In 1986 Ann Bancroft traveled 1,000 miles (1,600 km) by dogsled from the Northwest Territories in Canada to the North Pole as the only female member of Will Steger’s International Polar Expedition. This feat earned Ann the distinction of being the first known woman in history to cross the ice to the North Pole.
In 1992 Ann led the first American Women’s East to West crossing of Greenland. The next year she led the American Women´s Expedition to the South Pole. She and three other women skied 660 miles (1,060 km) over 67 days. With this accomplishment, Ann became the first woman in history to cross the ice to both the North and South Poles.
Ann and Norwegian polar explorer Liv Arnesen returned to Antarctica in 2001 and became the first women in history to sail and ski the 1,717 miles (2,747 km) across Antarctica’s landmass. They spent 94 days completing that task.
Ann and Liv continue to travel and explore the polar regions.
Q (Climate Generation): You’ve been exploring the Arctic since the 1980’s. Have you seen any changes in the environment in the time that you’ve been traveling?
A (Ann Bancroft): I have been traveling in the high Arctic for over two decades; most recently in 2005 and 2007. The changes in the ice of the Arctic Ocean are profound. Much more open water and as a result, gear such as sleds and outfits for swimming have been incorporated into our strategy. Polar bears were more prevalent as well. We’ve had conversations with Native people of both Russia and Canada. They have all answered the questions we have asked them in similar ways. When asked if they have witnessed changes in their environment they all seemed to think weather and wildlife have changed.
Q (CG): Have the changes affected your ability to travel on the Arctic Ocean?
A (AB): It is much harder to think about pulling sleds in the Arctic because of the thinness of the ice and shortened season for traditional travel.
Q (CG): What impacts or what effects would you imagine a trend that continued in this direction would have on polar exploration?
A (AB): Pulling sleds as I do will perhaps soon be a thing of the past. People will still be able to attempt the last two degrees of latitude to the North Pole, but from land to the Pole is getting increasingly difficult.
Q (CG): What concerns you most about warming in the Arctic?
A (AB): For me, it is heartbreaking to see changes to an environment that I love—the ice, the animals, the people and culture that is going to be gone for future generations. It is not just the Arctic, however. I am also deeply concerned for what will come to other parts of the world. Human nature appears to have a difficult time dealing with challenges that seem far away.
Q (CG): What influence or effect do you hope your expeditions will have?
A (AB): My basic hope for our expeditions is to move people into engagement. I want people to feel empowered to take the small steps that, just as in an expedition, will help us reach our goal and make the changes we need to implement.
Q (CG): Are there lessons or inspirations individuals and communities can take from your experiences?
A (AB): The expedition is a great metaphor for the steps we need to take to begin the changes needed. It is a good way and a good place to ignite people’s spirits to risk to take the first step.