The Outdoorsing Club Leaders: Jessica Withers

ACAI’s Outdoorsing Club is a series of free, hosted events to encourage women to get outdoors with like-minded people and try a new experience in nature.

All events are led by women with a passion for the outdoors. Women like Jessica Withers, an indoor climbing instructor with a love of the mountains and a desire to share her experience and knowledge with as many as possible.

ACAI caught up with Jess to find out a bit more about what drives her to head for the hills...

What first inspired you to start climbing? 

“I was lucky enough to grow up with parents who loved travelling and exploring the UK. I spent much of my childhood walking in Wales, Yorkshire and the Peak District. I’m also grateful for the family I have in Dorset, where I spent much of my youth running around the Portland quarries and crags. I always remember watching the climbers on Portland with so much fascination.

“So it was a natural progression as I got older to start scaling rocks and start scrambling; which then led me down the climbing route. Family and friends who enjoyed climbing also introduced me to the sport. I think it was always in me to want to give climbing a try.”

What is the most thrilling climb you’ve ever done? 

“My most thrilling climb was up Fairview Dome in Tuolumne Meadows just outside of Yosemite, USA.

“I've always loved crack climbing, and had met a friend who had travelled down from Canada to hang out for a few days after I’d finished my John Muir trail thru hike. She's a bad ass climber! And was excited about a route she had planned for us. Little did I know it was 12 pitches up a 900ft towering wall!

“I was very intimidated to start with because of the steepness of the wall and the scale of it (I had never climbed anything this big and exposed before). But as we started climbing and I started to lead some of the pitches I settled into a rhythm and we made our way up. It took most of the day to complete the route and the views were incredible. It felt like a huge achievement once we had topped out.

“I love every aspect of climbing, especially when it comes to the flow of emotions and managing fear. Just as much as it is physical, climbing is equally just as much of a mental game. And it was especially so for me on that route, leading pitches on such an exposed big wall. But it's a great way of managing your mindset and taking control of situations when fear could quite easily take over.”

What do you think are the barriers to women spending time in the outdoors?

“I think the biggest barrier is self confidence and self doubt, and questioning ability. Through hiking I've met some amazing women. I've taken some incredible ladies out on their first higher graded scrambles. I've introduced others to lower graded rock climbs. And I always see the same doubt, the self questioning and the almost last minute change of plans and route choices!

“I'd love for women to be able to approach me and other more experienced climbers and ask for advice or plan days together. I LOVE introducing people to these types of routes. I hope with my group scrambles for ACAI’s Outdoorsing Club more women will join us, and also message me to plan adventurous days together; to increase their knowledge and experience; to push their comfort zones; and to gain more confidence in things they thought they weren't even capable of to begin with. 

Can you tell us your five Outdoorsing essentials that you’re never without?

  1. First Aid Kit - I hike and climb with my daughter and my dog so this is very important.
  2. Light Waterproof - because mountain weather is always so unpredictable.
  3. Battery Pack - I tend to use Komoot and a GPX viewer on my phone and for climbs I love the Rockfax app, so it's important I always have charge.
  4. Sawyer Water Filter - I'm a little bit of a weight weenie so I tend to carry only a small amount of water with me at all times so my filter allows me to refill anywhere I find water sources.
  5. Light Compact Scrambling Rope - just in case! I tend to choose the harder routes up a mountain and over the years I've learnt it’s always good having that back up because it can get you out of some sticky unforeseen situations.

Where is at the top of your Outdoorsing Bucket List?

To climb the Matterhorn; me and my boyfriend have this planned for next August. It's such an iconic mountain and it's been high up on the list for some time now. 

Shop Jessica's favourite ACAI pieces in her handpicked edit here

For more climbing inspiration from Jessica, follow her Instagram page and sign up to her upcoming Outdoorsing Club scramble.