This International Women’s Day, we wanted to highlight a handful of adventurous ladies from around the world — historic and current — who demonstrate just a fraction of the amazing things women can accomplish. It was hard to narrow down the list, but we settled on ten courageous women making strides in a variety of adventurous fields. Check them out and let us know who you would’ve chosen!
Ashima Shiraishi was born to artistic Japanese immigrants in Manhattan, New York. Despite growing up in a concrete jungle, 16-year-old Shiraishi became passionate about rock climbing, and has already broken several records in both bouldering and sport climbing. In March 2015, Shiraishi stunned the climbing community when she spent her eighth-grade spring break ascending a 5.15a sport climb (read: conquering one of the most difficult climbs there are) in Spain, becoming the first female to complete a 5.15. And that was only the beginning. With her immense achievements and effortless skill at such a young age, Shiraishi is poised to become the best rock climber in the world — of any gender.
Romanian photographer Mihaela Noroc began backpacking solo around the world at age 27, with the goal of depicting the diversity of women through photographs. “I hope I will have the chance to photograph some of [the world’s women] for the project, capturing their inner and outer beauty and showing them how special they are,” Noroc said of her endeavor. Four years later, Noroc published her first book “The Atlas of Beauty,” in which she displays and describes 500 of her favorite photographs of women — all beautiful in their own way, young and old, living everywhere from North Korea to the Amazon rainforest. Insightful, inspiring, and visually captivating, “The Atlas of Beauty” is a wonderful way to celebrate International Women’s Day.
Alaskans are tough. Erin McKittrick isn’t from the state, but she walked there all the way from her hometown of Seattle thousands of miles away. You could say she earned her stripes as an Alaskan with that trip alone. Now a resident of the tiny coastal village of Seldovia, McKittrick has explored more than 8,000 miles of Alaskan wilderness on foot, via packraft, and on skis — sometimes with her two young sons in tow. A molecular-biologist-turned-writer, McKittrick has a litany of epic adventures under her belt, many of which she’s written about in books or for the Anchorage Daily News. She also co-founded Ground Truth Trekking in 2007, a nonprofit that “seeks to educate and engage the public on Alaska's natural resource issues.”
Who knows how far Meriwether Lewis and William Clark would’ve gotten on their expedition to explore the American West without the help of Sacagawea, the only woman in the 33-member Corps of Discovery. A bilingual Shoshone woman, Sacagawea traveled with the corps for more than a year through rugged territory in 1805 and 1806. She was invaluable as a friendly and calm mediator when the group came across Native American tribes who might’ve felt threatened by the explorers without her presence. In addition, Sacagawea provided vital knowledge about the land, and was essential as a translator, as she could speak Shoshone and Hidatsa. The travel over untamed territory was grueling, and Sacagawea did it all as a teenager with her son, who was born two months before she joined the expedition. In 1812, Sacagawea died in her mid-twenties, but her strength, poise, and bravery will always be remembered.
In 2014, Brooklyn-based urban planner and climber Shelma Jun started Flash Foxy, an online women’s climbing community. Two years later she founded the Women's Climbing Festival — a place where women converge to converse, climb and learn together in the outdoors. In its first year, the festival sold all 300 tickets in a minute, causing Jun to expand the festival to two locations in 2017. Jun is always looking for ways to bring women together, start important conversations, and tell stories of strong women. “I’d like to see that, at the industry level, more leadership positions are given to women of color and queer folks,” she said in an interview with A Women’s Thing.
Barbara Hillary is determined. A native of Harlem, New York, Hillary overcame breast and lung cancer — decades apart — and then didn’t want to just sit around during her retirement from nursing. Instead, she decided to go to Manitoba, Canada, to photograph polar bears. After falling in love with the far North, Hillary put in months of training and became the first African-American woman to reach the North Pole via helicopter and skis. She was 75. Four years later, in 2011, Hillary trekked to the South Pole, making her the first African-American woman to reach both ends of the earth. Today, she’s nearly 90 and keeps busy as an inspirational speaker, with a sure sense of humor to accompany her stories of adventure.
After a burst of inspiration, Swedish graphic designer Ann Johansson decided to bicycle solo from Sweden to New Zealand, a 23,000-mile journey spanning 27 countries. She left home in April 2015, and after a foot injury seven months into the journey on a dusty Tajikistani highway, Johansson had to take a step back to recover. After a four-month rehabilitation, Johansson restarted her trek, and as of writing time, she was in Tasmania, Australia. Johansson’s route often takes her through remote areas — truly roads less traveled — as she prefers quiet trails to busy highways. Her photos and stories of the places she’s seen and the people she’s met are inspiring. Be ready to catch the travel bug if you follow her Instagram.
Research test pilot Kelly Latimer loves to be airborne and is a pro at flying heavy aircraft. After graduating from the U.S. Air Force Academy with an astronautical engineering degree, she served in combat and retired from active duty as a lieutenant colonel in 2007. Latimer has also held key positions at Boeing as a test pilot for various aircraft, and was the first female test pilot at NASA’s Dryden (now Armstrong) Flight Research Center. Now, Latimer is a research test pilot for Virgin Galactic — the first and only female on the team. Latimer currently flies gigantic aircraft that serve as launch pads for suborbital space ships. She dreams of one day going into space herself, but for now, she’s happy to help others get there.
Junko Tabei, a Japanese mountaineer, believed that climbing tall mountains wasn’t just for men. After graduating from Showa Women’s University, she founded the Ladies Climbing Club. In 1975, on a 15-woman expedition to the Himalayas, Tabei became the first woman to stand on the summit of Mount Everest. “I felt all my hair standing on end,” Tabei said of the harrowing final push to Everest’s South Peak. Tabei was also the first woman to climb the tallest peak on every continent, also known as the “Seven Summits.” Even through her 70s, Tabei remained passionate about mountain climbing and bringing attention to environmental concerns plaguing the world’s most popular mountains. She died at age 77 from cancer.
Archana Sardana grew up in a traditional family in a small town in India, and said she “used to hate adventure” as a child. As an adult, she became an adrenaline junkie after completing a 15-day adventure course in Darjeeling as part of her honeymoon. In her desire to continue to push her limits, Sardana became the first and only female civilian BASE jumper in India. She’s done hundreds of skydives and loves climbing mountains. On top of her accomplishments in the air and on land, Sardana is India’s first female Master Scuba Diver Trainer, and created her own scuba diving academy in Delhi with the desire to introduce more Indian people to the underwater world. Her message to women around the globe is to “overcome your fears to really start living.”