Rebecca Coles: sharing her passion for mountains with the world

WE TALK to expedition leader Rebecca Coles about her passion for mountains and travel around the world.

Rebecca Coles

Rebecca Coles is an expedition leader with a passion for mountains and exploring the world.


REBECCA COLES is an expedition leader and travel expert who has recently completed a PhD in geography. She is passionate about sharing her experience with others through and plans expedition that encourage people to travel as adventurously as possible.


Personal travel and expeditions have taken Rebecca across all seven continents and 70 countries – she absorbs herself in the culture wherever she goes and thrives on diversity.


In this fascinating interview she talks about how her love of the outdoors led her to become a mountain expedition leader and opens up about some of the highlights of her career to date.


For more information about Rebecca and the work she does visit www.allbutessentialtravel.com.


When did you start mountaineering and what initially sparked this passion?


I began by simply enjoying being outside, then hillwalking led to rock climbing and followed by winter climbing and mountaineering. For many years I was perfectly happy exploring the mountains and crags of the UK by enjoying long, easy routes like Tower Ridge on Ben Nevis, Commando Ridge, Boisgran, routes on Idwal slabs and Tryfan. It was wanting to become a mountaineering instructor that made me focus on improving my climbing to be able to climb a bit harder (not that I climb that hard). Being a MIA has meant that I’ve had the opportunity to do some fantastic things as work. Last week I guided a team on the Old Man of Stoer, which was totally awesome, but it was when a sea eagle flew past that I thought, “I love my job!”


Could you tell us how mountaineering has opened your eyes to the world and allowed you travel it?


Mountains, or more often than not a particular mountain, has been the reason for so many trips but in the end it has been the journey, the people and the landscapes rather than the climbing that has created the memories. I’ve gained a greater understanding of local cultures by working with local people, and being at the mercy of the weather and terrain, and sometimes the wildlife, means that I experience the landscape on a different level to simply viewing it from afar.


Peak Lenin

Rebecca pictured Descending from peak Lenin (7,134m), Kyrgyzstan.


When did you become an expedition leader, what has been involved in getting to that level and who does it see you lead and plan trips for?


I’ve been leading expeditions for 15 years now. I already had a good amount of personal travel experience in lots of different countries before I started looking into leading trips. I then gained experience of managing groups in the mountains as well as my Mountain Leader qualification before I began to lead trips.


My first trips were with my peers at University and I then worked on youth development expeditions and now I lead for companies such as Jagged Globe and Secret Compass. I’m just back from leading a trekking trip in the Wakhan Corridor, Afghanistan. As you can image the group was made up of quite adventurous people, from a recently retired Irish rugby player to a fund manager from New York. Over Christmas I will be working on Aconcagua for Jagged Globe.


One of the most enjoyable aspects of expedition leading is working with a local team, whether it is the Sherpas in Nepal, the Tanzanian guides and porters on Kilimanjaro or the Afghan herders that provided the pack animals for my recent trip, I love to drink tea in the porters’ tent and gain an insight into their lives.


Can you tell us where your expeditions have taken you to and what have been some of your highlights?


Through personal travel and expeditions, as well as work, I’ve travelled on all seven continents and over 70 countries. For personal and work trips I have recently been spending a lot of time in Central Asia (all the ‘Stans), having been to Kyrgyzstan and Afghanistan twice and Tajikistan three times to trek and climb. I’ve climbed Peak Lenin (7,134m) in Kyrgyzstan and made a second ascent of a peak in the Wakhan Corridor, Afghanistan.


As part of a nine-month overland trip, travelling from Nepal back to the UK, I visited the other Central Asian countries of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan before crossing the Caspian Sea on a cargo ship to Azerbaijan.


Outside the Central Asian region other trips take me to Nepal regularly and I have also spent time in other parts of the Himalayas such as Ladakh and Tibet.


One really special trip was to South Georgia, Antarctica – the wildlife is spectacular and we climbed four first ascents.



Sharing food in a yurt in Kyrgyzstan.


How did it feel completing your PhD in Geography and how much does that help you with your work on expeditions in the mountains?


A relief! I managed to drag my PhD out for what felt like forever and it was a real slog to finish in the end. I had started my PhD thinking that I wanted to go into academia but, although I did enjoy the majority of the PhD process, by the time I finished I had changed my mind. I started working in the outdoors full-time and didn’t really use my geography, apart from adding a bit of extra interest here and there to anyone who’d listen. In the last year or so however I have started to combine the two. I now do work as a field studies guide in Iceland and through my business I combine my knowledge of field studies and the outdoors to help plan field trips.


Could you tell us about www.allbutessentialtravel.com and what visitors can expect from the site?


The aim of All But Essential travel is to help both individuals as well as organisations, institutes and companies plan trips.


For individuals I organise workshops on how they can go about planning their own expeditions and independent travel. If you visit the website you can keep an eye on what workshops I’m running and where.


For organisations it’s a consultancy service for expedition, field trip and adventure travel. Which includes all aspects of logistics planning, risk assessments and incident management plans.


The site also has a blog where I aim to inspire people with my weekly photo series and book reviews as well as posts on trips and useful advice on different aspects of travel and expeditions. I enjoy photography and write articles for print and online media so the site also has some of my best photographs and links to the articles I’ve written.



Watching buzkashi – a traditional game of ‘polo’ played with a dead goat.


How would you like to see www.allbutessentialtravel.com grow over the next few years and what exciting plans do you have for the future?


In the short term, this autumn I am running workshops on Expedition Leadership and am writing a series of articles on expedition planning for Trek and Mountain magazine. I’ll be at the Kendal Film Festival – make sure you come and say hi in the Lowe Alpine yurt.


More long-term I will be developing All But Essential travel into a company which best helps people and organisations to have the confidence to plan and go on their own trips.


There is lots of exciting stuff in the pipeline which I can’t talk about yet but I’ll let everyone know on my social media when I can. So, follow me on Twitter @allbutessential, Facebook: \allbutessentialtravel and Instagram @allbutessentialtravel for the updates!

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