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Meet Jo McLaren

International Women's Day

To celebrate International Women's Day on Sunday 8th March 2020 we are getting to know some of the amazing women that are a part of the Go Ape Tribe. This time it's Jo McLaren, one of our Operation's Managers and all round adventurer! Jo has been a part of our tribe since 2007 and plays a huge role in providing awesome experiences for our customers and team. 

You’ve just got back from Morocco, there’s going to be a full write up of that trip but please just briefly tell us about the expedition and your role in it?

Part of my role for the last 6 or 7 years has been to take my experience of leading expeditions all over the world and give the opportunity for Go Ape staff to try new things, and have experiences that perhaps they wouldn’t do otherwise.

The most recent trip started as a winter mountaineering expedition was to climb Toubkal, the highest mountain in North Africa at 4167m. It was available for all staff in Go Ape and it’s been the most popular trip to date for applications. It was a punchy 5 day trip with a lot packed in. It also provided a developing world experience not too far from home.

There were 10 in the team including myself, with ages from early 20s to a grandmother in her early 50s; a real mix of experience from great climbers, paddlers and distance runners right through to people having their first experience on this scale. Some of the team had done similar things and struggled with altitude, and some had old injuries, so it was amazing for them to overcome those challenges. 

What does adventure mean to you?

Adventure to me is about creating new experiences, bringing people together, having fun and pushing yourself a bit, physically but also mentally too. I always see adventure being outside and using the outdoor environment to make that adventure.


Are their any people that have inspired you to embrace adventure?

Going back to when I was in North Wales aged 18, I was with a bunch of people who ended up being good climbers, some of them became professionals. One of them in particular, a friend called Tim Emmet was so positive, so optimistic, and just encouraged me in his words "to get amongst it" and make every day count, it's about living not existing!


How did you get into adventurous activities?

With my family as a child, we used to go on camping trips and hillwalking. At school is did GCSE PE and outdoor education was a part of the curriculum. I went on a trip to the Lake District, it was a 5 dar rock climbing course, from that point on I was hooked!

Do you think that there are any barriers to entry that particularly prevent women from taking part in adventurous activities?

Perception! Sometimes I think women can lack confidence in male dominated sports, but thankfully that’s changing, especially with rock climbing which is in the Olympics this year. Once that’s overcome then hopefully that will be a thing of the past.

You’ve had the opportunity to go on some amazing adventures abroad as well as in the UK, are there any favourite places, standout stories or experiences that you can share?

There have been a lot, and in a lot of amazing places, but it’s not always about the place it’s about the people too and the cultures. In India for example the people and culture are brilliant!

One of my favourite rock climbing trips was in the Dolomites in Italy, climbing these huge rock towers. When I was there though we got caught in an electrical storm up in the mountains. We had to abseil down 8 pitches, about 250m.
Wow, how do you function in a situation like that?

Every time I’ve been in a situation like that when it’s had that additional element of danger I go into a calm mode. For example, in Tanzania I had a group with me and we were robbed at gunpoint. In that surreal moment when you don’t know the outcome I seem to remain quite calm. That’s helped me to get confident in my own ability, and the great thing is that it has a knock on effect of helping other people around you to stay calm too.

It extends right down to my children, if they fall over….obviously if it’s bad and they’re really hurt you dive straight in, but most of the time they’re waiting to see how you react, and by remaining calm they realise it’s no big deal. I think that I got that from working with African kids where the brothers and sisters looked after each other because the parents weren’t around, they just pick themselves up, dust themselves down and get on with it

how long have you workeD for Go Ape and in what roles?

I started working at Go Ape in 2007. I was Site Manager at Buxton for 3 years, then an area manager from 2010-2019, and now an Operations Manger; supporting sites operationally, overseeing rescues/procedures, oversseing adventure days in the UK and leading expeditions overseas for Go Ape staff.

What is the best part about working for Go Ape?

You never know what is around the corner. The company isn’t just sat pretty, we’re constantly trying to improve and envolve, to introduce new products and activities and be two steps better. It’s really interesting and I think that’s why so many of the staff have been around for so long.

A woman and her children in swimwear posing on a beach
Which women inspire you?

My Mum, she’s made me the person that I am today. She’s independent, strong and confident.


What has it been like becoming a mum and then sharing adventures with your children?

Absolutely brilliant! I’ve got 3 boys aged 4, 7 and 8. Ever since they’ve been able to walk I’ve had them out on the hill and having fun outdoors. Our home backs onto the same forest that Go Ape Buxton is in and it’s a great place for them to play and explore.

We got a camper van a few years ago and we get out and about all the time, trips to the Alps and the Pyrenees, they love being outside roaming free. I took my 8 year old up his first Via Ferrata, he was so calm and just trusted me all the way, a bit like we were talking about earlier, that’s something that I’m glad that I’ve been able to instil in him.

I don’t force it on them, I give them the opportunity and experiences, and they just go for it. It’s the building blocks to make them nice kids, condifent in their own abilities and hopefully encourages them to seek out their own adventure!