Climbing the highest mountain peaks and reaching for the deepest free-diving depths have been her strategy to explore and create herself. Meet Annelie Pompe, an ‘outfluencer’ and vertical adventurer who gets the biggest adrenaline kicks by inspiring others to take greater care of nature and themselves.
She has become something of a living legend in Sweden, this short and tiny but powerful and enthusiastic women who inspires so many people through talks, books and in social media. Whenever I ask someone in Sweden for tips about women in mountain adventures to highlight as inspiring examples, her name is brought up. Recently, she attended a popular TV show for top athletes in Sweden, thereby reaching a new type of audience with her message of inner harmony and the art of breathing.
But when I ask Annelie Pompe who she is, she tells me “I am thinking a lot on that question, and I don’t know the answer myself yet. Religion, philosophy and spiritual issues have always interested me, and I have always been a seeker. I am not interested in shallowness or material things. Instead, I like vertical issues – both physically and mentally”. She excuses herself for not finding words. The migraine from last night is still haunting her.
“I am an adventurer who explores new territories. Unfortunately, adventures are often regarded as something macho, but machoism has nothing to do with adventures. Adventures are about mental travels and silent retreat” Anne explains. “In mountain adventures it becomes so obvious – that the way to the end goal is so much more important than the goal itself.”
During 20 years Annelie dreamt about standing at the top of Mount Everest, the highest peak in the world. “But in the end I spent only 20 minutes at the top. I have learnt that it is the 20 years of preparation that counts. I even planned to stop and turn around a few meters below the peak to point this out. But once I was there it felt weird, so I did enjoy the minutes and the view I had from the top” she laughs.
Annelie’s biggest strengths are her optimism and her attitude to problems. “I start looking for solutions at once, and I am quite limitless in my way of thinking”. As her biggest weaknesses she mentions the migraine and her body injuries. The knee got injured during a mountain-bike accident when she was 14 years old, and she damaged her shoulder during a paragliding accident a couple of years ago.
“I find it difficult to return after travels and achievements that have meant a lot to me. I quickly forget all the tough parts, but I also notice that the brain remembers negative experiences much stronger than positive ones. It was a frightening experience, for example, to see dead bodies at night in the light of a head torch at Mount Everest. Afterwards, I hallucinated and saw these dead bodies in other situations and during expeditions to other mountains” Annelie tells me.
“It is a syndrome called survivor’s guilt. But once my sherpa friend created incantations for me the hallucinations finally disappeared. For a while I even missed the dead bodies that had been accompanying me for such a long time” Annelie laughs.
Another reason for why Annelie found it difficult to return after the expedition to Mount Everest was the feeling that she was alone with her experiences. The team members of the international expedition she had been part of continued to stay in contact with each other. But she had no one at home that had experienced something similar. “And also, what to do next when your childhood dream has been fulfilled?
“I looked out over the ocean but did not feel anything. My mind was still in the mountains, so I could not dive. After a couple of years, the joy for diving returned. Meanwhile, I filled the emptiness by focussing on Seven Summits ” she says. [Annelie climbed the highest peak in each continent]
Can you describe your passion for nature and adventures?
“It feels like coming home. I feel much more at home in nature than in a city, and I prefer to be outdoors all the time. I once tried to settle down and live in an apartment in town, but I felt shut in. Currently, I live in a houseboat during summer season and I rent a small cottage during winter” Annelie tells me. “But I wish to be self-supporting, so my next project is about creating such a living. In a cottage or in a house on wheels.”
”Moreover, I love the sea as much as I love the mountains. The love permeates everything I do. And now when I have a dog, I realize that that having a dog is like keeping nature with you all the time” Annelie says and laughs again. Her new family member, the waterdog Doglas, seem to be a dear hiking friend according to Annelie’s numerous photos.
Annelie finds more similarities than differences between deep free-diving and alpinism. She took a world record in deep free-diving less than a year before she climbed Mount Everest from the north side. “It is the same magnificence, wilderness and quietness, and they both remind you of your own smallness. Sadly though, the negative impacts of humans are obvious in both environments too” she adds.
Annelie has a strong interest in sustainability issues, and she is actively supporting several sustainability actions, mainly focussing on challenges in the oceans. For example, she is a member of a big ocean protection network targeting politicians and large companies. But together with her sherpa friend she has also organized charity expeditions, aiming to improve the situation for poor people living in the mountains.
“Poor people don’t act against environmental pollution, because their immediate challenge is to find food for the day and education for their children. Moreover, mental illness is rapidly increasing. When you are ill you don’t care for the environment. And when the environment is ill, people become ill too” Annelie ponders. I realize that Annelie’s strategy is to make people feeling better, both with the help of and for the sake of nature.
“I want to inspire people to get out in nature and in the ocean, because we ‘only protect what we love’. Ten percent of my income goes to ocean protection projects in some form. Almost all free-divers become sea ambassadors. It is when you have a passion for something that you become engaged.”
When I ask Annelie how it is to be an influencer for many people, she quickly protests. “I am not an influencer. It is nothing I want to be or aim to become.” Annelie associates the word with people highlighting parties and jet-set lives. “To me the word ‘outfluencer’ would suit better – to inspire people to get out in nature”. It turns out that she has had an incident with a Swedish initiative scrutinizing influencers and their climate impact, so I rephrase the question.
How is it to be an inspirer to others?
“In English the word ‘inspiration’ means inhalation, which is the nicest thing I know” Annelie says. People have contacted her and given her feed-back like “your presentation changed my life” and “your book helped more than any therapist ever have managed to do”. Annelie thinks a little and adds “To share my energy and joy with others are much more fun than beating world records. It generates such an adrenaline kick.”
Living her life as an adventurer is not a deliberate choice, Annelie says. She has studied marine biology and software engineering and management as well as personal training and life coaching. She has worked as a climbing instructor and dive master, and she is still working as a free-diving instructor. But she is also running several companies. “I have always worked with what I find a pleasure in, and I like to explore new things” she explains.
“I started studying software engineering, because it has always come easy to me. But then I took a year off from university to start free-diving and continued along that path instead. I have never regretted that decision”. Occasionally, people quit their jobs after having attended Annelie’s inspiration talks. “Then they probably needed to hear my talk. I think it is fantastic” she says. But she is not deliberately requesting people to quit their jobs. Instead, she focuses on the inner journey in her talks. Although she forewarns her customers sometimes.
What are the challenges with the life you live today?
”My main challenge is the lack of colleagues and people to exchange ideas with. Very few have chosen to work as broad as I do. I can discuss separate issues with various people but not the whole spectrum of work. I love to write and to hold motivational talks. My next book project I co-author with someone else. But I rarely hold talks together with someone else.
Currently, I am aiming for a new free-diving record, to climb Ama Dablam [a mountain peak in the Himalayas] and I have my self-sufficient-housing project. I like to be alone, and I am deliberately not active in social fora. But I lack people to discuss the entirety with.”
Annelie does not lack discussion partners and sources of inspirations concerning separate issues, however. “When it comes to life philosophy I am inspired by Cecilia Duberg, for example, my sherpa friend Hanli Prinsloo and Björn Natitkio Lindblad who has lived as a monk. My parents have meant much to me as well as Pontus Strömbäck who was my life- and speaking coach for a while.
Sebastian Näslund is my contrast and often gets to play the devil’s advocate when I need a second opinion. Additionally, many people I admire for their wisdom and follow at a distance” Annelie says, and then she adds “the sea and the mountains are my inspirers too.”
Are there any differences for men and women as an adventurer?
“There is a long male tradition by culture, and it is still seen as the most natural way of doing it. There is a lot of machoism. I have been climbing in many different groups and constellations, and many men have told me that they are glad to have a woman in the group because it reduces the competition focus. Without women they find the group mentality very hard” Annelie says.
“I usually get surprised when I see another woman on expeditions, though. When I climbed Mount Everest, we were only four women on the mountain (1 percent). We stopped and talked to each other when we met, only because we were women. In the beginning it was the same in free-diving, where almost all athletes were guys. With more women you get a softer attitude and less macho culture. Not everyone wants that, though, because they feel that the sport becomes less cool.”
Annelie tells me about an incident after a presentation she had held in Sweden. “A big guy with a huge belly approached me and said – if you tiny one has climbed all these mountains, then surely I can do it too – confidently patting his belly. I could only laugh. But the fact is that people seldom realize that climbing Mount Everest, for example, is not that technically complicated. You just need to be dedicated and sustained.”
“I have organized women-only groups, because women have approached me and said that they are afraid to end up last when attending mixed groups. But it did not work out well. We had one whining person in the group, and I found that such mentality spread more easily in a group with only women. When one woman started complaining about that it was hard to hike upwards, it quickly affected the rest.”
She thinks a little and then adds “It may have been an isolated case, and it is a common fact that single individuals can have a strong negative influence on a whole group, but personally I prefer mixed groups because I believe the mixture creates a better balance.”
Annelie feels that with only women it easily becomes an all pink, girlish attitude. On the other hand, there are women who don’t dare to try things in mixed constellations. She concludes that the best form of feminism is to act natural and to be in groups and constellations you feel comfortable with.
What tips do you have for those who want to make a living as an adventurer?
”Follow your own path and don’t look so much on what others have done. I looked at other Swedish adventurers but found their attitude too hasty. So, I chose to make it in a different way. You have all opportunities to try new things.”
“Use help and support from others, because if you do everything yourself the risk of making mistakes is bigger. You learn from others. And if you succeed, use your experiences to make something good for society. As my friend and monk said – find your gift and share it with others.”
Finally, Annelie shares some predictions about the future. “Considering climate change, I believe the research on biofuel will succeed soon. You can make adventures in the vicinity, but you will always need to transport yourself somehow. I hope there will be a reduction of emissions, so that the ocean environment can be saved. Did you know that every second breath are derived from oceans? The oceans produce 50% of the oxygen and the marine flora binds massive amounts of CO2.”
“I guided a lot before, but it did not feel right to make people travel more. I hope people will explore their vicinity and make more inner adventures in the future. I believe that inner adventures will grow more popular, in turn, affecting the way we make outer adventures.”
“To collaborate is extremely important” Annelie adds. “It is the only way forward to solve the challenges we face. The ocean is one big unity, for example, so we need international collaboration. Outdoor people have a greater responsibility, because we see how the changes affects nature. Perhaps it also gives us a stronger driving force to act.”
After the interview, I finally get a chance to read Annelie’s latest book. My original plan was to scan the book before-hand. But before I even got a chance to open it, my two teen-age daughters had grabbed it and were hooked. It is a well-written and easy-to-read book with useful exercises and interesting facts for both my daughters and myself. I understand why Annelie inspires so many people. And I look forward to read and hear about her continued inner travels during her future adventures in the mountains and the ocean.