L.A.’s oldest outdoors club welcomes women as members for the first time in 103 years

(L to R) Sharon Lobel, Rosaly Lopes, Pheobe Piper, Andrea Donnellan and Barbara Lawler
The Adventurers’ Club’s first five female members, from left to right: Sharon Lobel, Rosaly Lopes, Pheobe Piper, Andrea Donnellan and Barbara Lawler.
(Los Angeles Times illustration; Kevin Lee)

For more than a century, aspiring members of the Adventurers’ Club of Los Angeles had to meet two requirements: They had to “seek out high adventure” and they had to be male. That was until last month, when the club, which is devoted to sharing stories of world travel and daring exploits, inducted Andrea Donnellan, Barbara Lawler, Rosaly Lopes, Sharon Lobel and Phoebe Piper as its first-ever female members.

As individuals, these women bring an impressive range of experiences to the table — everything from volcanology to offshore sailing to traveling in the circus. As a group, they put to rest any notion that adventure is exclusively the domain of men.

From left to right: Sharon Lobel, Rosaly Lopes, Pheobe Piper, Andrea Donnellan and Barbara Lawler.
The L.A. Adventurer’s Club headquarters is located in a nondescript building in Lincoln Heights, and hosts frequent events for the public.
(Michael Charboneau)

Asked to describe this first wave of female members, Lobel (an acclaimed adventure photographer and open water scuba diver) summed it up in just one word: “Powerful.”

“I feel very, very honored to be in this first group,” she said. “We made history.”

Getting here wasn’t easy. The question of female membership had been hotly debated over the decades within the Adventurers’ Club, which was founded in 1921.

“A lot of people got into shouting matches,” said club President Rich Mayfield.

The Explorers Club, a similar group founded in New York in 1905, began admitting women in 1981, yet the Adventurers’ Club held firm on its men-only rule. That’s partly because the club’s bylaws made progress difficult: Changing the rule required a two-thirds’ supermajority of members to vote in favor.

Various sailing and ocean related objects hang from the walls at The Adventurer's Club.
The Adventurers’ Club was founded in 1921 and formalized under the leadership of Jack W. Roulac.
(Michael Charboneau)

But after many false starts, change finally came. In November, the club voted to accept female applicants. After successfully completing the organization’s thorough application process, which includes both an essay and interviews, the club’s first female members were inducted on Feb. 15.

It helped that the new inductees and their extensive expeditions were well-known around the taxidermy-clad halls of the Adventurers’ Club.

Piper is an intrepid traveler who has worked in the circus and on cattle ranches, and has been volunteering at the club since 2020. She was also recently elected as one of its vice presidents. Some of the female inductees have given talks there in the past. For this group, membership wasn’t so much a prize to be won but rather an acknowledgment of what they already knew about themselves.


“I never expected I wouldn’t be accepted into the club,” said Donnellan, a NASA scientist, pilot and scuba diver.

A variety of scenes from inside The Adventurer's Club
The organization’s walls are decorated with items members have brought back from their travels.
(Michael Charboneau)

Now that the Adventurer’s Club has expanded its applicant pool, the organization and its leadership are focused on growth. In a normal year, the club might receive three applications for membership; in 2024, it’s already received seven — and it’s only March. One applicant (she was accepted into the club this week) is Edie Littlefield Sundby, a cancer survivor who in 2015 became the first person in modern times to walk the entire El Camino Real de las Californias, a 1,600-mile route that stretches from Loreto, Mexico, to Sonoma, California. (She’s currently walking the Old Spanish Trail from San Diego to St. Augustine, Fla.) She first found out about the Adventurers’ Club in 2018, when she was invited to speak about her journey during the organization’s annual gala. When she arrived, she knew she had found her people.

“I just felt such camaraderie with these guys,” she said, recalling talking with members at the gala dinner. “You turn to the left or you turn to the right, you’re gonna meet someone who has a fantastic story.”

The policy change has brought other benefits too.

“To not have to tell anybody that you’re excluded for who you are is such a relief,” said Piper. “It’s also still the same club, the same traditions, the same people. And I hope that it does stay that way, because it was great. It’s just better now.”

A plane propeller hung on the wall at The Adventurer's Club.
(Michael Charboneau)

Climbing Mt. Everest or sailing across an ocean isn’t the only way to gain access to the Adventurers’ Club. The organization hosts open nights where anyone can buy a ticket to visit the clubhouse, mingle with members and hear fascinating speakers from a variety of backgrounds. (A meal is included with your $30 ticket. If you go, arrive early to browse the fascinating collection of memorabilia from members’ travels.) Upcoming speakers include Lloyd Romeo, who was part of an expedition that may have found Amelia Earhart’s lost plane at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, and Andrea Lankford, author of “Trail of the Lost,” an account of the search for three hikers who disappeared on the Pacific Crest Trail. You can browse the full calendar of open events on the group’s website.


And if you go there and love it, there’s no reason not to apply.

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3 things to do

A human walks through thick brush with a blue sky.
Rio Lakeshore leading a run.
(Jackie Beale)

1. Up your trail run game in Los Feliz
Competitive runner and self-proclaimed trail dancer Rio Lakeshore will guide you through a variety of challenging terrains on a run through Griffith Park that focuses on increasing both comfort and mileage. There will be two pace leaders on the 10-mile route to accommodate different speeds, but you should note that this monthly gathering is not for beginners. It is, however, completely free. The run will take place at 8 a.m. Sunday and is hosted by the cool kids” outdoor club Usal. Sign-up at to receive the meet-up details.

2. Meet reptilian ambassadors in Palos Verdes
The Palos Verdes Peninsula Land Conservancy will be hosting a reptile-themed nature club for children ages 5 to 10. The free one-hour gathering will include educational activities and introduce attendees to live (and, presumably, friendly) lizards. It’ll take place at the George F. Canyon Nature Center at 10:30 a.m. Saturday. Visit for more information.

3. Be one with the birds in Altadena
With spring nearly here, the hills are lush and the birds are chirping. Which makes it a perfect time to brush up on your plant and bird identification skills. Certified California naturalists from the Pasadena Humane wildlife staff will help you with exactly that on a three-mile walk through JPL/Devil’s Gate Dam loop. The $5 event is BYOB (bring your own binoculars), and attendees are encouraged to download the ebird, Merlin Bird ID or iNaturalist identification apps on their phones beforehand. It all starts at 7:30 a.m. Friday. Visit to register.

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The must-read

Tony Tucci stands in a cast concrete cave on a Laurel Canyon property which conservationists hope to purchase
Tony Tucci, chair and co-founder of Citizens for Los Angeles Wildlife, stands in a concrete cave on a Laurel Canyon property that conservationists hope to purchase.
(Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times)

Is rocker Frank Zappa’s former home about to become a nature preserve? If the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority and Citizens for Los Angeles Wildlife can raise $1 million in 60 days, then yes. As The Times’ Louis Sahagún reports, the current owner of the 2.4-acre Laurel Canyon property is offering the land at a below-market price but only for a limited time. The parcel features a spring-fed pond, mature trees and brightly painted man-made caves. It’s an eclectic mix that reflects the land’s history — Zappa and his family hosted such ’60s luminaries as Joni Mitchell and Jimi Hendrix — and its wildlife value — an uncollared male mountain lion has frequented the area for years.

Happy adventuring,

Signature for Michael Charboneau


A friend of mine (hi, Scott!) recently solved a minor Los Angeles mystery for me. For years, I had seen metal “KOOK” signs in primary colors nailed up to utility poles around the city, but I had no idea where they came from. Scott informed me that they’re the work of David Buckingham, a.k.a. Mr. Kook. Want a piece of this L.A. street art for yourself? Buckingham accepts commissions. Message him on Instagram to get your very own sign.

For more insider tips on Southern California’s beaches, trails and parks, check out past editions of The Wild. And to view this newsletter in your browser, click here.