M&G North Pole Expedition
M&G North Pole Expedition
Ann had a dream to put together the first women's team to ski from land to the North geographic pole. Apart from the 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.
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.
As they set off from Ward Hunt Island their sledges weighed almost 300 lb and the terrain was filled with constant pressure ridges and rubble fields. Temperatures as low as –50ºC 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.
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 and on 1st June 2002 Ann and Caroline stepped onto the pole, planted the union jack and proudly sang the National Anthem. 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.
Their success was covered in newspapers, t.v. and radio across the world. Ann is asked to appear in the media to talk about this amazing feat today.
South Pole Expedition
M&G South Pole Expedition
To celebrate the millennium Ann and four other women, Caroline Hamilton, Zoë Hudson, Pom Oliver and Rosie Stancer made a bid to become the first British all women’s team to walk to the South Pole. Without the aid of guides they trained, planned and put together an expedition to leave from Hercules Inlet, Antarctica, to walk the South Pole.
From the very beginning the 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. In the first three days of the expedition the team climbed over 2,500 ft of the 9,000 ft to the pole, hauling sledges weighing twice their own body weight.
Ann and Caroline were jointly responsible for navigation and mainly used their watches and the sun to guide the team south. On whiteout days however when the sun didn’t shine and there was no contrast to the snow only the slow sluggish compass was used to pinpoint the way. The pair needed complete concentration, often using the direction of the wind to aid the process.
Besides the extreme cold, crevasses were the main danger and the team had to be in constant lookout for the hidden dangers beneath the snow. One huge crevasse took the team over 2 hours to cross. Although they travelled in whiteout conditions they also endured terrible storms that kept them tent bound and lost valuable travelling days. One such storm blew winds of over 90 miles an hour and threatened to tear the tent from the ground.
Christmas was celebrated with a phone call to Prince Charles, the expedition patron and the new millennium was celebrated with extra chocolate and a Mars Bar each.
Eventually after 60 days toiling south the team spotted the Amundsen-Scott South Pole base on the horizon. It was with huge joy and elation that after the 700 mile journey they stepped onto the pole and entered the history books as the first British all women’s team to reach the South Pole on foot.
McVities Penguin Polar Relay
McVities Penguin Polar Relay
As a mother of small triplets, with a banking background and no outdoor experience Ann was an unlikely candidate for her first polar expedition. However, determined to succeed, she trained intensively and was eventually selected from hundreds of applicants to take part in The McVities Polar Penguin Relay, in which 5 teams of 4 women, together with two guides skied in a relay format across the frozen Arctic Ocean to reach the North Pole in May 1997. The group pulled heavy sledges over enormous pressure ridges, open water and drifting ice.
Ann trained for 2 years in England to prepare for the expedition learning how to ski in the high Arctic, a few days before the team set off. She was chosen for the prestigious first leg of the journey, when temperatures are the coldest and the pressure ridges the highest. She quickly learnt how to survive and perform in this most bleakest of landscapes and was an integral part of making a success of the first leg of the expedition. On day 13 while ski-ing on thin ice, she plunged into the Arctic Ocean, up to her neck but still managed to complete a full day on the ice so as not to jeopardise the teams progress. Team Alpha went on to double the target mileage set for this leg of the journey, giving the expedition a fantastic start.
Although Ann did not travel to the pole on this occasion it was the beginning of her love affair with the Polar Regions. Dealing with the hazards of the Arctic was the ultimate test in teamwork for this relay and which resulted against all odds in a triumphant conclusion, when on 26 May 1997, team Echo victoriously reached 90º North, the geographic North Pole.
Catlin Arctic Survey
Catlin Arctic Survey
Pen Hadow the founder and Director of The Catlin Arctic Survey brought together polar explorers and scientists to measure the impacts of climate change on the Arctic environment and beyond.
Pen asked Ann to lead the ice team, for the first expedition, which also included world renowned photographer Martin Hartley. The main aim of this expedition was to measure the thickness of the sea ice to help determine how long the Arctic Ocean’s sea ice cover will remain a permanent feature of our planet.
Ann was head of ice operations, leading the ice team and navigating, using the sun, her watch and the wind to navigate. Ann also cooked for the team, always rising first and retiring last.
Ann repeated this role the following year, for the second Catlin Arctic survey, where Pen was replaced on the ice, with ex Royal Marine Charlie Paton and this new team continued the work of 2009, measuring the thickness of the ice whilst also conducting vital research into ocean acidification and how greenhouse gases could affect the marine life of the Arctic Ocean.
The 3rd and final survey saw a change in the make up of the team which introduced scientist Adrian McCallum and film maker Phil Coates into the team and Ann co led this less experienced team with American Explorer Tyler Fish.
Catlin Arctic survey 2011 once again continued to measure the thickness of the Polar ice with the added mission to undertake vital work to help understand Thermohaline destabilisation and how the arctic ocean is affected by fresh water ice melt from melting ice caps and warming waters.
Throughout the three expeditions the teams travelled over 170 days, covering over 1100km, in sub zero temperatures hauling sledges weighing over 200 lbs and at the end of each arduous day stopped and completed a full science programme. Each day was fraught with difficulties as the moving pack ice, shifted and split with the wind and ocean currents. It required dedication and teamwork to complete the transect sand achieve the results they did in their constantly changing environment.