Cressida Allwood - Mountain Leader

Cressida Allwood

What do you do for work?

I use my outdoor skills in a variety of ways. I've been leading overseas expeditions for 16 years, to an array of destinations and in contrasting environments. I've led teams in jungles and at altitude in many mountain ranges. I'm about to head up volcanoes here in Java. I have a few adventures myself each year and these usually involve climbing mountains in exciting places.

Have you always wanted to work in the outdoor industry?

I never saw myself as an expedition leader when I was younger. I thought it was something for those in the forces or gnarly men if I'm honest. In 2000 I changed my life, leaving a secure job in search of escape and adventure. (I'd fancied teaching outdoor activities before but was concerned about the pay and being able to pay my mortgage etc. My education had led me to believe that I should have a well-paid job so I had a few reservations.) Luckily I saw the light and followed my instincts. I headed off to France and then Brunei.

Having led three treks as a project manager for Raleigh International in the Temborung jungle, I returned to the UK believing that I really could lead in the outdoors - this was a significant boost to my confidence. I'd operated outside of my usual comfort zones and was tested many times in challenging terrain: I loved it!

Cressida near Aconcagua

Why did you start pursuing qualifications in the outdoors?

I worked for the Outward Bound Trust in Aberdyfi for a year, gaining more technical skills and really took to climbing, passing my Single Pitch Award and Mountain Leader. I moved to the Lakes to follow my passion for development training and have focussed more on developing skills in this area. Previously I'd worked in London for the Sunday Times, taught A level in 2 subjects and had managed many people and projects; I was keen to work with adults again. Leading trips once a year was a great way to combine my love of travel and expeditioning with full time training work.

In 2011 I had the best ever midlife crisis, cycling around the world for nearly two years. I climbed a few mountains along the way, notably Illamani in Bolivia (just under 6500m). I have done Winter Mountain Leader training and have led groups to c6,000m but don't see myself as a mountaineer per se. I'm a business coach; I tutor ILM courses in coaching plus leadership and management. I offer 1 to 1 coaching in the outdoors and specialise in women's leadership.

I'm setting up a national group for the Institute of Outdoor Learning looking at gender and leadership and did my MA research in this area. As a leader I feel that we have a long way to go to dispel some unhelpful myths about leadership in the outdoors. I'm interested in working with both sexes to address this area.

What were the best and worst things about working through the qualifications?

When I took my Single Pitch Award I made sure that I was totally prepared, spending hours climbing different routes in a wide range of locations. I was lucky as I was surrounded by climbers at the time and was very driven. At Plas y Brenin I definitely felt anxious about the assessment, but if you put the work in, there's no reason to not pass. Climbing is a brilliant sport - loads of fun.

Cressida Allwood 1

My Mountain Leader assessment was much more intense and I was the only female. I recall feeling a bit lonely at night as the guys were sharing rooms. It would have been nice to have had another woman about to chat to, but hopefully more women will take the award in future and we'll have more female assessors. The guys were great though; we supported each other a lot which felt good.

When I did my Winter Mountain Leader training I was somewhat concerned - would I be good enough? Had I spent enough time in the mountains? I had a sense that the award was for serious, experienced mountaineers: was I one of those? I really enjoyed the days at Glenmore Lodge and recognise that I put myself under pressure. Maybe I make negative comparisons with the elite which is pretty ridiculous and yet we hear mainly from the top climbers/mountaineers. There's definitely a place for more stories and for more positive mentors to encourage those keen to develop.

What are your leadership plans for the future?

If I can help inspire more people to climb and enjoy being in the mountains, I will have had a life well spent. I'll keep leading 2-3 trips a year until I lose the enthusiasm. Hopefully I'll be exploring until I drop.

I'd like my Winter Mountain Leader but mainly for my personal competence. I envisage myself climbing higher mountains before that time; there's a 7,000m peak I have my eye on first.