In 2020 I wrote a post on this website entitled “Get Inspired: 10 Modern Day Female Explorers to Watch Across Air, Space, Land & Sea” which talked about some of the modern day women who are out there exploring the Earth, living non-traditional lives, facing seemingly insurmountable challenges, and accomplishing REALLY BIG things. In each and every case I was blown away to learn that there are people like this out there in the world who exist, namely:
- Heather Anderson – In 2018, Heather became the first female to complete a Calendar Year Triple Crown hike (completing the Appalachian, Pacific Crest and Continental Divide National Scenic Trails) in one March-November season. She has also completed each of those trails three times, setting records for fastest known times along the way.
- Jessica Nabongo – In October 2019, Jessica became the first documented Black woman to visit every country in the world.
- Kate Harris – In 2011, Kate Harris and her friend Mel set off for a 10-month, nearly 10,000 km adventure as they cycled the fabled silk road trading route across 10 different countries. Starting in Istanbul, Turkey, they cycled across mountains, through foreign lands and into the elements, ending in the city of Leh in the Indian Himalayas.
- Vanessa O’Brien – Vanessa is the first woman to reach earth’s highest (Mt. Everest 8,848m) and lowest points (Challenger Deep 10,925m). She is the fastest woman to climb the seven summits in 295 days. She is also the oldest woman to summit K2, the second tallest peak at 8,611m at 52 years old, among other accolades.
From left to right (alphabetically): Heather Anderson, Jessica Nabongo, Kate Harris, and Vanessa O’Brien
“Women, like men, should try to do the impossible. And when they fail, their failure should be a challenge to others.”– Amelia Earhart
It’s been a couple years and I realized I have now read books written by several of these women mentioned in my original post. I find these reads to be incredibly inspiring and humbling. In the name fearless female adventurers, below are my four latest book recommendations!
I had never heard of the Triple Crown of hiking until I came across Heather Anderson’s story. I was simply amazed to learn that a woman like this existed who had hiked the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) solo in the fastest known time (40 miles a day for over 50 days). I was further shocked to learn that she also became the first woman to hike the Appalachian, Continental Divide, and PCT (aka “Triple Crown”) in under year, which is over 8,000 miles in eight months. This is the incredible story of how Heather went from a self-conscious, sedentary, overweight teenager to become an ultra marathoner and thru-hiker of the highest regard. This book brings you along for her incredible journey. As a bonus: I learned about many places along the PCT that I’ve been to, never realizing that they were a part of the PCT. Next time I’ll be on the lookout for thru-hikers.
I first learned of Jessica Nabongo through a podcast I listened to after she finished her trip traveling around the world to visit all 195 countries. I was excited to hear that she came out with a book; needless to say, I devoured it. I enjoyed every single page and I didn’t want it to end. I learned so much about the world through her experiences. As a bonus: Joan Merriam Smith traveled through many of these cities on her 1964 world flight. Through Jessica’s book, I was able to learn a lot more about some of the obscure regions that Joan traveled through. This book is beautifully laid out, easily digestible, and written in a conversational, informative style. Would make a great gift for a friend who enjoys travel; it’s also a perfect coffee table book.
I greatly admire the unimaginable challenges Kate and Mel took on in the name of exploration as they biked nearly 10,000km across 10 different countries on a self-supported adventure. I appreciated the philosophical reflections, the references to various historical, fellow explorers along the way, and the vividly written descriptions of their travels. I also enjoyed the musings on the observed and relative fluidity of boundaries and borders: “Political frontiers, while sometimes as solid as brick, are only as strong as shared belief.” Or, “When there are no fences, no signs, it’s hard to tell when you’ve arrived.” I thought this was an excellent book, nice job, and kudos to the author for sharing her unique and admirable personal experience.
To the Greatest Heights: Facing Danger, Finding Humility, and Climbing a Mountain of Truth by Vanessa O’Brien
Publisher: Atria/Emily Bestler Books (Amazon book link)
Follow on Instagram: @vobonline
Vanessa is the fastest woman to climb the Seven Summits in 295 days: the Seven Summits are the highest mountains of each of the seven traditional continents. I enjoyed Vanessa’s story, how she progressively intertwined her personal life experiences with the daunting challenges she met in the face of mountaineering. More than anything, it was inspiring to hear such an incredible adventure tale from a female’s perspective. Introduced me to a completely different existence and made we want to get outdoors and do more. This book was obviously written from such a place of depth, passion, and reflection that it forced you to slow down and absorb the words on each page—or more accurately the experiences shared—and I do believe that was the point.
Summary: When I first became familiar with Joan Merriam Smith’s story, I was blown away by the boundaries she pushed in her day, shocked at her ability to pull together a solo flight around the globe in honor of Amelia Earhart, and inspired by her passion, self-reliance, and her general ability to keep pushing despite the odds and the elements. The stories of Heather, Jessica, Kate, and Vanessa are no different. What new goals will you set today?!