Blue Mountains local, Allie Pepper, is an adventurer, guide, and trainer with twenty years’ experience. She’s currently in Nepal with her climbing partner, Vibeke Sefland, attempting to ascend Makalu [the world’s fifth highest mountain, at 8481m], without the use of supplementary oxygen. Allie gives us some insight into what it’s like to work in the great outdoors…

How did you get started in outdoor recreation?

After many years of casual work and travel, I decided to find some direction in my life. I had never studied beyond high school, so in 1999 I thought I would enrol in a course at the Blue Mountains TAFE. As I was looking through the brochures, I read one wrong – I thought it said Outdoor Re-creation. This sounded like the perfect course as I wanted to recreate myself and I loved the outdoors! At the end of 2000, I finished my Certificate 4 in Outdoor Leadership and won the Most Outstanding Student of the Year Award. I’d found something that I enjoyed and was also quite good at.

What impact has discovering a love of the outdoors had on your life?

I can’t imagine a life that isn’t spent mostly outdoors. As a guide, I’m able to share my passion for outdoor adventure. When I have days off, I’m either climbing or training for my next adventure. Most of my savings go towards my personal mountaineering goals. I love sharing adventures with others – clients, friends, and climbing partners. It’s very rewarding watching my TAFE students become confident and safe outdoor leaders.

How can women who are keen to get into sports like rock climbing learn to handle fear (e.g. fear of heights)?

The only way to handle it is to slowly get used to heights. I still have a fear of heights in many situations, but the more you do something, the easier it gets. I always try to focus on being in the moment and the small amount of rock, snow, or ice in front of me rather than the space below.

It takes time and practise to be confident in yourself. You have to build up to harder things in small steps. At first, climb at an indoor gym. Then, climb outdoors with a top rope. Start lead climbing when you know you are ready. I recommend taking courses with qualified guides so you are learning the safest way to climb.

How has the outdoor rec industry changed over the years?

I’ve noticed that the industry has so many women in it now. This is super exciting and inspiring! Twenty years ago, women where definitely outnumbered by men. These days I’d say that most outdoor courses I teach are half women. Our TAFE teaching team is mostly women at the moment!

What advice do you have for other women who want to start a career in outdoor rec?

I recommend doing a Certificate 3 and 4 in Outdoor Recreation. Many providers are offering these courses and you can choose the outdoor activities you want to guide as subjects. It’s pretty standard to have these qualifications to work in the industry in Australia. I teach at Lithgow TAFE and we have a lot of trainees from various companies such as Outward Bound. Alternatively, you can do short courses in canyoning or rock climbing guiding to work as an adventure guide.

What do you consider to be your greatest achievement?

People might think I’d say that climbing Everest is my greatest achievement, but I didn’t complete my original goal to summit it without supplementary oxygen. I’d say that, in terms of climbing style, I’m most proud of my ascent of Cho Oyu 8201m without oxygen, and also on my own during the summit rotation.

If you weren’t working as a guide and trainer, what do you think you’d be doing?

I’ve done some corporate speaking about my adventures and climbs, so I could pursue that further or write a book. I could also imagine being a project manager as I’ve helped raise money for various projects in Nepal. When I get older and my knees won’t carry a pack anymore, I could also organise tours rather than lead them.

Got any exciting adventures coming up?

Right now, I’m sitting in a lodge in Phortse in the Khumbu region of Nepal. I am with my climbing partner Vibeke and we are checking out the Khumbu Climbing Center as we are raising money for a project called the Didi Initiative. It will support Nepali women to come and do courses at the Center so they can become guides. You can find out more about it on my blog.

We are just focused on acclimatising for our climb at the moment. We are heading up to Gokyo and we plan to camp around 5300m before coming back to Namche and flying to Makalu Base Camp. This trip is exciting for me – we have been planning it for a while now. I will see how this one goes before I announce what’s next!

We wish Allie all the best! You can find out more about her adventures at  http://www.alliepepper.com/

Interview by Amy O’Toole