My Story #6: Esther Foster, Freelance Outdoor Instructor

In this series we will be sharing the stories of outdoor instructors, mountain guides and enthusiasts who work and play in the mountains. You can read previous posts here: 
My Story #1: Chris Ensoll, International Mountain Guide

My Story #2: John Kettle, Climbing & Mountain Biking Coach
My Story #3: Kelvyn James, International Mountain Leader

My Story #4: Anne Ensoll, Business Manager And Ex-Outdoor Instructor
My Story #5: Michael Curry, All-Round Outdoor Instructor and Business Owner

Esther Foster lives in Yorkshire and works throughout the UK, as a freelance instructor and with her own clients. She holds the Mountaineering Instructor Award.

Winter climbing in Scotland

Winter climbing in Scotland

What are your memories of adventures in the outdoors as a child or teenager?

As a child we often went walking on our holidays. Although I did enjoy the places we visited in the Lakes, Wales and Scotland, I basically just followed my dad up hills and didn’t have much of a clue of where we were going or why. I remember walking up Scafell Pike in torrential rain and wind with hand-me-down waterproofs that were definitely too small for me, and not very waterproof! I also have a distinct memory of doing the Helvellyn horseshoe with my family and absolutely loving the scrambling ridge sections. It was always moving on rock that I really enjoyed, and I got a taste of rock climbing through outdoor pursuits holidays as a teenager. Although I grew up in a very urban area, we were lucky to have a large garden with a big pond and lots of overgrown trees. Exploring and playing with my brothers outdoors definitely developed my love of being outside. We spent endless hours collecting newts, making dens and tree houses and inventing games, and I could never understand why all the girls at school wanted to sit still and watch TV or talk about boys!

What do you remember about your outdoor adventures when you started doing them independently?

I visited a local climbing wall in Liverpool as a teenager with my youth group, and started to realise I was quite good at climbing, and that it was something I could progress in and continue at, rather than ‘one off’ experiences at outdoor centres. As I developed, I began to take part in regional competitions, and it felt amazing to begin to feel like this was my thing, my sport. Seeing myself as a climber became part of my identity, giving me a lot of confidence and satisfaction. As a shy teenage girl, it really struck me to find that the climbing community was so friendly, inclusive and a place where everyone mixed and interacted, whatever their age, gender or ability.

First mountain route on Tryfan, aged 18

First mountain route on Tryfan, aged 18

My mountaineering adventures started later on as I started an Outdoor Studies degree in Ambleside. I remember putting myself in the ‘experienced’ group for our first wild camp, just so that I had the dates free to watch a famous climber (Dave Graham) give a talk in the village. I had no clue. I took everything camping with me, including pyjamas, and walked for two days in constant rain with cheap, uncomfortable waterproofs and a very heavy bag… and absolutely no clue what the instructor was explaining to us about contours and compass bearings.

I’ve come a long way since then! Getting to the point where I could confidently navigate by myself, become a strong female climber, make independent decisions on the hills and crags, and even light a fire by myself has been really quite liberating and exciting.

When did it change from a hobby to a career?

I spent a season working at Edale YHA activity centre to get some base level qualifications, and since then I have worked as a development youth worker with the Prince's Trust and built up my freelance work to the point where I am now self employed year round. It has been a gradual career progression from university until now and I’m still not sure where I’ll end up.

Evening cragging at Almscliff. Yorkshire

Evening cragging at Almscliff. Yorkshire

What has your path been since then?

I chose this career path with quite a laid back approach, never quite sure what my exact goal was, and sometimes I think I should have been more driven. But when I step back I can see my motivations and reasoning. Freelance outdoor work enables me to explore incredible places, meet lots of interesting people and see how different people/organisations work. I learn all the time and have to think on my feet. I can be super active, teach, coach and inspire others, and determine my own diary. For me it has been a lifestyle choice as well as a career choice, and although I am away from home a lot, I have had a lot of freedom, met a lot of amazing people and been able to spend a lot of time doing what I love outdoors.

I am specialising more and more in mountaineering and climbing work, and using my Mountaineering Instructor Award I basically want to be the best coach, guide and instructor that I can be. I have also begun a part time Masters degree in Outdoor Environmental and Sustainability Education, so we will see where that takes me!

If you could give one piece of advice to someone who wants to work in the outdoors, what would it be?

Consider what lifestyle you want as well as what career you would like. Where do you want to live, what work/life balance are you after, what kind of income is important to you? Working outdoors is great, but you have to really like people as well as the activities. The people that have progressed upwards the most in terms of qualifications and experience are generally those that have travelled the most and been willing to spend a lot of time away from home. The outdoor industry also isn’t generally a very well paid one. But, when you look back, will you be most satisfied with the amount of money you have earned or the quality of your life and work?