Lou Reynolds - Winter Mountaineering and Climbing Instructor

Lou Reynolds

What do you do for work?

I work as a freelance Mountaineering Instructor. This job enables me to do a variety of things such as teaching rock climbing, guiding Cuillin Ridge traverses and taking people ice climbing on Ben Nevis.


Have you always worked in the outdoor industry?

When I was 16 and 17 I had a part time job as a dispensing assistant in my mum’s pharmacy and as a part-time lifeguard in a swimming pool. Other than that I have always worked in the outdoor industry and feel I am very lucky to have been able to do this right from the start.


What is your earliest memory of exploring 'the outdoors'? Who introduced you to it?

My mum introduced me to the outdoors. I grew up with just my mum so we were very close and used to go exploring every weekend; walking on the moor, sledging in the snow and body boarding at the beach, all in Devon. Probably the changing moment was at the age of 13, when my mum took me out of school for two months and we went to live near Chamonix in the French Alps. I learnt to ski and became totally obsessed with the idea of climbing Mont Blanc and also met people who lived and worked in the mountains and realised it was something you could do for a living.

Lou Reynolds on Mont Maudit in the Alps

When did you start doing Mountain Training qualifications and why?

I started doing Mountain Training qualifications when I was 17. I did the Climbing Wall Instructor training as it was the only qualification I could start at that age. I had the idea, aged 13, that I wanted to become a mountain Guide. I left school at the age of 17 and embarked on a college course in outdoor education. I wanted to try and learn as much as possible about mountaineering and climbing and working in the industry so I was super keen to get involved with any qualifications and any opportunities that came up for me.


What do you love most about your job?

I love being able to give people experiences of places and challenges that they would not do without some help. I love what I learn from all the people I get to work with and I love being able to put two things I love together for a living: working with people and being in the mountains.


Where’s your favourite place to work?

This is a hard one as I don't really do favourites… however if I had to choose something, I am going to say that I love working on Skye. When the weather is good, guiding two clients along the Cuillin ridge with the sea and the mountains and the efficient movement in a complex environment and all the challenges that a traverse brings; sleeping on the ridge, watching the sunset over the outer hebrides of Scotland. That is pretty cool!

Lou Reynolds trad climbing

You gained the Winter Mountaineering and Climbing Instructor qualification at the age of 23, what was the key to getting to a high level at a relatively young age?

I think starting young helped with motivation and a long term goal. From the age of 13 I had been inspired. I drew pictures of Mont Blanc in my maths book and read mountaineering hand books and novels. By the age of 14 or 15 I had already thought that perhaps one day I could become a mountain guide and this idea never left, it just grew. So I was lucky to have these opportunities to experience the Alps and see other lifestyles and have this inspiration at that age. But I think this could happen to someone at any stage in their life and the challenge of a big long term goal like becoming a Guide or a Winter MCI gives a focus that you can steer your choices towards and keep you motivated to keep trying when the going gets tough.

Secondly I think my upbringing. I was brought up by my mother who would just go for things if she wanted to do them, like taking me out of school for two months and walking the Tour du Mont Blanc with me aged 14. It showed me that you should 'grab life by the balls' and if you want to do something then do it. Sometimes she found it tough doing it all by herself but the rewards were great and I learned that if you work hard for things and wait for things then usually the rewards are greater. I think this is key, I don't think I was talented; I get scared, I find things hard at times but I took opportunities, I worked hard and I thought about things that I was doing a lot and wanted to keep doing it because overall I love what I am doing. So I think trying hard and putting the time in is key.


What advice would you give to anyone aiming for WMCI?

  1. Don’t listen to anyone who puts you down! Well listen, but don’t feel bad about it. Sometimes there are good things to learn from negative comments but often it can really get you down. Over the years I have had a lot of encouragement and support but I have also received some negativity from a variety of sources relating to me not doing things that are considered to be good female attributes. Like being focused or wanting to have a career and having a long term goal and working hard towards it. Just ignore any of this. This negativity often has nothing to do with you, but more someone else’s struggles. If you want to do something then go for it.
  2. Be brave and be kind! Be brave to go for things, be that routes or qualifications or new job opportunities, when it feels right, when you feel like you ‘could’ do that. But remember to be cautious if you feel like you ‘should’ do it as you might be doing it for someone else or something else other than yourself. Be kind and friendly, it gets you a long way and makes life much more fun. With this remember to be kind to yourself. I used to beat myself up internally if I didn’t do as well as I thought I should at things. I realised one day that I would never do that to someone else, that would be horrible and so why was I doing it to myself? You have to look after number one!
Lou Reynolds ice climbing

What are your goals for the future?

Well I think you could guess what my main future goal is… to become an Alpine Guide. I have just been accepted onto the British Guide scheme with a proviso to get a couple more routes in the Alps. So it’s likely that I will begin the full training process next year once I have completed these routes. During this time of about 4 years I would like to climb in Yosemite and other areas in the States and perhaps Patagonia or Alaska if I get the time and right opportunity.

My other goal for the future is to maintain a balanced life. I love my job and the moving around and climbing all over the place, but because of this lifestyle I think one important thing to juggle is balancing the other things. Like family and friends and wind down activities along with working and your fitness and going climbing and skiing lots for yourself. I would like to have a family one day and make this work with a Guiding career and still having adventures, and I would like to put something back in. I have had so much help and support through my life and there are a lot of people out there who don’t have this fortunate lifestyle and situation and I would like to do something in the future that perhaps combined my job with helping less fortunate people.

[Since this interview, Lou has qualified as an IFMGA Mountain Guide and now works in the UK and the Alps.]