Iconic Women in the Outdoors

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In honor of International Women's Day, we're highlighting just a few of the many women who have been inspirations in the world of adventure sports.
Cover photo by Ben Canevari

Junko Tabei

Avalanches, extreme ridgelines, and oppressive cultural norms couldn’t stop this Japanese-born woman from reaching the top of the world. Standing at just 4’9”, she was a giant in the world of mountaineering, and in 1975 Junko Tabei became the first woman to summit Mount Everest. She left her 3 year old son at home with her husband to lead the first all-women expedition up the mountain.

She’d first begun organizing women’s mountaineering trips in college, where she was treated unfairly by men in the sport. The “Ladies Climbing Club” was born, with the slogan “Let’s go on an overseas expedition by ourselves.”

By Jaan Künnap - Jaan Künnap, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=39639910

Photo By Jaan Künnap - Jaan Künnap, CC BY-SA 4.0

Throughout her life, Junko continued to set records. At the age of 53, she became the first woman to complete the Seven Summits, reaching the highest point on all seven continents. And she was an advocate for preserving Mount Everest and other peaks. She saw how tourism and overuse could degrade the mountain environment and even threaten the water supply of villages in the foothills, whose residents depend on annual snow runoff for their water supply. Junko became the director of the Himalayan Adventure Trust of Japan and participated in “clean-up climbs” around the world.

Junko passed away from cancer in 2016 but continued mountaineering even while undergoing treatment. “Do not give up,” she told Outside Magazine. “Keep on your quest.”

Rebecca Rusch

They call her the “Queen of Pain,” and it’s easy to see why. Winner of some of the gnarliest mountain bike races out there (including the grueling Leadville Trail 100, which she has won not once but three times), she’s continually striving to up her game and take her adventures to the next level. Case in point: how many people do you know that have ridden a bike to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro? 

She’s also sentimental. Rebecca’s latest expedition was a heartfelt journey to bring her closer to her father, who’s airplane crashed in a small village during the Vietnam War. Together with a local female cyclist, Rebecca followed the Ho Chi Minh trail by mountain bike. Watch a preview of the film about her journey:

Rebecca uses her achievements to bring awareness to charities and organizations that stand for what she believes: that pursuing experiences you love can make you a better person. She’s an activist for cycling, and her efforts focus on getting more people around the world on bikes.


Lynn Hill

Lynn is a force to be reckoned with. Known as one of the world’s great climbers (among men and women), her list of accomplishments is chock-full of first ascents on challenging routes around the world.

As a child she was a skilled gymnast. The ability to break down big moves into smaller, more manageable pieces translated well into her first experience climbing at the age of 14. Lynn continued developing her skills in Joshua Tree National Park, eventually spending her summers in Yosemite’s legendary Camp 4 eating tourist leftovers and paying for new gear by collecting cans for recycling. In her autobiography, Lynn remembers “these dirt-poor days… as among the best and the most carefree of my life.”

That was in the 1970’s, when women were seldom encouraged to participate in climbing. In the late 1970’s and 80’s, Lynn began to change that as she started setting records and shattering expectations. She became the first person to free climb the 5.12d-rated route Ophir Broke in Colorado, where she also happened to be the first woman to climb a route of that difficulty.

Photo By Heinz Zak

In 1993, Lynn once again shattered expectations by becoming the first person to free climb The Nose on El Capitan in Yosemite. And the following year, she did it again, this time by climbing the route in under 24 hours, setting a new speed record. Typically the route takes climbers four to six days.

These days Lynn continues climbing, running, and skiing in Colorado.

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