Kira Salak: Exploring life on the edge

  • Kira Salak is “the gutsiest woman adventurer of our day”, exploring some of the world’s most dangerous places and completing some of its most difficult challenges.
  • Salak is an inspiration, not least for her aims of defying gender stereotypes and travelling as low-tech as possible.
  • Not only is she an adventurer – she’s also an extraordinary, celebrated writer!

Kira Salak, 49, is described as the “tough, real life Lara Croft” by the New York Times, and it is easy to see why. She has so many strings to her bow (Lara Croft fans: pun intended). In 2007, Salak did Bhutan’s 216-mile Snowman Trek – the hardest high-altitude trek in the Himalayas, which has been completed by fewer people than have reached the top of Mount Everest. She was the first person to kayak 600 miles to Timbuktu solo in 2002; she finished an 800-mile cycle through Alaska to the Arctic Ocean, and she was just 24 when she became the first woman to cross Papua New Guinea.

From her first real trip alone aged 19, she has been challenging some of the ideas surrounding women travelling on their own, via her exploration of some of the world’s remotest or most inhospitable places, including Borneo, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. In fact, she has travelled solo to almost every continent, and received a 2005 National Geographic Society Emerging Explorer Award along the way – an honour bestowed upon only five people in the world. It is unsurprising then that village women on the shore of the Niger River cheered and called out “femme forte [strong woman]” as she kayaked past on her way to Timbuktu.

Incredibly, Salak achieved all of this while travelling in her trademark low-tech way. She admires the accomplishments of earlier explorers all the more for the primitive methods they used and relishes the sense of empowerment she gains from travelling similarly. Perhaps this is the reason behind Book Magazine’s dubbing her “the gutsiest – and some say, craziest – woman adventurer of our day.”

In the time that might have been spent on her phone, Salak writes. And no, that doesn’t mean merely a diary or ‘To Do’ lists. On top of everything else, she is a world-renowned writer and journalist. Her war reporting in Congo earned her the PEN Award for journalism in 2004, she is the author of three books including the critically acclaimed work of fiction The White Mary, she has appeared five times in Best American Travel Writing, and she is a contributing editor for National Geographic Adventure magazine. She also managed to find time to complete a Ph.D. in English Literature and creative writing at the University of Missouri in Columbia.

Yet another string Salak added to her bow in 2013, was a feature in the United States Library of Congress’s book: Women Who Dare, which highlights the world’s top women leaders. After having to escape from kidnappers in Mozambique during a devastating civil war at the age of only 20, anyone might have been deterred from all of the future adventuring that would eventually lead to this accolade. But Salak is not just ‘anyone’. And she is more drawn towards the optimistic and the hopeful – choosing to focus on the important impact her work can have, and on the joys in finding common ground and connecting with people all over the world.

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