Cold

Popular Science - - CONTENTS - ANN DANIELS,

Twenty-five years ago, I never dreamed of ex­plor­ing the Arc­tic—I worked as a bank clerk in Eng­land. Then I saw the chance of a life­time: a clas­si­fied ad seek­ing “or­di­nary” women to join the first all-fe­male team to the North Pole. The trip re­quired half a mil­lion dol­lars in to­tal, and the two or­ga­niz­ers thought am­a­teurs would get more fund­ing. Of course, no one was or­di­nary ex­cept for me—they were all out­door­swomen and moun­taineers. I’d never even skied.

Af­ter more than a year of train­ing, the ex­pe­di­tion be­gan, and I stepped onto mov­ing ice for the first time. One day, as we were trav­el­ing along the edge of some thin ice, it cracked. No­body saw me plunge into the wa­ter or heard me shout.

When you get wet in tem­per­a­tures of mi­nus 22°F, you de­velop frost­bite in min­utes. I grabbed the near­est chunk of ice and al­most hauled my­self out, but it broke— twice. I knew I had only one more chance. For­tu­nately, I man­aged to pull my­self onto a ledge on my third try.

Then I had to roll in the snow. This seems very odd, but the pow­der ab­sorbs mois­ture, which can cause hy­pother­mia. By then my team­mates had re­turned. To pro­tect me from frost­bite, they took off my boots, thawed my bare feet against their skin, and wrapped them in a pair of dry socks. I had to put my frozen boots back on, but I stuck each foot in a plas­tic bag first, to keep my toes dry.

Al­though it was bru­tal, I fell in love with the Arc­tic on that first trip. Now I ski out to take mea­sure­ments and col­lect sam­ples for sci­en­tists who don’t have the skills to trek to the North Pole them­selves. Last year, I put track­ers in the ice to see where it’s go­ing and how quickly it’s mov­ing. This is im­por­tant to me be­cause over the years, I’ve seen the Arc­tic dis­ap­pear with my own eyes. I feel like I’m help­ing this amaz­ing place that af­fects the whole planet.

Noth­ing as scary as that fall through the ice has hap­pened to me since, un­less you count the solo ex­pe­di­tion dur­ing which a po­lar bear stalked me for three days.

As told to Anna Brooks / il­lus­tra­tion by Rafael Alvarez

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