Going solo: how athlete and adventurer Jenny Tough ran six mountain ranges alone

Jenny Tough
Jenny Tough completed six journeys through different mountain ranges, solo and unsupported (Image credit: Rachel Keenan)

Athlete, adventure traveller and endurance challenger Jenny Tough is about to go on tour with her film SOLO. The documentary, which has been created by Summit Fever Media Films and is presented by Montane, chronicles Jenny’s five-year journey to run solo and unsupported across mountain ranges on six continents.

The film follows her across the Tien Shan in Asia; the High Atlas in Africa; the Bolivian Andes, South America; the Southern Alps, Oceania; the Canadian Rockies in North America; and the Transylvanian Alps of Europe, as she learns lessons in resilience, self-esteem, bravery and more.

Jenny calls both Scotland and Canada home. She is a #TeamMontane athlete and specialises in fast and light expeditions. She is a full-time athlete, adventurer and writer, and author of the book SOLO: What Running Across Mountains Taught Me About Life.

With the SOLO film tour set to be presented in four UK locations from April 16 to 20, we asked Jenny to tell us more about her story. 

Jenny Tough hiking a trail in the Bolivian Andes

The second leg of Jenny's expedition took her through the Andes (Image credit: Jenny Tough)

When did you decide to embark on such an epic challenge, to journey across so many mountain ranges?

I have a serious love for looking at maps. I was looking at a map of Kyrgyzstan one night and (wine-fuelled) decided I would run across the entire Tien Shan mountain range. It was actually months after completing that goal that I decided to make it 'a thing' and do a mountain range on every continent.

Jenny Tough in the Atlas Mountains

There were different challenges for Jenny on each mountain route (Image credit: Callum Stuart)

What defines the route and distance of running across the mountain ranges?

I start at the beginning of the mountain range, whether that’s an obvious geographic point, such as the start of the Atlas Mountains, which rise out of the Sahara, or a more cultural point, such as the Rockies, where I only did the Canadian segment starting at the Canada/US border.

Jenny Tough standing at a mountain summit looking out over clouds

Jenny chose mountain ranges on six continents (Image credit: Jenny Tough)

Why did you choose each mountain range? 

They were mainly selected on places I simply wanted to go. There were other factors like length. I wanted it to be long enough to be a journey, but not so long it would take more than one season. Plus there were feasibility and safety considerations.

Jenny Tough scrambling in Transylvania

The Transylvanian Alps were Jenny's final mountain run (Image credit: Rachel Keenan)

What were the statistics of each mountain range?

Asia: Tien Shan, September 2016. 980km, ~+30,000m, 25 days

Africa: Atlas Mountains, October 2017. 860km, +25,000m, 22 days

South America: Bolivian Andes, October 2018. 600km, +40,000m, 17 days

Oceania: Southern Alps, February 2019. 850km, +17,000m, 23 days

North America: Canadian Rockies, July 2020. 877km, +24,350, 21 days

Europe: Transylvanian Alps, September 2021. 450km, 11 days.

Rock cairn in the Canadian Rockies

Each route offered different highlights for Jenny (Image credit: Jenny Tough)

Which was your favourite, if you can pick one?

That’s like choosing a favourite child!  I could never answer that question! They all have a very special place in my heart and each of them gave me completely different experiences and life lessons.

The toughest challenge really believing in myself enough to get out there and do it.

Jenny Tough

What is it that you most like about solo and unsupported journeys?

Going solo puts you entirely in the driver’s seat of your adventure. You have only yourself to rely on and that can be a really exciting thing and also completely terrifying. I started going solo when I was 21, and at the time I realised I had never been entirely independent; I'd never really learned how to solve my own problems, find my own happiness and give myself confidence. 

There are so many positive lessons that only come from going completely solo and I strongly believe they are beneficial experiences for any age.

Atlas Mountains on the horizon

Jenny tackled the Atlas Mountains in North Africa (Image credit: Jenny Tough)

What were the biggest challenges?

Each mountain range posed its own unique challenges, but there were some that encompassed each of them. The physical task itself was, of course, monumental. The simple size of the runs were very intimidating. 

But going solo was also a huge challenge because I had to manage myself, organise all of my own logistics and safety, and put up with myself on a daily basis, sometimes for very long stretches without speaking to another person.

View across the Southern Alps

A view of the Southern Alps, Oceania (Image credit: Jenny Tough)

What was the toughest challenge?

Again, each of the six chapters had its own toughest challenge, but, I guess, overall the toughest is really believing in myself enough to get out there and do it. I think bravery was a really big lesson that I learned by the end – to know that I could technically do it, but to just be brave enough to go put myself out there and try. 

I think so many of us get mentally blocked on what we believe ourselves to be capable of – or literally hear it from other people, which most women have certainly encountered – and being able to ignore all that and find the mental bravery to move forward is huge.

Are there more challenges because you are female?

Absolutely, yes. In some parts of the world, we may believe that we’re past that, but around the world, we are truly not.  I went through some places with cultures where women have extremely different lives from men – and I was treated differently and even harassed in many places.

Safety is a slightly different concern for women travellers in any country and I don’t think we help the matter by not talking about it. I also have a very memorable experience of getting my period deep in bear country, where there were grizzly bears sharing the trail with me.

Jenny Tough in New Zealand

Being female presented Jenny with extra challenges (Image credit: Jay French)

What were your most important lessons learned?

To believe in myself; to do things on my own terms and not anyone else’s; to endure and persevere; and to be brave.

Has this five-year challenge changed you?

Well, I think if we’re living a meaningful life, then anyone changes significantly within five years. But, of course, this challenge really changed and shaped me. I learned some significant life lessons and grew a lot as a person. It’s hard to sum up, hence I had to use up a whole book to explain it! Anyone who takes on a life of adventure will be hugely changed.

Llama in Bolivia

Jenny said her adventure taught her self-belief (Image credit: Jenny Tough)

Jenny Tough's SOLO film tour 

The tour visits: 

  • April 16: London
  • April 17: Bristol
  • April 18: Manchester
  • April 19: Edinburgh.

Jenny says: “I’m very excited to take SOLO on tour and to share the project that has taken many years to complete.

“Going on a solo adventure adds so many layers of challenges to an expedition that I think brings integrity to the pursuit. It is great to be able to share this launch as part of #TeamMontane and help to inspire people to get out there and take on their next challenge.”

See tour details.

Fiona Russell
Outdoor writer

Fiona Russell is a widely published adventure journalist and blogger, better known as Fiona Outdoors. She is based in Scotland and is an all-round outdoors enthusiast with favorite activities including trail running, mountain walking, mountain biking, road cycling, triathlon and skiing (both downhill and backcountry). Aside from her own adventures, Fiona's biggest aim is to inspire others to enjoy getting outside and exploring, especially through her writing. She is also rarely seen without a running skort! Find out more at Fiona Outdoors.