Polar Explorer is an inspiring and empowering story by sixteen-year-old Jade Hameister, chronicling her feat of being the youngest person to complete the Polar Hat Trick...
From her first trip to Everest Base Camp as a young woman, Jade Hameister knew what she wanted to achieve - the impossible.
Jade began her quest to complete the Polar Hat Trick in April 2016 when she was fourteen. She became the youngest person to ski to the North Pole from anywhere outside the last degree - the point where most people begin - and was named Australian Geographic Society’s Young Adventurer of the Year. But that was just the beginning. In June of 2017, she became the youngest woman to complete the crossing of Greenland, the second largest ice cap on the planet. On January 11, 2018, she arrived at the South Pole after an epic 37 day journey through Antarctica, becoming the youngest person to ski to both Poles and the youngest person to complete the Polar Hat Trick.
This book will motivate and encourage young people to follow their dreams, no matter how impossible they may seem.
Read an Excerpt
BORN TO BE BRAVE
My parents have always said that they believe I was born a fighter.
I arrived into this world at the Royal Women's Hospital in Melbourne on 5 June 2001, and as far as anyone could tell, I was a healthy baby girl. But three days later, and for no apparent reason, I stopped breathing.
I was in my crib in Mum's hospital room. Dad was there and one of Mum's friends was visiting. Dad looked over and saw that my face had turned purple. He didn't say anything to Mum, but calmly picked me up, took me over to the nurses' station and asked if they thought there was a problem. The movement must have made me breathe again, because when the nurses looked at me, there was nothing wrong.
Dad took me back to Mum's room and put me in the crib. He said nothing to Mum and her friend, but he didn't take his eyes off me.
Within the hour, I went purple again. Again, he picked me up and took me to the nurses. This time, I didn't resume breathing.
The nurses hit the code-blue alarm, and medical staff ran from everywhere to try to resuscitate me. They then rushed me off to the special care unit – and Mum and Dad's nightmare began.
Mum had heard the commotion outside her room, but she had no idea that I was the cause of all the fuss until Dad asked her friend to leave, then explained to Mum what had happened. Mum has told me since that when it happened, she felt her heart stop. Her brain froze and she doesn't remember when it started working again. Instead of being in my crib beside her, I was now in the care of others and all Mum was left with were questions. What was wrong with me? Was I going to survive? Would I have brain damage from lack of oxygen? She was terrified.
To make matters worse, there were no answers. I would unexpectedly stop breathing – sometimes half-a-dozen times a day or more. Mum was discharged and sent home without me (Dad said she was a wreck) while I remained at the hospital with an army of doctors and specialists running tests, trying to work out what was going on.
Mum would return to spend all day at the hospital with me while Dad was at work, then Dad would sit by my crib all night. They were determined to watch over me every minute, so that if something went wrong they could make sure I got the attention I needed. Dad would read me stories through the night. He says his favourite was The Lion King, except he made Simba a lioness. As he watched over me, so small and helpless, he promised me that, if I lived, he would do anything in his power to help me achieve my dreams.
After two long weeks, the doctors still didn't know what was causing me to stop breathing. Eventually, when I'd gone a couple of days in a row without an episode, I was allowed to go home. Like most parents, Mum and Dad were excited the day had come, but also extremely anxious. They were taught how to perform CPR on a newborn and were provided with a breathing monitor and plenty of good wishes.
The breathing monitor was connected by sticky tape to the place where my umbilical cord had been. When I stopped breathing, an alarm would go off and that's when Mum and Dad were supposed to start the CPR – though the doctor told them that if it got to the point where I needed CPR, it was probably too late anyway ... I'm sure that was reassuring.
Mum was so worried about being alone with me in case something should happen that Dad decided to take a year off work so he could be there with us. Mum told me later that it was the worst of times, but also the best. She and Dad worked together as a team and it made their marriage stronger than ever.
After seven or so months, my breathing problems cleared up. I had proven to be a survivor. I have no doubt that this beginning altered something in my chemistry.
* * *
Some of my earliest memories are of Dad going off on adventures. He began climbing big peaks in 2007. He'd also had a couple of near-death experiences in his life – one when he was just seven years old and was hit in the head by a tyre rolling fast down a steep hill, resulting in a multiple-fracture exploded skull. These experiences led him to believe he should never take life for granted. He was constantly reminding me and my younger brother, Kane, of this when we were little – and he still does!
His taste for adventure and exploration has taken him from surfing three-metre swells on newly formed breaks in Indonesia's remote Banda Aceh shortly after the 2004 earthquake and tsunami, to an extended whitewater rafting expedition in Nepal. He's even walked the Kokoda Track twice – once with his dad and again with Kane when he was thirteen. And earlier this year, Dad and Kane covered around 1000 kilometres exploring remote and unexplored parts of the Amazon jungle with Matsés tribesmen as their guides and Peru Special Forces escorts.
When I was about five years old, Dad decided he'd like to climb Mount Aconcagua in the Andes. Aconcagua is the second-highest of the Seven Summits (the tallest mountain on each of the seven continents) and the highest peak in the Southern Hemisphere.
He was one of only three of his party of 11 to reach the peak on that expedition. A man in the group ahead of Dad's team died from altitude sickness and one of the guys Dad reached the summit with fell on the way down and knocked himself unconscious, which made for a very slow descent in bad weather. Off the back of this climb, Mum and Dad raised $20,000 to purchase new breathing monitors for the Royal Children's Hospital.
Dad went on to climb Mont Blanc (completing a climb that normally takes five days in less than 24 hours), Kilimanjaro in Africa, Russia's Mount Elbrus, Vinson in Antarctica, Denali in Alaska and, of course, Mount Everest. He reached the top of Everest in 2011. By 2013, he was the twelfth Australian to have completed the Seven Summits.
In 2008, the whole family climbed Mount Kosciuszko. I was six years old at the time and Kane was just four. It felt great to be at lunch during primary school and able to say we had climbed the highest mountain in Australia on our holidays, though in reality it's not very extreme! From an early age, adventure was just a regular part of our family life. Dad would come home laden with photographs and stories, and Kane and I thought taking on massive challenges and pushing boundaries was just a normal way to live.CHAPTER 2
At the age of 12, I somehow convinced the rest of the family to go to Nepal and hike to Everest Base Camp together. Base Camp is 5400 metres above sea level and it takes 12 days to get there. The summit of Mount Everest is 8848 metres above sea level and was first climbed by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay in 1953. I'd heard a lot of Dad's stories about climbing Everest and I really wanted to be a part of that world and see the places I had only created the image of in my mind.
Climbing the tallest mountain in the world was never going to be possible for our whole family at the ages of 12 and 10, but trekking to Base Camp was still an incredibly exciting adventure. It was such a magical part of the world to spend time in. Dad arranged for us to trek with a team that included some of his old expedition friends who would continue on in an attempt to summit Mount Everest. Each day we trekked through villages, met some of the beautiful local people and spent the evening playing cards with the sherpas and mingling with other travellers. I can honestly say that the experience changed my life. It made me think about what I could potentially achieve as a young woman in the world of adventure and exploration.
One of the members of our group who was going on to climb to the top of Everest was Vilborg Arna Gissurardóttir – or Villa, as we called her. Villa is from Iceland and she had already skied solo from the coast of Antarctica to the South Pole and had also crossed the Greenland ice cap. As we walked during the day, Villa would share stories with me about her expeditions and answer any and all of my questions. I'm sure I got pretty annoying at times, since she was trying to focus on her attempt at summitting the highest mountain on the planet, but she was very generous with her time and I will be forever in her debt. She had an incredible 'anything is possible' kind of vibe. All her adventures sounded so crazy – but so crazy awesome.
Villa didn't make it to the top of Everest on that trip – there was an avalanche in the Khumbu Icefall and the season was shut down before anyone could attempt a summit. She returned the following year and was caught in the avalanche at Base Camp caused by the terrible earthquake in Nepal. Again, the season was cancelled. But she didn't give up. In 2017 she became the first Icelandic woman to make it to the top of Everest.
Villa's words of encouragement on my trek to Everest Base Camp stayed with me, and after we arrived home I began to create my own ideas of adventures in my imagination.
When I was in year seven, I decided to run for middle school captain. It was my big goal that year and I had my heart set on it. However, I didn't get chosen, but my best friend did. While I was incredibly proud of my friend (and she did an amazing job in the role), I was also quietly really upset at the time. It seems like such a small thing now, but it fired me up and made me determined to find something else to work towards – something that was important to me but which wasn't related to school. Adventure was second nature to me so that was where my focus naturally turned. I decided I wanted to ski to the South Pole, just like Villa had done.
I mentioned the idea to Dad first, and the two of us agreed we should do some more research into it as I really had no idea what I was asking for. Dad spoke to an expedition company he had used many times before, and they assured him it was possible to ski to the South Pole at 14 years of age if one was properly prepared. Armed with that knowledge, we sat down with Mum and Kane and told them what I wanted to attempt to do.
Mum and Dad were, in principle, in support, but with the condition that Dad would have to go with me given my age.
But before I was given the go-ahead, Dad said I had to prove that this was something I was really passionate about and committed to doing. He devised a rigorous training program and my goal was to stick to it. I didn't miss a session.
But life in the suburbs of Melbourne hadn't exactly given me the skills I'd need to ski for weeks on end while dragging a sled in some of the coldest parts of the world. In fact, I had never really skiied before – however, I was willing and excited to learn.
Dad and I organised a trip to New Zealand so we could both learn how to cross-country ski at a place called Snow Farm. Honestly, I hated it at first. I loved the snow, but I felt incredibly uncoordinated the first time I put on skis, and my muscles ached in ways I never expected. I remember watching the experienced skiers and feeling so out of place, but for some reason that only motivated me more.
We then flew by helicopter to the Tasman Glacier in the middle of one of New Zealand's coldest winters. There, Dean Staples – a good friend of Dad's, who had been his guide on Everest (Dean has summitted Everest nine times) – taught me all sorts of polar expedition skills. Dad wanted to see if this really was something I was going to enjoy. He told me later that he'd half expected me to say it was a lot harder than I'd thought it would be, and to give up on the journey to the South Pole.
In temperatures as low as –20°C, I learned to walk on icy slopes in crampons, harness a huge sled to myself and, wearing skis, drag it across the snow for hours. I also learned how to get myself out of a crevasse. Crevasses are dark, seemingly bottomless cracks in the ice that are mostly hidden beneath thin layers of snow. Falling into a crevasse was one of my greatest fears from the beginning; I knew I'd have to learn how to deal with it myself if that was to happen, though, and I was dreading it.
After teaching me some theory and showing me how to tie various knots, Dean created an anchor at the top edge of the biggest crevasse we could find and lowered me in. I was then left in midair, dangling off the side of a crevasse in the middle of nowhere. I had to use two small loops of rope called prusiks, which were attached to the main safety rope on my harness, to slowly inch my way up the ice wall to the ground above me.
Dad walked away at this point. He told me later that it wasn't because he didn't care, but because he knew it was going to be really difficult and frustrating and I needed to find a way to work through it on my own.
It took me almost an hour to get out. I was in tears and shaking the whole time. My hands were numb and aching from the cold. I kept creating scenarios in my head where the rope would snap or the anchor would break loose. I felt like giving up multiple times and yelling to Dean to just lift me out, but I couldn't let myself; I made it out on my own and when I reached the surface, I received the most incredible thrill.
I was hooked.
* * *
Everything we did during our time in New Zealand was completely new to me, but it made me really hyped for the future. I was ready to train hard and do anything else necessary to get to the South Pole at the end of the year.
Back in Melbourne, while we were driving to the gym for another gruelling training session one day, Dad hit me with some bad news. He'd received a phone call from the owner of the expedition company we were going to use for my South Pole trip. The logistics company in Antarctica had advised them they wouldn't allow me to ski to the South Pole at the age of 14 – it was a long-standing rule that the company would not support expeditions for anyone under sixteen. Dad told me he had tried everything he could think of to find a way around it, but their decision was final.
I was gutted. I'd already done so much preparation. Fortunately, we'd kept my plans very secret, so I didn't have to explain to everyone what had happened and could work through my hurt without a thousand questions.
After feeling sorry for myself for a few days, I decided I wasn't going to let this setback wreck my dream. With Mum and Dad's encouragement, I began to consider what other trips I might be able to do before I turned 16 to help me prepare for Antarctica.
After a lot of research, I came up with a new plan for us. First, I would like to ski to the North Pole, which I could do at 14, but at this early stage I hadn't really considered or understood the decisions that needed to be made around starting points for this trip. Then I would like to try to cross Greenland, the second-largest ice cap on the planet. This was a common preparatory expedition for a full-length South Pole trip, so it seemed to make sense before I headed to Antarctica. And if I managed to complete all three expeditions, I would have achieved what is known as the Big Three polar expeditions, or the 'Polar Hat-Trick'.
I now had a new polar dream, and it proved to me once again that everything happens for a reason – that setbacks can be transformed into opportunities.
Having revised my goals, we only had about nine months in which to try to put all the pieces in place to make the North Pole a reality. The North Pole expedition season starts in April each year and it's short – there are only a few weeks when it's considered safe to attempt the journey.
To start with, we needed a guide.
After a few emails and phone calls, we found Eric Philips, the first Australian to ski to the North and South Poles. He had been guiding polar expeditions for 25 years, lived in Tasmania and owned a company called Ice Trek. Eric flew to Melbourne to meet me and get comfortable that a 14-year-old would be up to the task. He signed up to be our guide on the expedition.
We then needed to confirm funding for the expedition.
When Dad had summitted Everest, he and Dean, who was also a cinematographer, had filmed their journey. The resulting documentary, Everest: The Promise, was distributed by a Melbourne film production company, WTFN, and it aired on the Discovery Channel. Dad mentioned my quest to complete the Polar Hat-Trick to the CEO of WTFN, Daryl Talbot, and Daryl asked if I would be interested in allowing a cameraperson to accompany me on my journey. WTFN then took the idea to a few different organisations they thought would be interested in helping with finance and logistics, and National Geographic said yes, and made a significant financial commitment.
Having the financial support of Nat Geo was unbelievable, but, looking back now, I realise that the money was the least valuable piece of my partnership with them – it opened up so many new opportunities for me. I am so grateful to have had such an incredible organisation involved with my journeys.
* * *
For the following months, getting to the North Pole was my focus. I would go to school and continue to do everything a normal 14-year-old would do, but I was also planning to ski more than 150 kilometres over a new and harsh environment. I had to get used to juggling the two worlds I now lived in.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Polar Explorer"
Copyright © 2019 Jade Hameister.
Excerpted by permission of Feiwel and Friends.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Prologue: That Sandwich xvii
How It All Began
Chapter 1 Born to be Brave 3
Chapter 2 Big Dreams 8
The North Pole: Expedition 1 19
Chapter 3 False Starts and Midnight Emergencies 21
Some Cool Facts About … The North Pole 33
Chapter 4 Going North 37
Climate Change in Earth's Polar Regions 55
Chapter 5 Part One Complete 59
That TEDx Talk 67
Greenland Crossing: Expedition 2 77
Chapter 6 Greenland's Warm Welcome 79
Some Cool Facts About … Greenland 85
Chapter 7 A Slow Start 87
Chapter 8 Blizzard Days 96
Chapter 9 The New Normal 109
Chapter 10 The Blur Between 124
The South Pole: Expedition 3 131
Chapter 11 Prepping in Punta 133
South Pole via Kansas Glacier Equipment List 145
Chapter 12 The First 10 Days 151
Some Cool Facts About … Antarctica 167
Chapter 13 Dreaming of a White Christmas 171
Some Cool Facts About … Saving the Planet 189
Chapter 14 Welcome to 2018 193
Chapter 15 The End of This Chapter 205