March 03, 2023 11 min read

Katie-Jane L’Herpiniere is proof that ordinary people can do extraordinary things. She is a former successful British model, working for Alexander McQueen and M&S, and often took on opportunities presented to her. She also worked in the film world, acting as Cameron Diaz’s body double in ‘The Holiday’. However, when Katie met renowned explorer Tarka L’Herpiniere things began to change. She transformed her modelling career to become a leading endurance athlete, adventurer, expedition leader, blogger and motivational speaker, and has completed over 28,000km of unsupported human-powered expeditions, some of which were world-firsts. 

It is no exaggeration to say that Katie-Jane has been close to death during many of her expeditions, some of which include having to be resuscitated following CO2 poisoning in Patagonia, almost being buried alive by snow, and being critically dehydrated during her world-first walk of the Great Wall of China. It was fascinating catching up with Katie-Jane, who talks us through her transition from being a professional model to becoming an adventurer and some of her most challenging moments.



Katie-Jane L’Herpiniere  


Thank you so much for joining us, Katie-Jane, how would your friends and family describe you?
Bossy! Although I like to call it leadership, haha! 
I am mostly known for my organisation and planning skills (a queen of lists and highlighters), my un-waiverable belief that anything is possible, and bringing a touch of pink and girly glamour to adventure. My friends often refer to the things I do as a bit bonkers, but in reality, I am not your ’typical adventurer’. Unlike many people in the world of adventure, I’m not very brave, nor an adrenaline junkie or a daredevil, I’m just a normal girl, who loves pretty dresses, pink painted nails and laying on the sofa watching Strictly with a mug of tea. I, therefore, believe I am the epitome of ‘if I can do it, you can do it’. It just takes a little self-belief and being bold enough to begin.
Could you tell us a little bit about how you transitioned from being a professional model to becoming an adventurer? How did your interest in endurance sport and adventure develop?
Back in 2005 I was working as a model, doing photo shoots and body doubling in movies and stuff, a life of make-up and high heels, and then I met a man, who asked me to walk to the North Pole with him!! Not your average chat-up line, but Tarka was a mountaineer and polar explorer. “Absolutely no way” was my immediate reply. Why would I? HOW COULD I? But over the next few months, Tarka had somehow convinced me that I was capable of far more than I thought so in the end I agreed, but only if we could do something “easier” first. On my list of places I wanted to see in the world was the Great Wall of China, so I suggested that thinking it would just be a few weeks walking and we would take a few holiday snaps etc. But before I knew it we were busily planning our expedition to become the first people in the world to walk the entire 4500km length of the Great Wall of China from its most westerly to the most easterly point, continually and unsupported. The rest, as they say, is history.

Katie-Jane Modelling
Is there anything you miss about modelling? Do you now do any modelling that’s outdoor adventure focussed?
Goodness, I haven’t modelled for probably more than 15 years. I think those days are long gone.
You’re “Addicted to type 2 fun “ - what is type 2 fun and what is it about it that appeals?
Type 2 fun is when it isn’t fun in the moment. Quite the opposite, it could often be described as suffering. However, on reflection, after it’s all over, the terrible memories seem to disappear and you are left with just the good memories… and you realise you had fun! Sometimes it takes a day, sometimes a couple of months, but eventually the fulfilling end enriching memories will replace the miserable ones. 
These days, western society is always trying to make things more comfortable, convenient and easier, but the struggle is good. If we can get comfortable with being uncomfortable, ‘type 2 fun’, then we can raise our tolerance for uncertainty, learn to adapt, be self-sufficient, and make decisions on the fly. It provides us with a whole host of incredible life skills (and of course some fantastic stories to tell over and over again, haha).
Katie-Jane's 'Happy Place'
You became the first person in history to walk, unsupported, the entire length of the Great Wall of China (4500km) from its most Western terminus to its Eastern terminus. You faced blizzards, temperatures of -35C, frostbite, starvation, exhaustion and dehydration. What inspired you to undertake this challenge? How do you stay motivated during tough times?
What a journey, goodness. Yes, I battled 40+ degrees heat and sandstorms in the Gobi desert, I spent months on end in -35C degrees walking through the mountains, and I was hit by the worst snowstorm China has seen in 50 years. I often went days with no food, I lost nearly an inch in height from the weight of my backpack causing compression of the spine, and I ended up in the hospital on a drip within the first week of the journey through chronic dehydration (I wasn’t a natural at this adventuring malarky). So it was very eventful and I cried a lot!!! But in return for the hardship, wow the things I saw, and the people I met along the way. I have since travelled a lot of the world and still I have never received hospitality as incredible as the people in rural China. They were amazing. Bear in mind most of the people we met had never seen a westerner, and there was me, a 6 ft tall blonde, wearing a bright fuchsia pink suit appearing out of the wilderness, it was like an alien had landed. But as soon as I smiled the fear soon left them and they would give me everything they had and would want nothing in return. After walking 167 days I finished, and as corny as it sounds it changed my life forever. I learnt so much: About the wall, so little of it looked like the picture I had in my head, in fact for most of the journey there was no sign of the wall at all anymore. I learnt so much about the world, about people, about myself, about the human mind and the capabilities of the human body. 
As China was my first trip, no one believed I could achieve it, not even my family and closest friends. I, therefore, used this to stay motivated, I wanted to show everyone that I was made of more than just make-up and false nails. Quitting was never an option in my mind, despite the daily struggles I was determined to prove the doubters wrong.
However, upon completion of this journey, I no longer needed to be motivated by proving others wrong. I now realised that my feeling of accomplishment and achievement was directly proportional to the effort, hardship, pain and tears, I had put into achieving it. I had opened pandora’s box on this world of adventure and there was no way I was going to be able to close the lid again.
Katie-Jane on the Great Wall of China
That's incredible! You also completed the longest-ever crossing by a woman of the Southern Patagonian Ice Cap. Could you tell us a little bit more about this expedition? What were the highs and lows?
We aimed to complete a world-first unsupported expedition across the world’s third-largest ice cap in the southern Patagonian Andes, an area that arguably has the most ferocious weather in the world. Often described as a place “where the wind drops you to your knees and the snow buries you alive.”
Ladened with rucksacks weighing 50kg’s each, Tarka and I set out to become the first to complete a full crossing of the Southern Patagonian Icecap without the aid of sail kites. We estimated it would take us 37 days, although we were only able to carry enough food and fuel for 32 days. With my backpack weighing 50kg, I couldn’t have carried another gram, my knees were buckling with every step.
Patagonia Expedition 
The lows…
Early on, my feet suffered the most, blistering and harbouring infection from day one. Getting my feet into frozen ski boots each morning was excruciating. 
The winds would regularly gust at speeds that knocked me to the ground; blizzards and zero visibility became everyday occurrences. In the 35 days on the ice, I saw the blue sky and my surroundings only 3 times. I would often only be able to see a piece of rope heading into the whiteness out in front of me, Tarka would be on the other end at just 10 meters but I couldn’t see him. I often felt quite seasick, unable to tell what was up and what was down.
We would regularly fall down several crevasses a day. As Tarka was in the lead, he took the vast majority of the falls. Some were innocuous; with others where I had to drop to the ground becoming a human anchor to halt his falls on the end of the rope. On the days when visibility was so bad that I couldn’t see him, there was no visual warning of him falling. The first I would know about it was when I was yanked to the ground. Terrifying.
On two occasions we were also tested with avalanches. Fortunately both times we were only hit by a massive snowy whirlpool of air, as the main debris from the avalanche had thankfully not shared our path. 
Day 22 brought the first serious incident when I collapsed from acute Carbon Monoxide Poisoning. I suffered a seizure before becoming unconscious.
In the most technically demanding and dangerous section of the expedition, the descent of a 400-metre vertical ice wall, good weather was imperative. Halted by a monster storm, we waited tent bound for 5 days. With so much snow falling we were forced to continually move our tent to prevent us from being buried alive, but eventually, the poles broke, ripping the fabric to shreds, and destroying our only form of shelter. It was an unbelievably desperate situation, without a doubt, the most frightening of my life. Neither of us thought we would survive the night, we had a conversation as to whether we should or shouldn’t call our parents to say goodbye (we decided not to). We knew before we started the expedition that there was no chance of an evacuation if we needed it. We were always going to be on our own if it all went wrong.
Despite being aware of the difficulty of descending the Spegazzini Glacier, we had calculated that it offered us the best chance of survival as it was closest and had a rapid descent profile. It took us 5 days from when our tent was destroyed, to reach the water’s edge and for a collection to become possible by the military. We escaped, with just some snow blindness and minor frostbite. 
As for the highs… I lived!
I might have completed the longest crossing of the Southern Patagonian by a woman. But it wasn’t the full-length crossing we had planned. I have never wanted to go back and try again, it had been hell on earth, and I don’t want to achieve this ‘world first’ accolade enough to die for it. On the ice cap, there were no incredible views, no cultural interaction, and no laughs to keep up morale, it was purely trying to survive and make it through each day alive. That’s not what it is about for me. I have a passion for adventure and exploring this wonderful world in which we live. Making memories, seeing new places, meeting new faces, doing difficult things, so that nothing feels familiar & therefore every day becomes extraordinary.
Patagonia Expedition  
What challenge has pushed your endurance limits the most, both physically and mentally?
Physically, probably the Southern Patagonian Ice Cap, because I was quite literally trying to stay alive on a daily business. 
However, in contrast, cycling the 5,439km original 1911 Tour de France unsupported might have been my biggest mental battle to date, but not for the reasons you would expect.
The 1911 tour is regarded as the first of the modern Tour de France, because it was the first year the Tour included the iconic mountain stages of both the Pyrenees and the Alps. It covered a distance of 5,439km, over 15 stages, each stage averaging 350km in length, with the longest stage totalling 470km. 48,000 vertical meters of ascent were climbed and no support vehicles on the road were allowed and the race was 30 days long. I however, decided to ride the 15 stages in just 23 days, as this is the duration the professional cyclists take to ride today’s current Tour which is 2000km shorter!! Not sure what I was thinking, haha!
Physically cycling the distances wasn’t a problem. It was sleep deprivation. Because some of the stages were so long, it was taking me longer than 24 hours to complete the stage, which then completely threw my Circadian rhythm out of sync. I was only getting one proper sleep, of only 6 hours, every three days. This took its toll after a few weeks. I battled to keep my eyes open whilst on the bike, particularly through the night and early morning sections. I resorted to taking 10-15 minute power naps on the side of the road to help, but by the time I got to the last couple of stages I was reduced to tears, actually terrified to get on my bike and peddle through the night for fear of my safety. 
This combined with the fact I was surrounded by ‘easy ways out’, restaurants, hotels, and train stations around every corner. When you are on an expedition in a remote part of the world, you are forced to keep going, you can’t just pack it in and just stop in the middle of nowhere (you would starve, haha). Whereas on this trip, we could easily stop at any moment. Which meant it took every bit of mental resolve I had to keep going and make it to the finish.
Katie-Jane on the Tour de France 
You’ve done some really epic adventures. What is a more ‘everyday adventure’ for you? What’s your idea of a fun weekend? 
Ahhh that’s an easy one, you will most likely find me in a tent on a mountain summit, snuggled deep in my sleeping bag, drinking a cuppa, watching the sun rise over the mountain peaks. Whether it’s by hiking, biking or ski touring, I love nothing more than getting away from the busy world, with my boyfriend or just a few friends, and either sleeping in a mountain hut, a tent or a bivvy. I love the simplicity of it. 
What advice would you give to someone who wants to take on their first big adventure? 
I recommend you do plenty of groundwork in the planning phase and logistics of the journey, this will calm your nerves and make you feel prepared. Then, of course, it’s important to do some physical and mental preparation, however, in my opinion, you will never feel ‘ready’ so at some point you have just got to be bold enough to begin. The rest of the skills, fitness and experience you will gain along the way. 
My rule for life is we must do the stuff that makes our heart beat faster and our eyes glow when we talk about it! 
Do you have any other big expeditions or adventures on the cards?
No big expeditions are planned this year. I will be competing on my bicycle in a couple of big unsupported ultra races though, and the rest of the year will be taken up hiking, guiding clients in the French and Swiss Alps. In 2024, I hope to get back out to do a bigger journey again… but I haven’t narrowed down the shortlist yet.
Katie-Jane's 'Happy Place'
Thank you so much Katie-Jane for sharing this with us, it was a pleasure speaking to you! You can follow Katie-Jane and keep up to date with her adventures on Instagram and her website.

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