TOP OF THE WORLD: New Zealand
Adventurer, writer and filmmaker Jenny Tough jolted awake in her sleeping bag as the Jeeps pulled up next to her. She was taking part in a 534-mile solo endurance challenge, crossing the Atlas Mountains in Morocco – miles from the nearest village.
Now she was confronted by armed men – who were shouting at her in a mixture of Arabic and French.
Jenny was terrified. The men waved her into an exhausted car but she refused.
Jenny struggled with bad weather and high altitudes “It seemed like the best option if I was going to stay alive,” says Jenny, 32, a Canadian who now lives in Scotland.
Eventually the men explained in broken English that they were local police, convinced that she would be murdered by robbers in the mountains.
They tried to persuade her to return to the nearest village for safety reasons, but Jenny refused.
“They didn’t believe I could survive because I was a young woman,” she says. The incident came halfway through his epic quest to traverse six mountain ranges on six continents.
“It all started when I was drinking wine one evening, looking at a map of the Tien Shan mountain range, which stretches across Central Asia,” she says.
“I wondered if I could cross it, and when I learned that no one had ever crossed it before, I was really excited. The idea snowballed – why run a mountain range when you can run six?”
EXHAUSTED: Jenny battled the weather and high altitudes
She started the challenge in August 2016 and completed the races in a three-week relay series, ending in September 2021.
Along the way, she crossed the Tien Shan in Kyrgyzstan, the Atlas Mountains in Morocco, the Bolivian Andes, the Southern Alps in New Zealand, the Canadian Rockies and the Transylvania Alps in Romania.
In total, she covered over 2,860 miles through some of the highest mountains and most remote areas in the world. Although she had completed ultra races in the past, she had never undertaken anything like this.
“No one had done this before and I wanted to be the first,” says Jenny, who self-funded her journey through freelance writing.
His first challenge, in 2016, was a 25-day 600-mile race across the Tien Shan range from Karakol to Osh.
REMOTE: Camping in Bolivia
Along the way, she climbed to an altitude of 24,280ft – only 2,000ft lower than the altitude where climbers need oxygen cylinders – sleeping in a tent and carrying a light backpack with only water. food and a camping stove.
Despite months of planning and training, she found the terrain incredibly challenging.
“I was as physically fit as I could be, but it was hard to know what to expect,” she says.
On her way through Kyrgyzstan, Jenny ran over narrow mountain passes, covering the distance of a marathon each day.
She admits there were times when she wondered if she would make it out alive.
“It got treacherous,” she said. “There had been landslides, so the ground was unstable and dangerous.
“I couldn’t go back, because I knew I would be killed in a landslide, but in front of me was a steep gorge with a river running through it.
“It was torrential whitewater, so I decided to climb the mountain, which was very steep.”
Crawling along the rock face, I thought of most but me more and clinging to small ledges with her fingers, she climbed for what felt like hours.
She knew that if she let go, she would fall to her death.
“The adrenaline surged and I kept climbing – I don’t know how long. My arms were shaking,” she says.
When she got to the top, she burst into tears.
“I knew I could have died,” she says.
At that time, she vowed to quit. But that evening, a nomadic family spots her and welcomes her to their yurt.
“They gave me dinner and we slept on mats by the dying fire. It was one of the coziest nights I’ve ever had.” In the morning, Jenny woke up with a new perspective.
“I had been focused on being the first person to do this route, but decided to just enjoy the journey and get to the end safely no matter how long it took,” she says.
So she continued, running through the mountains and braving the daily thunderstorms, her feet blistered and swollen.
“I saw incredible sunsets and a huge sky full of stars. They are some of the biggest mountains in the world – it was humbling to be alone next to them,” she explains.
After 21 days, she reached the city of Osh, battered and bruised but in one piece. “I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face for days.”
The following year, she crossed the Atlas Mountains in Morocco, before tackling the Andes, the Southern Alps, the Rockies and the Alps.
In Morocco, dehydration threatened his trip.
“I survived by drinking water from streams and springs, but in Morocco there was so little water that I woke up every morning with what felt like a huge hangover,” she says.
In Bolivia, she struggled with driving rain and “roads like mud baths”.
She certainly faced some scary times. And along the way, a lot of people told her she couldn’t make it.
She also suffered countless injuries, ranging from blisters, cuts to her knees and insect bites to fluid in her lungs from altitude sickness.
“I felt like I was drowning – it was terrifying. I was supposed to rest for five days but I knew if I did I would miss my flight home, so I waited three days and then I I left,” she said.
“I thought about quitting almost every day, but over time I became more resilient.
“I never regretted doing it alone. A lot of people said I couldn’t do it but I tried not to listen to them.”
In September 2021, she completed the home stretch of her challenge in Baile Herculane, Romania.
“I kept telling myself to be brave, but I was in agony at the end,” she says.
Looking back, Jenny is proud to pave the way for other adventurers, especially women.
“It completely transformed my way of thinking. After Tien Shan, a little seed of confidence started growing inside me,” she says.
“Girls aren’t always raised to be brave, but it’s become my new favorite word.”
And she can’t wait for her next adventure.
“I’ve learned that I’m tougher than I think.”
- Solo: What Running Through Mountains Taught Me About Life by Jenny Tough (£16.99, Aster)