Elise Wortley

Hello! I'm Elise, and with an all-female team in tow, I'm bringing to life the incredible lost histories of female adventurers, by literally walking in their footsteps, using only what was available to them at the time. Throughout history, female adventurers have been overshadowed by their male counterparts. This project highlights these groundbreaking women's stories and achievements, with the hope to inspire women and girls today. Woman with Altitude can truly show what “the will of a woman can do”.

What was the path that lead you to today? 

When I was 16 I read a book by a female explorer from the early 1900s, Alexandra David-Neel. I was so amazed by her story and couldn’t believe that I had never learnt about her, or other women like her at school. I thought all the famous explorers from the past had been men, but when I Iooked into it, there were so many other women like Alexandra who had never been taken that seriously at the time. These women’s stories inspired me so much that I’ve made it my mission to highlight their achievements while inspiring as many people as possible along the way. 

Who inspired you to do what you do? 

Alexandra David-Neel was the first ground-breaking female explorer from the past that I discovered. Her book My Journey to Lhasa, whichrecounts the final stages of her epic 14 year journey through Asia, stayed in my mind ever since I first read it. I always thought how brave she had been, to leave her traditional European life of a woman behind in 1914 and head off to Asia, not knowing where she was going or what she was going to encounter. She was the first Western woman to meet the Dalai Lama, she was fluent in Tibetan and spent two years meditating in a freezing cave high in the Himalaya! 

What have been the biggest obstacles you have encountered? 

Throughout my twenties, I suffered from severe anxiety, which manifested itself in constant panic attacks and other physical symptoms like dizziness, headaches and shaking. It was an incredibly stressful time in my life, at points I couldn’t even go to work or leave the house. After getting help I slowly started to feel better, and it was re-reading stories like Alexandra’s that helped me to feel brave enough to go on my first expedition.  


What are you biggest triumphs? 

I had never organised an expedition before my first one to the Indian Himalaya, especially one where I had to piece together my equipment and clothing from books and notes – it had never been done before so nothing was on the internet to help me! This, along with the many permits I had to get for the sensitive state of Sikkim, I was surprised we even made it to India! After a difficult journey we reached our final destination, basecamp of Mt. Kangchenjunga, the 3rd highest peak in the world after weeks of cold and altitude sickness. That first trip was definitely my biggest triumph! 


What is the most important lesson life has taught you? 

That nothing is ever set in stone. There are ways you can change your situation or follow the ideas that you have, even if you are at your lowest point, remember there is always a way out and things will get better.  


What are the things that help you get though each adventure and why? 

I could never have done any of my adventures on my own, the team around me have always carried me through. Whether that’s from helping with equipment, local expertise on the best routes to trek or just to lift me up when I’m feeling depleted, I could never have done any of these trips without the team around me.  


Why is getting outdoors so important in modern life? 

From my own experience, I know that being in nature and connecting with the natural environment has really helped my mental health. Disconnecting from the online world and taking some time to think in nature really helps to clear the head. I always say you don’t have to walk through the Himalaya with a wooden backpack  like I did to connect to nature, even just going to the park down the road for a walk can massively life the spirits. 


Amongst all the adventures you have been involved with, which is the most unforgettable and why? 

I followed in writer and adventurer Nan Shepherd’s footsteps in the Cairngorms. I was on my own for three weeks, in the wild, with no modern equipment to distract me, only a journal, food, an old canvas tent and a map! At first it was hard to not have a phone to constantly reach for, it felt uncomfortable to just sit and do nothing, but over time I became really in tune with nature and the ecosystem around me. I would sit, write or wander through the mountains and I remember this trip so vividly, in such a positive way (even though I was freezing cold and wet for half of it!) more so than any other, and I can only put that down to no modern distractions. I often think about at peace I felt there, and try to bring a little bit of that calm into my normal life in London. 


Who has been an unsung hero in your life? 

My mum is probably mine. She has many hidden talents and got me into reading at a young age which is how I went on to discover all these incredible women. She even wrote a book herself once about a girl who ends up living with Pirates! It wasn’t published but she read it to me from A4 typed pages when I was younger. I think it’s still in a draw somewhere at home! 


What’s next for you? 

I’m currently planning my next trip in Iran, following in the footsteps of Freya Stark on her incredible journey to the Valleys of the Assassins. I also hope to re-create the journey of Irish Pirate Queen Grace O’Malley, rowing with an all-female team from West Ireland over to England and up the Thames to Greenwich, I just need to find the old boat! W atch this space! 


Do you have a motto you live by? 

You never know until you try, is probably mine. No matter how crazy an idea is, you never know if it will work until you try! I put off organising my first trip for years as I was embarrassed, shy, and thought it was too crazy, but I’m so glad I took the leap and tried. This motto also works for me in another sense in that I’m always proud of myself if I’ve tried my best, even if things don’t work out, which often they don’t, as long as I’ve tried my hardest, I don’t mind what the outcome is.