged chains of mountains ran in every direction, while above a raptor floated on thermals, silhouetted against the blue. Looking down, glacial lakes were sapphires studding the pristine steel-grey and white. In the silence, I could hear my heart pounding in my chest. Manaslu means “mountain of the spirit” in Sanskrit, and in this place where heaven and earth meet, it felt as if the thin air was imbued with an otherworldly spirit.’Lily Dyu, Waymaking

Emergence © Claire Giordano

Above: Emergence © Claire Giordano, Waymaking

Books mentioned:

Adventures in Mind by Heather Dawe Clouds from Both Sides by Julie Tullis Fantastic Female Adventurers by Lily Dyu To Live by Elisabeth Revol Waymaking by Helen Mort, Claire Carter, Heather Dawe and Camilla Barnard