In January this year, a young woman from Melbourne made history when she reached the South Pole after spending 37 gruelling days on the ice.
At age sixteen, Jade Hameister is the youngest person to have skied to the North and South Poles; the first Australian woman to ski from the coast to the South Pole unsupported and unassisted; the first woman to set a new route to the South Pole in an unsupported, unassisted expedition; and the youngest person in history to complete the ‘Polar Hat Trick’ – both Poles, and the crossing of the Greenland icecap.
It’s an almost unbelievable series of accomplishments. But looking back on what she’s achieved, Jade says,
‘For me, it isn’t about the records. I hardly thought about that when I was out there on the ice – the beauty and brutal nature of the environment is just so overwhelming.’
For more than a month, Jade spent long days on the ice with her team, putting in eight to nine hours of skiing each day to make their journey in time. As an unsupported and unassisted expedition, there would be no supply drops – they had 40 days’ worth of food to get them to the South Pole, all of which they pulled in their sleds.
Their journey totalled almost 600 kilometres and traced a hitherto untravelled route from the Amundsen Coast to the South Pole, through the Transantarctic Mountain Range via the Kansas Glacier.
‘The first week is the hardest, when your life has been turned upside down,’ Jade explains, ‘but once you get into a routine and everything has its place in the tent, you just accept your new reality.’
It was her third major expedition since becoming the youngest person to ski to the North Pole unassisted in 2016 at the age of fourteen.
‘The South Pole was by far the hardest, in that it was the longest expedition by ten days and our route had never been accessed by humans before, and by far the coldest (sometimes -50°C) with headwinds almost the entire time.’
The reality of being the first humans to visit this part of Antarctica made a big impression on Jade. ‘The landscape was just magic and to know that no one else had ever seen what we were seeing was just insane and really surreal.’
The Melbourne girl had spent much of the lead-up to the expedition training in Victoria’s national parks and along the coast. Dragging heavy tyres was a major part of her regime, to gain the strength and conditioning she’d need to pull a loaded sled equivalent to her own bodyweight. ‘The majority of my tyre dragging sessions were along Eastern View Beach (near Lorne), where there weren’t lots of people to constantly ask what I was training for, and it’s such a beautiful place to spend big chunks of time alone with your own thoughts.’
Antarctica, by contrast, was another world. ‘It is the closest thing on Earth to another planet and is so surreal and beautiful.’
Unlike those of us in Melbourne, Jade had a truly white Christmas – and it was one of the biggest trials she faced on the expedition. With a strong headwind and windchill of -50°C, most expeditions would have taken the day off, but with their supplies limited, Jade’s team pushed on towards the Pole. By Boxing Day, they had only 250 kilometres left to travel.
In her posts on Instagram, Jade detailed on a daily basis the ups and downs of the extreme conditions and the physical challenges her body was facing. Her inspiring openness gave her readers an insight into the hardships of her journey, not only the incredible achievements. ‘I kept telling myself that how I was feeling was all in my head and that I controlled how I responded to the conditions… I think that if you tell yourself you can do it, then you can.’
Inspiring other women to push their boundaries has been a driving force behind Jade’s whole enterprise.
‘It is a very male-dominated area… I hope that by doing these trips as a 16-year-old girl it will inspire other women to believe they can do it too – if we see other women break boundaries, we expand our beliefs as to what is possible for ourselves.’
She recently shared an image on Instagram of a young girl in Singapore who had to dress up as her favourite explorer for school. Decked out in pink boots, goggles and a furry hood, the girl is a mini-Jade. ‘My first reaction was to laugh,’ Jade says. ‘It was awesome. It feels really special to be inspiring young girls all over the world. I will be cheering for any young woman who chases her dream.’
For Jade, years of planning and training have finally seen her dreams realised. What’s next? Well, Year 11, for a start. It’s a bittersweet feeling, but it’s clear that Jade Hameister isn’t the sort to sit still for long.
‘It’s really sad for me that my goal for the last three years is complete, but now it just opens up room for another goal.’
Banner image courtesy of Jade Hameister.