“It was brutal – but I never gave up”
arlier this year, when Jade Hameister served up the ultimate comeback to her internet trolls, she also became an accidental feminist icon to a new generation. In 2016, before she embarked on an expedition to the South Pole, the polar explorer was met with a barrage of offensive, misogynistic comments on social media. A string of men suggested that, as a woman, her time would be better spent elsewhere: they told her to “go make a sandwich”.
She didn’t take the bait. “I just laughed,” Hameister tells Stellar. “The comments didn’t mean a lot to me. I think those men, like anyone sitting behind a computer or whatever, must be pretty insecure about themselves.” Yet in January this year, as she stood in the snow at the South Pole, having completed yet another world-record-breaking trek, the perfect rebuttal presented itself. Hameister shared a photo of herself on Instagram, ham and cheese sandwich in hand, with an invitation for her naysayers to come and enjoy it – if they could ski the 600km to reach it.
Now, eight months on, Hameister prepares to tackle her biggest challenge to date: finishing school. Considering the 17-year-old already has three world records and an Australian Geographic Society’s Young Adventurer Of The Year title under her belt, in comparison completing her last two years of schooling would seem like a piece of cake. But, Hameister says, “I wasn’t used to the new routine at all. I found it hard being back in suburbia – the noise, the business and all the people. Out on
the ice, there are no other people and there’s just no noise. It’s silent. I struggle a bit with school now. Before these expeditions, school was my top priority. I was A+ in every subject but, now I’m back, I just completely lack the motivation. I’m working on it, though.”
Hameister is reluctant to call her childhood in Melbourne atypical, despite the fact her father Paul is a renowned adventurer. “I guess there was a side [to our family] that wasn’t normal, or that was different to my friends’ lives,” she says. “Seeing Dad come home from climbing mountains or whatever, hearing stories, seeing photos… [Adventuring] has always been part of my life, so I think it just made sense that I started doing the same sort of things.”
When she was 12, Hameister hiked with her family to Mount Everest Base Camp – not exactly your standard family holiday. By 14, she knew she was ready for her next adventure – to the North Pole. So Hameister set off with a small team, including a National Geographic videographer and her father, on an expedition that made her the youngest person in history to ski to the North Pole. Last June, Hameister became the youngest woman ever to complete the 550km crossing of the Greenland ice cap unsupported and unassisted (with no food drops and without vehicles or kites).
And in January this year, Hameister became the youngest person to have ever completed the Polar Hat Trick, the youngest person to ski from the coast of Antarctica to the South Pole unsupported and unassisted, and the first woman in history to set a new route to the South Pole unsupported and unassisted.
Pulling a 100kg sled of supplies for 37 days in -50oc temperatures through blizzards, across crevasses and up glaciers does not sound easy. And Hameister admits as much: “You’re always in pain and you’re always struggling. Every day, at some point, I would hate it and not want to be there. It was brutal. But it never once crossed my mind that I would ever leave – I didn’t plan on giving up. It’s addictive.
“And I know that sounds really stupid because it is just horrible, and I can say that now: it is horrible. And when you’re out there, you just want to be back home, but as soon as it’s over, you miss it. I miss the pain, being out of my comfort zone. Being in that environment. Now, I’d do a lot to be back there.”
Hameister documented her daily thoughts and journey in a diary, initially to “have something to keep for the future, to remind me of those memories and feelings”. They went on to form the basis of her debut book My Polar Dream.
Back amongst the grind of city life has made Hameister more conscious of how rare it is to experience those pristine Arctic environments firsthand. Now she has a new mission – to spread the word about how climate change is affecting the polar regions. “I’m part of only a handful of people from my generation who have been there,” Hameister tells Stellar. “I was unsure about global warming before these expeditions. But now, having seen it, it’s like, yep, it’s happening. So I feel I have a responsibility to do something about it.” Drawing on her experiences as an opportunity to educate others has proven to be one of the most rewarding aspects of her adventures, and it is a job she takes seriously. Hameister has publicly urged young women to celebrate their skills rather than their looks, even delivering a TEDX talk on the subject in 2016. She’s determined to prove that women can do anything (and more) than their male counterparts, sandwichmaking included. “Growing up, Mum and Dad always instilled that my brother and I were equal, and could both do whatever we wanted,” she says. “Our world [puts us] under so much pressure to look a certain way and be a certain way. And it’s a much better way to live if you focus on what you can do, rather than how you appear.” My Polar Dream by Jade Hameister (Pan Macmillan, $29.99) is out on Tuesday.