In 1909, Robert Peary, his assistant Matthew Henson and four Inuit men were the first explorers in history to reach the North Pole.
It would be another 77 years before the first woman would follow triumphantly. But when she did, Ann Bancroft was just beginning her long legacy of successes.
Ann Bancroft made history as the first woman to reach the North Pole on foot and by dogsled in 1986. But over the next few years, she would cross both polar caps and ski across Greenland. By 1993, she was part of a four-woman team that arrived at the South Pole on skis and in 2001, she skied across Antarctica with her friend, Liv Arnesen.
Photo credit: SCTimes.com
Today, she continues to travel the world to raise awareness about our planet’s fragile ecosystem and to encourage others to discover its natural beauty.
Ann and her special group of elite explorers have an insatiable thirst for adventure and a desire to stretch themselves beyond natural limitations, but one overarching question continues to haunt me. Why?
It’s clear, as I look down at the skin peeling across the tops of my frostnip fingertips, that I don’t have this same unrelenting quest for adventure. Or, at least, not the extreme type. My fingers and toes will heal from my survival challenges and cold temperatures experienced during my recent all-women trek across Baffin Island.
Numbing cold, relentless winds and eating and sleeping outdoors while walking 100 km in Nunavut was enough. This northern place of desolation is extreme and foreboding. Even though the scenery is breathtaking and the survival test unparalleled to anything I have ever imagined doing, I can say however that I survived.
I did in great part from the knowledge of those who came before me like Ann, Liv and intrepid explorers. What they discovered about the land and the science of much improved hiking gear and equipment mitigated the perils of my journey. But I also know there is something larger that did persuade me to step up to the journey. It goes beyond surviving the cold and discovering something beyond.
For Dr. Ken Hedges, who celebrated his 50-year anniversary of the world’s first Trans-Atlantic crossing of the North Pole by dogsled in 1969, his exploration was an existential pursuit as much as a physical feat.
Dr. Ken Hedges, pictured second from the left. Photo credit: Atlas Obscura
Dr. Hedges is a decorated military doctor who survived 470 days in the polar north, including 180 days in total darkness from the sun’s constant position below the horizon. For Dr. Hedges, this physical and metaphorical darkness has the power to transform and enlighten our knowledge of self, as well as our relationship and responsibility to each other. We learn we are our brother’s keeper and home is less about geography that it is a sense of belonging.
For Ann Bancroft’s Antarctic partner and Noreign-born friend Liv Arnesen, exploration is not about the glory either. She is an atheist who admits the opportunity to be fully present and to feel the spirit of an extended moment in time is a pivotal driver. She says daily distractions prevent us from communing with nature and “going outside to see what is inside.”
So as WomanScape begins a special week dedicated to sharing some of my Arctic experiences in a series called, “Letters From the Arctic: Journey to the Soul”, I welcome your thoughts and reactions. What drives you, our readers, to explore and to seek out challenges?
Rose snowshoeing the Akshayuk Pass wearing ice cleats to travel Summit Lake
My purpose in snowshoeing 100 km across the Akshayuk Pass – from the eastern side of Canada’s largest island not far from Qikitarjuaq, to the south-western side next to Pangnirtung – was twofold: to raise monies for True Patriot Love, a non-profit foundation providing wellness programs to injured veterans and their families; and a deeper opportunity to understand what it means to be fully alive.
Over the course of this week, I’ll share my personal reflections, comic episodes and humbling experiences learning to survive eight days in Baffin Island’s Auyuittuq National Park. I hope you enjoy these stories and with a little luck over the coming months, I’ll have a book to share about the entire journey.
Tune in tomorrow for my first vignette: “Komituk Into the Night.”