Q&A: Adventure travelling with Sofia Jin

Sofia Jin is a storytelling and adventure traveller. Professionally, she’s a creative; writing, and pursuing her goals in acting and presenting. As a passion, she generates adventure-focussed content in the realm of travel, hospitality and outdoors adventure.

She has recently worked alongside an outdoors adventure company in Switzerland presenting their activities – being filmed jumping off canyons, white water rafting, etc. Sofia’s aim is to tell stories in a way that is genuinely informative, honest and funny, engaging with people around the world.

In our latest Q&A, we are delighted that Sofia has shared some of her experiences with us. We chat about her best experiences, inspirations, a love for active travel and more.

The interview:

Hi Sofia, thanks for coming on our blog. Before we begin, what three things should we know about you?

Hey Vivi!

  1. I have a penchant for adrenalin-incurring activities my mum doesn’t like.
  2. My mantra is “attitude is the difference between an ordeal and an adventure” – I try to lead with that, whatever I do. 
  3. My guilty pleasure is drifting around Ellis Brigham pricing up my dream outdoors kit list and imagining that someday my fairy godmother will poof into existence and foot the bill. 

Ha. So where did your love for an active lifestyle start? Tell us what exercise and physical activity means to you?

Exercise and physical activity translate to the overall health of my body and mind. For me, there are a few different aspects to that. Firstly, physical activity brings me a deep sense of clarity the likes of which I simply can’t find anywhere else. This is especially important in a world that feels increasingly noisy and impossible to switch off. And, by nature, my mind is hyperactive; at any moment humming away like an overheated hard drive trying to support 50 tabs on an internet browser (with music coming from one of them, but I’m not sure which). The only time it all goes still and I feel truly present is the split second before I reach for the next hold, or the next step forward on a hike, or the next stroke on a swim – those are my meditative moments. The steeper the trail, the more fluid my thoughts. The more exposed the ridge, the more perspective I gain. 

Secondly, it’s a way for me to get closer to what I love: the outdoors. I always gravitated towards the natural world. I wanted to be an “explorer”. I read books written by mountaineers and envisioned summits for myself. Over the years I’ve tailored the physical activity I do to begin allowing me to do just that. I crave vast expanses and fresh air, so things like climbing and hiking are perfect facilitators, helping me keep in touch with nature and lighting the way for me to make my dreams of experiencing wilderness come true. 

Thirdly, it means growth. I relish any challenge that pits me against myself. 

And, lastly, nicely drawing on all the above – it means learning real self-love. The gym bro with a six-pack is not necessarily healthy. Health is not a look, it’s about how well your body functions to support you on the daily as well as the physical activities you love to do. I really ‘discovered’ sports when I was around 15 (famously the awkward age of hormone-charged all-encompassing insecurity). I started with an aesthetic goal and instead developed a passion for pushing myself and the joy movement brought me, which at the time involved half marathons and endurance swims. Physical activity restored my confidence across all aspects of my life by showing me what extraordinary things I was capable of. I grew to love my body for what it could do, not lament what it didn’t look like. Since then, my body has changed over the years according to what I’ve needed it to do. There is no aesthetic goal, I only care how well it supplies my passions and wellbeing. It is a privilege to have a healthy functioning body. I understand that my body is shaped by what I love, and I love it for that. 

We couldn’t agree with you more, and that ties into our next question. You’ve gone on to do some pretty amazing things outdoors – tell us about your best experiences?

I did my first multi-pitch climb in Switzerland recently; that was pretty amazing for both the sentiment (of being my first multi-pitch climb) and the spectacular scenery. I was guided by my friend Stef, who was previously a mountain guide in the Swiss army so I knew I’d be able to learn a lot from him. We climbed the Lobhörner, a row of rocky spikes at an elevation of approx 2500 metres. It was a beautiful sunny day so we had a clear view of the clouds gathered in the valley below, sort of like looking down at a giant bowl of whipped cream. The rocks themselves are very distinct – from a distance, they look more like the jagged spine of a gigantic buried stegosaurus. Getting up to them was a steady 2-3 hour hike and coming down the rock face required rappelling. 

Ice climbing in the Italian Dolomites earlier this year was another stand-out experience. Coming from a background of mostly indoor bouldering, I had no idea what to expect, but, being drawn to all things snow and ice, it was something I had always wanted to do. Luckily, I loved it. Despite some similarities to rock climbing, I was able to appreciate firsthand how uniquely difficult surface ice is. It offers none of the lithe, feline agility of rock climbing. I tried to keep up a rhythm of kicking my crampons in and making sure I was placing my axes in stable spots, but my movements were slow and heavy.

If rock climbing drinks up energy, ice climbing downs it by the keg stand. I also had the rather exciting (although I wouldn’t like to repeat it) experience of placing my axe into a section of unstable ice that fell loose and collapsed when I pulled my weight against it! It’s definitely all about the technique. But it is so totally exhilarating, and the environment is incredible too. Excuse the pun, but the thought of scaling frozen waterfalls in icy wonderlands gives me the good sort of chills. After the trip, I went straight home and bought my own pair of Grivel ice axes so it’s safe to say I’m hoping for more of that (sans slippage) in my future.

Comparatively, have you had any bad experiences?

I wouldn’t term any of my experiences outdoors negatively. Anything less than ideal ends up being a story and lesson in its own way – I try not to be too rigid in my expectations! But I suppose in terms of conditions, the most unfavourable was a really steep hike in the arctic archipelago of Lofoten, Norway, that technically turns into a climb at the end. Pro tip: try not to forget your gloves if you’re planning on doing a near-vertical hike in the dead of winter.

It was okay until the last section, where I essentially ended up wading through snow and rocks with bare hands for paddles. They turned to popsicles. The situation wasn’t dangerous, just uncomfortable. Even so, among the dirt, ice, and teeth-chattering cold, my hiking partner and I managed to crack enough jokes to stop morale from completely evaporating. That’s why I love the outdoors. It’s full of reminders to embrace life while we can, never take anything for granted and to make sure to find the time to stop, laugh, and look around at the world, no matter where you are. It really is all about attitude, and especially applying a good one when it’s hardest to.

When it comes to being active, what motivates and inspires you / what keeps you going when it gets tough?

I am strongly motivated by my sense of curiosity. I’ve always felt that my life and actions are largely governed by an overwhelming sense of curiosity in all things – I just want to see what I can do, where I can go, what more I can learn. 

The people I have surrounded myself with are also a major source of inspiration. From hobbyists to professional athletes, they set the bar high for perseverance every day. Whether it’s a friend’s first 5k or hundredth record-breaking climb, effort is all relative and I am inspired by good habits anytime I witness them. Knowing that, I often reiterate the importance of taking an audit of the people in your life: take care to surround yourself with positive people who not only care about you but challenge and push you as well. Surround yourself only with the ones who are worth the hard conversations and scary moments! 

Finally, I can’t not mention the impact the film ‘The Dawn Wall’ had on me. It’s about American rock climbers Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson’s 2015 climb of the Dawn Wall, a 3,000-foot rock face in Yosemite National Park. It’s my favourite film, and I recommend it to everyone, not just climbers, because it is, first and foremost, a human story. Two guys doing something brutally hard and failing at it over, and over, and over again.

Having been through the worst of what life throws at any of us, Caldwell’s response was to throw himself at a magnificent challenge. Faced with adversity, he pursued the seemingly impossible — and through sheer willpower, dedication and consistency, he overcame. It’s an unbelievable journey of perseverance against the odds. Beyond following an incredible athletic feat through to fruition, the film is a powerful reminder that every single day, an ‘ordinary’ somebody proves that anybody is capable of extraordinary feats, and that sometimes you just need to slow down in order to get the focus right. The Dawn Wall ended up not being about THE Dawn Wall, but about the wall that exists for anyone: that thing you want to overcome, that thing you want to accomplish more than anything. Caldwell and Jorgeson’s mentality and camaraderie moved me more than I have the right language for. Whenever I’m feeling down, or in need of inspiration, I curl up in bed and watch The Dawn Wall all over again. 

We’ll be sure to give The Dawn Wall a watch! How much preparation goes into getting ready for your next hike or activity? 

It depends on the activity. Generally, I don’t have access to most of the physical activities I enjoy the most year-round – like hiking, diving, or outdoors climbing – so my task is to maintain a decent level of fitness. I run to maintain cardiovascular health; I train in Muay Thai which contributes, and do a couple of strength sessions a week.

My preparation for the hiking season involves simulated hiking with a weighted rucksack on my gym’s stairmaster. I consistently boulder and lead climb indoors, too. I’m not a professional athlete, moreover, I don’t compete in any arena so there’s no need to enlist the help of a coach or nutritionist.

In truth, at the moment my wants are very simple so my commitment to physical activity is uncomplicated. It’s something I live every day. All I want is to pursue sports at a level that makes me happy while still feeling progression. Of course, my routine adapts to specific goals – i.e. if I know there are some tough hikes coming up, or if I wanted to fight varsity back in my Muay Thai team university days – so again, the level of preparation varies according to what the next activity actually is. 

You’ve hiked the Swiss Alps, which has always been on our bucket list. Any tips?

My advice is two-tiered. My general advice for beginner hikers is a salad of common sense knowledge: make sure you’re making appropriate clothing choices. Layer wisely. You will get hot. Bring sunblock. Stuff melts. You WILL end up drinking the Lindt chocolate out of the wrapper by the end of the hike. Ladies, skip makeup. I understand if it’s some sort of active date situation, but it will run down your face and he will think he’s hiking with the Joker. 

On a serious note, hiking in the Swiss Alps is unparalleled. With trails for everyone, it’s easy to enjoy the beauty of Switzerland even if you have no experience hiking. However, there are some seriously epic trails for advanced hikers and trail runners. I recommend the Hardergrat trail – a challenging 27km long trail with blow-you-away beautiful views. It’s a popular trail running path, with certain exposed sections that have narrow 1500m drops along either side. It’s a full day hard slog that promises great rewards but is not for the faint of heart. Obviously, do not attempt this hike when it has rained or wet as it will be more dangerous when slippery. Bring trekking poles for sure. Other than that, make sure you explore all the levels Swiss hiking has to offer – don’t just get stuck at one! Go for the valleys, the high pastures (1500-2000m), the rugged snow-topped peaks (3000m). This place has everything. 

What are your plans for the future?

Next year I’ll be visiting Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago north of the Arctic Circle. It appears I’ve got a thing for Arctic landscapes. There’s just something so compelling about a tundra-dominated wilderness. Mountain peaks and glaciers, vibrant blues and whites; harsh and lonely, but extraordinarily beautiful. I’m also hoping for more opportunities to climb outdoors, and I really want to progress further into my dream of alpine mountaineering so I’m looking for an alpine skills course.

Above all, I want to continue generating engaging, creative, uplifting content that makes people laugh and learn a thing or two. I hope what I share sparks curiosity and makes it easier for others to similarly pursue adventures big or small in their daily life, and apply that “adventure is an attitude” mentality to anything. 

Lastly, what’re the three most frequent questions you get asked all the time?

“Favourite place you’ve been?”, “How did you get started with XYZ?”, and “Where to next?”

Sofia, thank you!

For anyone who wants to follow Sofia’s journey, follow her on Instagram and YouTube, or visit her blog for more inspiration.

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