Have you heard about Holly?! She has a host of eye wateringly incredible achievements under her belt, including a number of world firsts. She has skydived and then subsequently climbed Mount Everest, competed in the worlds longest horse race across Mongolia and snowboarded Mera Peak, a 6,476m mountain in Nepal, to name just a few. But as with all our previous career crush ladies there is way more to this boundless beauty than meets the eye. She is also a fantastic artist who turned her masters degree in Sustainable Design into an award-winning conservation campaign called “How Many Elephants” and (in her spare time!) has started up her own expedition company called Trekaneering – We’ve just put the Treks online and bookable as of today. Check them out they look amazing!
We were super stoked that she had time to chat and here’s what we found out:
How would you describe your job title in 3 words?
Adventurer, Conservationist, Artist.
I’m not going to lie having the term “adventurer” in your job title sounds like something a lot of our 12-year-old selves were striving for, until we were sent to the school career advisor and told to be more realistic! How did you manage to realise this dream?
I started life as an adventurer at an early age. I competed in equestrian events throughout my childhood and carried on to compete for my country up until I was 21. I then discovered a new sport which involved throwing myself out of perfectly good aeroplanes! I did my first skydive whilst backpacking round New Zealand and was blown away by the experience and the fact that people were getting paid to jump out of planes for a living. My career’s advisor definitely hadn’t mentioned that! I decided there and then, that was something I wanted to do. On reflection, I refer to this as the ‘arrogance of youth’ (arrogance meant in a positive way) as I knew nobody in New Zealand, I knew nothing about skydiving and I knew nothing about filming but none of that mattered. I knew I could learn all the skills I needed to become a skydiving freefall camera woman. Six months later, with lots of training, dedication and hard work, I achieved my rather far fetched goal and became the third woman to work as a freefall camera woman in Lake Taupo. This gave me immense confidence that I could achieve whatever I set my mind too.
What is the one thing you wish you could take on every adventure with you, but is way too impractical to carry?
My husband! He is the ultimate in cool, calm and collected. Whilst I was climbing Everest he was sending me weather reports multiple times a day to my tracker because it is really hard to get up-to-date weather reports when you are on the mountain. When I was stuck in the Mongolian mountains in the pitch dark and had lost my steed, I called him on my sat phone and he was killing himself laughing and that made the situation a whole lot more bearable.
He is my rock, my best mate and my mentor. He’s off pursuing his passion to build his career as a helicopter pilot as we speak and we won’t see each other for 15 months but we chat everyday via the tracker!
What’s the worst adventure you’ve ever been on and why?
I wouldn’t say it was the worst but it was definitely the most exposed I’ve ever felt. In 2016 I made a successful first ascent of an unnamed mountain in the Altai Mountains, in Western Mongolia. Whilst it’s a wonderful liberation to go where no man has been before, it presented a very unique set of challenges also. We had to carry out an extremely long medical evacuation for a crush wound to one of our team member’s legs, which involved taking her higher up the mountain before we could take her down because of loss of daylight. We were battling steep and precarious boulder fields carrying 23 kg packs and navigating through extremely steep virgin snowy slopes with huge exposure and high avalanche risk. It was a great achievement to reach the top but more importantly, return safely! Two thirds of the world’s mountains remain unclimbed so this is an avenue I am keen to continue exploring.
Who looks after your Jack Russell ‘Jack Black’ when you’re off on your adventures?
My incredibly supportive parents look after Jack Black on a full time basis now as I am away so much. They have three jacks of their own so Jack Black hangs out with his friends and has a really lovely life! I see him almost everyday when I’m home and love spending time walking and relaxing with the pack! My mum did mention that this arrangement was fine with my dog but if I ever did have children, this wouldn’t work in the same way, to which I replied ‘well why not?!!”.
So, is it true that even adventurers have Mums that worry and set limits on certain things?
Yes, it definitely is true! My mum is my number one fan and supporter. She is coming climbing with my this October in Nepal and is very game for most things. BUT, she has forbidden me to attempt to climb K2! She has read lots about the mountain and thinks is just too dangerous and too unpredictable. Yes Mum!
How did you go from adventurer to jewellery designer and then jewellery designer to conservationist? (obviously not implying that one rules the other out)
I have always been passionate about adventure, conservation and design, and now I feel I have reached a point where all three passions are working together. Whilst studying for a Masters in Sustainable Design, I turned the disheartening African elephant poaching statistics into a powerful and award-winning piece of jewellery and a hard hitting art installation which displays 35,000 elephants, the annual poaching rate, in a striking floor to ceiling display using a monochrome palette to reflect the indifference of these animals in their fate.
To continue raising awareness of the crisis and my campaign, I have married my passion for adventure with conservation and next month I am travelling to South Africa to train with the Black Mambas, the first and only all female front line anti poaching team, and document on film their incredible work as protectors, educators and beacons of hope.
I will be taking my exhibition to Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong and I am going to hike the entire length of the Great Wall of China (3000 miles) to carry out research into how elephant ivory fits into their culture. I feel very fortunate to have found my calling in life and to be so passionate about what I do.
Apart from the obvious, i.e. the horrendous plight of the Elephants in Africa, what was the inspiration and the journey behind your conservation project “How Many Elephants”?
The inspiration was vegetable ivory, a sustainable plant material from the South American rainforests. I have worked with this beautiful, robust and versatile material for over a decade in my jewellery design and formally researched the material during my masters. My passion and thirst for greater knowledge of the material, led me on a self-organised field trip to Ecuador to meet the farmers and the artisans working with vegetable ivory.
The similarity of vegetable ivory in both colour and texture to elephant ivory was the start point of my ‘How Many Elephants’ campaign. I have since written a book about vegetable ivory and my campaign which I am planning to publish this year
If you had to narrow it down, what would be the two moments that have moved and motivated you the most during your “How many Elephants” project?
It totally warmed my heart when an 11 year old boy bought one of my limited edition prints (£96) with his Christmas money and has since been actively spreading the word about @howmanyelephants at his school! Two of his teachers and his extended family have since visited my exhibition which is still on at White Space Alresford in Hampshire and commented on the impact it has had on this boy.
I have been overwhelmed by the response of the general public and the local schools who have visited, with over 1000 school children taking part in my workshop since January. So, the second most memorable moment would be receiving a community award from the Mayor of Winchester for my services to the local community.
So, we know that you have just launched a women’s only expedition and we’re crazy excited to have it on the website. But why did you feel that it was important to invest in the idea of a female exclusive expedition and why do you think it’s important to have a girls community in outdoor adventure sports?
Some people say you can’t or you shouldn’t, some say it’s impossible ‘for someone like you’, because you’re a woman. Wrong. Recently I met a woman whose dream to climb Everest was not acceptable in her culture because she’s female. Her passion, however, is a powerful driving force against all the odds. Being passionate is key. Women are fantastic endurance athletes because we’ve kind of had that built into us. I think we’re incredibly tough creatures. Being the only woman in an all male team of climbers on Everest was, at times, very challenging and feelings of isolation were often present. I feel strongly about the capability, yet lack of women on the mountain. I have found the higher the mountains go, generally the less women are on them. I am only too happy to champion the potential of women. My women only expeditions are a great opportunity for women to see how they fair at high altitude in an encouraging and supportive team environment.
What’s your biggest dream?
To receive an OBE for my contribution to wildlife conservation.
It sounds like you have your hands pretty full right now, but if time wasn’t an issue which one of the Boundless Betty trips would you book onto?
I’ve always fancied going to Alaska so I’m would go for the Women’s Ski & Snowboard Heli Camp Alaska, it sounds like a really great trip.
What’s your biggest fear?
The Sixth Extinction.
What impact do you want to have on the world?
Through the lens of adventure, my vision is to empower others, particularly women, to be strong, independent individuals who live with passion, purpose and confidence.
Through the lens of conservation, to raise as much awareness and funds as I can for the African elephants and anti-poaching projects. To date, I have raised over £300k for various charities.
Through the lens of creativity, to close the gap between scientific data and human connection.