Interview with Iona Rendall
Yugen Explore Adventure Ambassador
An interview with our very first Brand Ambassador, Iona Rendall. The Queen of hiking meetups, known for breaking taboos and getting more people outdoors to enjoy the beautiful country that is Scotland. We love having her as part of the Yugen Explore family, for generally just being awesome and making the world a happier place!
Iona is a wee adventurer from Aviemore in Scotland, she’s training to be a Mountain Leader and loves going off exploring as much as possible around her job of being a nurse. After connecting with her on Instagram we knew that we had to get her involved as she encompasses everything we do at Yugen. She has a passion for adventure and the ambition to bring people together and get more people outdoors. With this in mind she created the wonderful group that is Iona’s Adventures. The love and support she has received so far from total strangers has been phenomenal. She’s already done such an amazing job of connecting people from around the UK, and there’s no sign of stopping there!
At what point in your life did you find a love of the mountains and what encouraged you to get outdoors?
Just 2 and a half years ago a friend took me up my first Munro and I hated almost every second of it! There was no path, it was so boggy and it was blowing a hoolie (really windy haha). I was living in Aviemore after leaving the Police and I’d started so many outdoor activities like snowboarding, mountain biking and even tried canoeing. Being surrounded by the mountains I really wanted to explore them but thought I’d have to be a real mountaineer. After that first Munro I thought to myself I was glad I hadn’t tried it before. Soon afterwards I began to realise it hadn’t actually been that bad...so I did another Munro on my own and from then on I began to fall in love with the mountains. I’m certainly not a ‘real mountaineer’ now....quite far from it in fact but I’m learning all the time and it’s great to be ambitious.
What made you decide to create the walking group?
After completing the Great Glencoe Challenge (26.2 mile trek from Glencoe to Fort William) I needed a new challenge. I looked into training to become a Mountain Leader and to even do the course I discovered I’d have to log 20 ‘quality mountain days’. They have to include solo walks and group walks but I didn’t know anyone that I could go out walking with. I had this crazy idea to set up a facebook group where I would post details of where and when I would be hiking so that people could join me and I could therefore log some group walks. So ‘Iona’s Adventures’ was created and it turns out that so many people have been looking for a way to meet people to share mountain days with too.
Did your friends and family think you were crazy for meeting and hiking with strangers?
My family are used to me having all sorts of far fetched ideas, most of which I never actually complete. It was my mam that I spoke to about the facebook group first. I then asked her and my sisters to proof read my ‘introduction page’ before I made the group live. My family and my boyfriend are so supportive. They know if I want to do something I’ll generally just go ahead and do it. I didn’t give them a chance to think it was crazy, the numbers soon grew and they could see what a supportive community it was becoming. Two of my close friends joined my very first group walk and that meant so much to me!
Do you ever get nervous about meeting new people on the walks, or worry that no one will show up?
Before the very first walk last year I was extremely nervous! I even drove out to the location earlier that day to ease my nerves. As soon as people arrived and we began walking it was as though I left my reservations at the start because I could see everyone chatting away and I knew it would be okay. Walking in a group seems to be like outdoor therapy. It’s easier to talk to someone while you’re walking for some reason. As the numbers in the facebook group have grown I don’t worry about people not turning up. Whoever is there on the day is there because they really want to be. That’s what’s important.
What advice would you give to anyone that is unsure if your group or any meetup group is for them?
If your gut instinct is telling you that my walking group (or any other meetup) is something that you would love to try then you should just listen to that instinct. People see the confident side of me when I’m organising the walks but I’ve spent my life until very recently letting my own worries and concerns hold me back. I wish I could have told myself to be braver when I was younger, I could have experienced so much more. I’m making up for it now though. For anyone who wants to come along but they’re not sure I would encourage them to join the facebook group and just keep an eye on it all for a little while. You’ll soon see for yourself that it’s such a friendly, non judgemental community. There’s a whole range of people of different ages, abilities and experience. I have met people who have never walked up a hill before and others who have worked for Mountain Rescue. Everyone just wants to make those connections and meet like minded people.
You’ve already helped and inspired many, but is there a story about anyone in particular that has benefitted from joining your group?
Wow I don’t think I could possibly choose. I’ve seen genuine friendships grow through my group walks which is so amazing, there have even been a few dates as well! People have overcome real anxieties about joining the group and that’s always very special to know. One woman joined the Aviemore Adventure weekend that Yugen Explore collaborated with me on and she told me afterwards that it had given her the confidence to realise that taking a chance could lead to such incredible experiences. Soon after that she told me she had booked a trip abroad to go and learn how to sail....an adventure she has wanted to embark on for years but hadn’t had the confidence to do until now! I’ve also met people who’s long term conditions have held them back from joining any kind of group activity in the past. They’ve come on my walks and told me how included and welcomed they felt. Oh my gosh it’s making me well up remembering all of these incredible people. It really hits home that it’s not about the numbers, it never has been, it’s about meeting real people and bringing some kind of happiness, joy, purpose or a sense of achievement to their lives.
If you could choose anyone in the world to come on one of your adventures who would it be and why?
I recently went to a talk where Ben Fogle talked about his adventures and how he came to travel the world and find a sense of belonging in the great outdoors. He was really relatable and I left his talk feeling so motivated and inspired. I’d like to be his mate, he seems like a good guy and he kept saying how much he loves Scotland! So, if he comes on a group walk then he’ll love it even more with my adventurers!
What advice would you give to anyone that is unsure if hiking is for them?
Hiking and walking in general is one of the best ways to exercise as you can choose your pace, distance, difficulty etc so it’s completely flexible. Walking is my headspace because being outdoors and putting one foot in front of the other is so therapeutic. It gives me the chance to clear my mind and get away from every day worries or stresses. Or walking as part of a group might help encourage you to achieve more than you would do on your own. If you’re brand new to hiking then you can start off at whatever level suits you. There will be lots of resources for finding local walks. Get a good pair of boots by asking at a local outdoor equipment store and they’ll make sure you get fitted properly. People are generally very helpful and encouraging so just reach out and ask for advice when you need it.
What has been your biggest adventure so far?
When I lived in Aviemore I used to see photos of people hiking a Munro called Sgor Gaoith and for some reason I had it in my head that hiking that mountain was far beyond my capabilities. So I just simply wrote it off. When I started getting into walking I was back in Aviemore visiting family and I started to wonder how long it would take me to hike Sgor Gaoith. The research began and then the next day I set off to conquer it. I cycled the 10 miles to reach the starting location then began walking. After walking through the forest the path opened out to the most beautiful views. I could see cloud at the top so I resigned myself to the fact that I wouldn’t get any summit views. As I was walking I wondered why I’d ever stopped myself from doing it before as it wasn’t any harder than other walks. As I reached the summit the clouds began to clear and I was just blown away by the stunning views below. Sgor Gaoith has a dramatic position overlooking Loch Einich and I just sat at the top perched on a rock feeling so proud of my own achievement. To this day it’s my favourite mountain because it was a huge milestone in overcoming my own hurdles.
What are your hobbies outside of hiking?
I mentioned before that I started snowboarding and mountain biking when I moved to Aviemore. Both are a little trickier now that I live in Edinburgh! I’m building up the confidence to get back into indoor climbing again as I haven't done that for a few years now. My boyfriend and I have done a bit of travelling so we’re looking forward to planning some more adventures soon!
Very important question… when will Boomer be making his annual hiking appearance in 2019!? (Boomer is Iona’s partner who is not quite as enthusiastic about hiking as her but he did join a group walk in 2018 to show support)
Haha! Boomer is my number 1 fan when it comes to the walking group, he is my constant support! Like you say, I managed to convince him to come on one group hike last year. He’s a snowboard instructor and has bad knees so struggles coming downhill. We enjoy loads of lower level walks together but I’m hoping I can convince him to join the weekend adventure I’m planning to celebrate 1 year of ‘Iona’s Adventures’ at the end of July. Watch this space! I’m hoping Yugen Explore can make the trip up to Scotland to help me celebrate with a weekend of hiking and camping.
What’s next for Iona’s adventures?
I am planning a big celebration at the end of July which will mark the 1 year anniversary since I set up ‘Iona’s Adventures’. I’ll still be organising regular walks in Scotland. As the weather improves (well in theory!) and the days get longer it means I can get out on even more adventures. Of course there’s the HUGE adventure I’ll be embarking on at the End of August when I head out to Morocco with Three Peaks Africa. I’m bringing together a team of every day adventurers to join me as I hike the three highest peaks in North Africa on a 10 day expedition. I’ve never hiked at altitude before so this is going to be without doubt my biggest challenge. There are still spaces available on this incredible trip lead by Three Peaks Africa so I’d love to add to my already amazing team!
If you could pick 3 countries to take Iona’s adventures to on an expedition which would they be?
I’ve always wanted to go to Canada so that would be top of the list. I could spend so much time researching this topic so I better not! I’d love to do some hiking in Europe like Italy and Switzerland, it all just looks so beautiful. Would you think I was crazy if I said I'd love to do a hiking trip to Ireland too...?!
Top 3 hikes you’d recommend in Scotland?
At the end of Summer we hiked Bidean Nam Bian in the stunning Glencoe area and it was such a beautiful day, it was tough going at times but that memory is so clear in my mind. My local playground is the Pentland Hills and although these aren’t big hills there are just so many routes you could explore. Great for all abilities as well and there are beautiful views out to Edinburgh yet you still have that feeling of being on top of the world. One of my favourite group walks has been when we visited the Lawers range and we walked up the 2 Munros Beinn Glas and Ben Lawers. It’s a great path all the way and makes for such a good day out. We even saw a paraglider set off from the top!
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Phewww if you’re still reading after all that then I’m sure you don’t want me to add anything! In all seriousness I have been well and truly overwhelmed by the constant love and support that people have showed me since setting up my walking group. I always wanted to feel accepted or to be part of something and I’ve struggled a lot with that, especially when I was growing up. Of course I’ve realised along the way how valuable it actually is to enjoy your own company. My walking group has in fact finally given me that sense of purpose and belonging. I would have never guessed it but I think that this, along with nursing, is my way of helping people and bringing people together. That is a wonderful feeling. Yugen Explore identified that pretty early on and you guys have become such an integral part of my support network. I can’t thank you enough for that, I’m so proud to be an ambassador for such a hard working, genuine company. Being part of the Yugen family means a lot to me.
Please join Iona's walking group and if you are in Scotland it's a must! Let us know in the comments if you have been on one of Iona's walks or if you plan to join. We hope this encourages you to get outside and join a meetup! Follow Iona on Instagram or join her walking group Iona's Adventures. She definitely inspires us to get outside more that's for sure!