Hillwalker and Mountain Rescue volunteer Carys Rees is spreading the word for women outdoors with her message of empowerment and advice on solo adventure: “The outdoors is for everyone and you will never regret being brave,” she told The Great Outdoors as we chatted about balancing life in office work with volunteering for Mountain Rescue to give something back to the outdoors community Carys holds dear.

Main image: Carys enjoying a quiet moment in the hills | Credit: Jethro Kiernan

“You can take the girl out of Carmarthenshire but you can’t take Carmarthenshire out of the girl,” 42-year-old Carys added. Bannau Brechiniog is her “adre” – home. It’s a place she feels comfortable, sometimes more so than under her own roof in Cardiff. There are more epic peaks, Carys admits, but she loves the familiarity of the rolling hills she’s been encouraged to explore since she was a child.

Carys still finds new wonders in this place of myth and legend “with dragons living in our hills and ladies in our lakes.” She is calmed as she swims under South Wales’ wild waterfalls, finds laughter and joy paddleboarding with friends, and gains peace when she wild camps atop her favourite peaks after other hillwalkers head home. Here, she tells us why she won’t let fear force her to sit around waiting for someone to become available before she leaves the house on an adventure.

Carys Rees

Wild camping in Bannau Brycheiniog. Credit: Carys Rees

TGO: You grew up near the Carmarthen Fans – can you tell us about your first experiences of the great outdoors?

Carys Rees: You can take the girl out of Carmarthenshire but you will never take the Carmarthenshire out of the girl. I have been lucky enough to have spent a lifetime hiking through the rolling hills of Wales and while there are more epic peaks to conquer, I feel most at home in the Bannau Brycheiniog.

My parents always encouraged me to spend time outdoors. Growing up my sister and I would always be found sitting up in some tree or riding our bikes. I did my Duke of Edinburgh in secondary school and still to this day, my 76-year-old father comes out with me on our favourite hike around Llyn y Fan – he’s actually quicker than me on those inclines!

TGO: What is it about Bannau Brechiniog and the surrounding landscape of South Wales that keeps drawing you back?

Carys Rees: It’s ‘adre’ (home) to me and where my love for the mountains began. There is a familiarity to it but also something new to see and no matter how many times I head back to a spot, it never fails to take my breath away. Wales is a place of myth and legends, with dragons living in our hills and ladies in our lakes. I absolutely adore that there is magical story for almost every area of the national park. Sometimes I feel more at home outdoors than I do under my own roof and I feel a real longing for it when I’ve been away for too long.

Sunset trig bagging and drone flying. Credit: Carys Rees

TGO: With wild camping, hiking and swimming all a regular feature on your feeds, can you explain a little about what each of these pursuits brings to you and why you decide to share the adventure on social media?

Carys Rees: For me, it all happened in the first lockdown. I’ve been posting on my own social media for years of various hiking adventures, but no one really took any notice. Then came along Covid, with all the travel restrictions, and I started getting messages from friends asking me how to get to certain places, how I find my way around.

I had a think about how to make it as easy as possible for people to get outside and so I built my own website This Girl Walks. I record myself when out hiking using OS maps and then upload them onto my site with information about the hike, where to park, interesting stories about the area. That way, people can get to the start point, click on the link to my route map and literally follow in my footsteps knowing that it’s a “safe route”. I then created a social media account to promote the routes and various places I go. It’s grown over the years to include the wild swimming, camping and paddleboarding.

Carys Rees

Breaking the ice at Henrhyd Falls. Credit: Carys Rees

I get so much from the different activities I do outdoors. Wild swimming calms me like nothing else. The moment I slip into that chilly water where it simultaneously numbs me and heightens my senses, I feel relief with any stress almost washing out of me. Paddleboarding just makes me laugh, it’s hilarious how horrendous I am at it. For me, it’s quite a social activity, something that I do with friends on a calm afternoon. Wild camping is peaceful. When all the hikers have gone home, you have the mountain to yourself to watch the sun disappear behind the peaks and a beautiful blanket of stars fill the dark night sky. In the morning you unzip your tent to watch the sky almost on fire at first light before the sun rises. It’s just magical.

TGO: What does it mean to you, the girl who walks, to enjoy the freedom to go outdoors and adventure?

Carys Rees: I get asked a lot about being a solo female hiker, is it safe and how did I get into it. The outdoors is for everyone and you will never regret being brave. Since starting my Instagram page and website, I have loved how many like-minded outdoorswomen I have been able to connect with. They all absolutely inspire me.

I understand reservations people have, of course I do. For the last few years I have advocated being a solo female adventurer and encouraging others to do the same. When you hear the awful stories about horrendous things happening to women, I often start thinking about the message I’m putting out there and whether it’s irresponsible.

Carys Rees

Scaling Skirrid. Credit: Carys Rees

Should I really be telling women to go climb mountains alone? The conclusion I always reach is, yes. I will not be changing, I will continue to do what I love and empowering women to do the same. I won’t be sitting here, waiting for someone to be available, before I leave the house for fear of being randomly attacked. I will not surrender my independence.

Women should be able to live alone, hike alone, walk home alone, go to the pub alone, drive at night alone – all of these things and more without fear of violence or death. Also, the likelihood of bumping into a lunatic while out on the hills is pretty slim. (I went off on a little tangent there, can you tell I feel quite strongly about this?!).

TGO: When and why did you become a volunteer for Central Beacons Mountain Rescue Team?

Carys Rees: I have been in the team for just under two years so I am very new to it but in many ways it has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life so far. It is tough, a lot to learn and a huge commitment but with that comes the camaraderie, friendship, skills, self-esteem, increased confidence and knowledge.

Carys Rees

Making friends volunteering for Mountain Rescue. Credit: Carys Rees

I have volunteered a lot over the years and I think it’s important to try to give something back if you can. I’d actually wanted to join mountain rescue for a number of years after seeing first hand the amazing work that they do but something always held me back from applying. I think from the outside, Mountain Rescue always seemed very male dominated, a bit of a boys club if you will. I never thought I would be fit or strong enough to join. I’ve always been a hiker but nothing more technical than that, so what on earth would I bring to the table?

I am no stranger to being a female in a male dominated environment. I worked in professional sport for around 8 years as well as “on the door” of nightclubs for around 17 years so what was holding me back? In my opinion, it is often the case that women hold themselves to much higher standards. Women typically feel they have to work harder and achieve more to attain the same level of recognition as their male counterparts. I’m sure men have insecurities regarding their abilities too and I can only comment on my own experiences.

So in the summer of 2021 I had a word with myself and applied to join the team. I wish I had done it sooner because in all honesty, the majority of the reservations I had were unfounded.

Keeping the outdoors community safe is important to Carys. Credit: Sin Hart

It is inclusive, supportive and respectful. A team I am proud to be a part of. It is equal. Women hold the same positions as men and are treated no differently, they are operational and support members. There are women in all aspects of the team such as casualty carers, water rescue, technical, fundraising, training and leadership. Do you need to be super fit and capable of carrying a 20-stone man on your back? You do not. These women are incredible. They are strong, independent, fearless, intelligent and brave.

TGO: What does the role bring to your enjoyment, understanding and overall experience of the outdoors?

Carys Rees: Confidence and respect. I am now far more self sufficient on the hill. I have the confidence to be able to rely on my own skills to keep me safe not only while out hiking but also on rescues. I know what kit to carry, how to navigate properly as well as how to judge what lies ahead of me. What is the terrain like? How long is it going to take me? Daylight hours? Weather? I already had a good understanding of all of these things but joining Mountain Rescue has taken it to another level.

I have so much more respect for the mountains. I have experienced more of what they are truly capable of and take far less risks than I did before. In my experience the higher up you go, the more prone the conditions are to change. It happens much faster and to much wider extremes in a relatively short period of time.

TGO: You’re also involved in conservation efforts with Ramblers Cymru and group clean ups. Why is it important to you to give back with your time in this way and what do you think we can all do to preserve our outdoors?

Carys Rees: I love Ramblers Cymru and was a member of theirs long before I became one of their ambassadors. They are a fantastic charity who don’t get anywhere near enough credit and exposure for the amazing work they carry out. They aim to make walking accessible and enjoyable for everyone. They organises group walks, campaigns for walkers’ rights, and provide advice and information on walking routes, safety, and equipment. Ramblers Cymru also works with partners and volunteers to maintain and improve the path network in Wales, which includes the Wales Coast Path, the Offa’s Dyke Path, and the Cambrian Way. By encouraging people to walk more, Ramblers Cymru hopes to improve health and wellbeing, as well as protect the environment and the heritage of Wales.

On a litter pick in Waterfall Country. Credit: Carys Rees

It breaks my heart when I see some of the rubbish that gets left behind. I just cannot understand why anyone would want to contaminate these beautiful spots. My friend Stacey – who I met through instagram @wales_on_my_doorstep (as many negatives as there are, there are also some fantastic benefits of social media) – and I organised a group clean up in Waterfall Country. The amount of rubbish we recovered was incredible. My mountain rescue team has also organised some clean ups too -the team that keeps on giving!

As well as cleaning up the environment, it’s a way to raise awareness and educate people about the importance of reducing waste and recycling. Leave no trace. In other words you should be able to walk away from an area without anyone knowing you had even been there, leave the place as you found it or better. Take your rubbish home, don’t disturb the environment, avoid any kind of open fire and respect the wildlife. These beauty spots should be there for everyone to enjoy.

You can follow the adventures of Carys Rees @this.girlwalks and thisgirlwalks.com.

Read more: Women supporting each other is a powerful antidote to fear