Credit: Martin Hartley
1.You are one of the first women in history to ski to the North and South Poles as part of all women teams. Is been ‘the first women’ to do something a main part in the decision making process when you are contemplating an expedition. Or are there other reasons?
It would be wrong to say that being the first isn’t important at all. As any sports person knows, to challenge yourself to do something that hasn’t been achieved before is a fantastic motivator but it’s also about the journey in these remote and treacherous but beautiful places. To be able to test yourself beyond limits you thought possible and beat the physical and emotional daily challenges you face on a long expedition is an experience that lives with you forever.
2.You were voted one of The Telegraph’s top 20 great British adventurers! How does it feel to be up there with the big boys?
It was a great honour and privilege to be recognised by The Telegraph in this way. Women are often overlooked when such lists are compiled and there are so many great adventurers out there that I was truly thrilled.
However, I think one of the biggest honours I have ever received was to be exhibited at the Greenwich Maritime museum alongside the true great heroes of the past – Amundsen, Shackleton and Scott. Although humbled I realise that I am but a poor shadow among these men. It was a moment of pleasure I will take to my grave.
3.You are planning to be the first woman in the world to walk to The North Geographical Pole solo. What is that drives you to keep pushing?
To be able to achieve this huge world record would be the absolute pinnacle of my Polar career. I believe we only have one life and should make the most the gifts we have been given. Mine happens to be that I have the ability to haul a large sledge through the most difficult environment in the world, while enduring unimaginable hardships. Not pretty but true. I also believe it is within us all to achieve great things in our lives. Small or large.
4.When going solo, how do you keep your mind in the right place?
Expedition life is so demanding that for the most part I have to concentrate on the task at hand, finding a path through difficult ice, crossing thin ice or open water, dealing with the cold and of course living with Polar Bears but when things do get difficult I call to mind my children, friends and colleagues and have conversations with them, sometimes out loud. At times I think about how a fellow expeditioner might tackle a certain problem and I have been known to simply chant my children’s names to keep me putting one foot in front of another when I really feel at the end of my capabilities.
5.Why did you pick polar expeditions to be your focus instead of something with a little less risk and that take place in places a little warmer?
It happened to be the opportunity that came my way, if you will, Polar travel picked me. I answered an advert in a newspaper asking for ordinary women to apply for selection to be part of the first all women’s team to walk to the North Pole. It was a relay expedition with two female guides and I was chosen to be part of the first leg of the expedition. It was on this expedition that I fell in love with the world of ice and found I had a natural affinity with my stark surroundings. At 33 years of age I finally found my place in the world.
6.How did you learn to become a team leader, and what does it take to accept responsibility of others well being?
Everyone is different and will learn to be a leader in different ways. Some people come to it naturally and others have to learn the skills either formally or through experience. There are many attributes to being a good leader but I believe that first you have to have the vision and belief of what it is you want to achieve and how you are going to make that vision a reality. If you don’t believe in your goals how can you expect anyone else to. You need drive, commitment and of course the ability and skills in your field of expertise. It’s also important to have humility. A good leader wants the whole team to achieve and not just themselves. Everyone has something worthwhile to give and it’s important therefore to recognise this, understand how each member ticks and what they can contribute to the whole. If each person performs at their best it will strengthen the team and make for a more successful outcome. You need to be able to take responsibility and make tough decisions when necessary and most importantly for me, you have to have integrity and of course a sense of humour always helps.
When you are taking responsibility for someone else’s well being you have to be utterly professional and have the experience and skills necessary to keep everyone safe. Their safety comes before anything else and it’s important that each team member understands this at the outset. I will not put lives in danger in order to reach a goal. After that, when leading expeditions it’s about their experience and not mine. It’s important that it becomes their expedition, their journey and ultimately their achievement. If I can help them to achieve their dream and am simply there to take the photo at the end, I have done my job well.
7.Has the time you spend out there away from reality changed the way you see the world, how you take in the news when you are back home?
Absolutely. When you are surviving every day and striving towards an impossible goal, whether in a team or alone, you are stripped to the person you are inside and material possessions and status are irrelevant. I have become more passionate the world we live in, the climate and the damage we people are causing for our own needs and desires. I also wonder about the relationship we have with each other and wonder why so many people are at war. The world seems such an angry place to live in right now.
8.Why do you think there is not more female polar guides?
In order to be a guide and take care of others in the polar regions, especially on sea ice you need to have experience of sea ice and the dangers continually being faced when traveling on a temperamental surface in extreme cold. Expeditions in the remote Polar regions are extremely expensive and so it’s difficult to gain that experience and knowledge.
The same could be said for the men but It’s also an extraordinary physical and tough world and there is still a certain amount of prejudice out there against women in what’s seen as a man’s world. Not from the Polar community itself, where I have always had support and friendship but from some of the outside world. Certain sponsors think men have more chance of success and I’ve even had conversations with people who disbelieve I have made the full journey from land, based purely on the fact that they don’t believe a woman, especially a mother of four children, could make the same journey as ‘their idols.’ It’s just another challenge to overcome but it does make it a very tough world for a woman to break into.
9.You have kids, are you going to let them do what you do when they are older?!
I want my children to have the courage to take their own paths in life and follow their own dreams whatever that may be, whether in the world of adventure or outside it.
Of the triplets Rachel has begun a career as a carer, Joseph wants to work in the world of events and Lucy is aiming to become an outdoor adventure instructor. Sarah who is nine wants to be a beautician who bakes cakes on the side. I’m proud of them all and their different choices.
10. Your resourcefulness and ability to adapt back to the old fashioned methods of exploration are seriously impressive; “Ann packed away the compass that did not work so close to the magnetic North Pole and used the sun, her watch and the wind to find the path north.”
Is this something you had learned and accounted for or just something you were born with?
Definitely something I learnt from a highly experienced Polar Explorer Geoff Somers, who is relatively unknown outside the Polar world but is one of the greats. While putting any expedition together I look at all the possibilities for success and failure and make sure I take the time to acquire the skills that I don’t have but will need in every eventuality. Once upon a time there was no requirement to swim to get to the North Pole but now with the disappearing ice it’s become a regular occurrence.
11.What makes you keep going when things get tough?
It’s a question I’m often asked and the truth is I don’t know the full answer. Certainly I don’t want to let people down, my team, family, friends or the sponsors that have put their money and faith in us, but I also don’t see giving in as an option. It’s a state of mind and sometimes I concentrate on just getting through the next day, hour, or even the next step but never quitting. It’s not that I’m not afraid of failure, which can often give us the experience to try again but I do have to know I’ve done everything possible on my end.
12. On your second expedition you and your team; “experienced some of the fiercest winds they had ever encountered. Antarctica is one of the windiest continents on earth, where the average wind speed is around 80 miles an hour. As the winds are katabatic, it constantly blew in their faces and it was important that every inch of skin was covered, as exposed flesh would freeze in minutes.”
Do things like that scare or excite you?
So long as I’m prepared it excites me. You’ve got to be on top of your game and make sure there are no mistakes.
Swimming in the sea on the English coast scares me because I’m not a strong swimmer and I feel out of control but the perils of the Polar regions definitely excite me.
13.Best piece of gear you own?
My multi tool, which I also carry around in my handbag at home.
14.Sorry to be crude but In temperatures that cold, how do you bare to go to the loo?
You just have to and you don’t want to pee in your clothes when you can’t change them for over 60 days. It’s the wiping with snow wedges that makes it particularly interesting.
15.What’s next for you?
I am currently looking for a sponsor to partner my aim to become the first woman to walk solo to the North Pole. One of the last great world firsts left on this wonderful planet of ours.
Follow Ann’s Adventures: