As I prepare for a summer vacation in Alaska, I thought it would be fun to look back at all female Arctic and Antarctic explorers.
Five women: Ann Daniels, Caroline Hamilton, Zoe Hudson, Pom Oliver, and Rosie Stancer reached the South Pole. They planned it. organized it, trained for it, raised the funds and in November 1999 walked over 700 miles across the most inhospitable continent in the world to reach the South Pole on foot. The first all British women’s team to do so.
Ann Daniels (a mother with triplets) had a dream of putting together the first women’s team to ski from land to the North geographic pole. Apart from her previous experience in a relay, Ann’s first expedition, where fresh team members were brought in on each leg, no all women’s team had completed the entire journey. In fact due to the extreme difficulty of the terrain and climate, very few expeditions had ever walked the complete distance to the pole. She asked Caroline Hamilton and Pom Oliver to join her and together they put together the M&G North Pole Expedition, spending over a year planning and training for the arduous and extreme challenge.
As they set off from Ward Hunt Island their sledges weighed almost 300 pounds. Temperatures as low as –50º for the first 26 days severely hampered the expedition’s progress and success looked doubtful. The team of three girls were hit by storms so severe that they were unable to put their tent up and had to huddle under tent material for 3 days, with little food or water. On day 37 they had completed just 69 miles of the 500 mile journey.
A journey across the Arctic Ocean is fraught with difficulties. Not least the extreme temperatures in a marine environment but the very ice they skied across moved and changed constantly as the enormous power of arctic currents and wind drove the ice together and at other times cracked it wide open. They encountered huge ridges, at times 30 to 40 feet in height, thin ice, open water, rubble fields and of course the constant threat of a polar bear encounter.
They suffered from severe frostbite, back problems and carbon monoxide poisoning from contaminated fuel. After 47 hazard filled days Pom Oliver had to leave the expedition as a result of frostbite and wet gangrene, leaving Ann and Caroline over 300 miles to cover in 30 days. Although the pole looked impossible neither were willing to give up and skied for over 15 hours each day, with little sleep in between. Both fell into the ocean and had to swim across open expanses of water but their determination to succeed prevailed.
After 80 days on the ice, they reached the North Pole, exhausted but triumphant and planted the union jack. They sang the national anthem terribly and celebrated with whiskey saved for the occasion.
Against all odds they had become the first all women’s team in the world to ski to both poles. A feat that has never been repeated.