Monday, 08 August 2022

I want to be first woman to walk both poles solo

A WOMAN from Hambleden is bidding to become the first female to walk solo to both poles.

A WOMAN from Hambleden is bidding to become the first female to walk solo to both poles.

Rosie Stancer, an experienced explorer, completed the journey to the South Pole in 2004 and attempted to reach the North Pole in 2007 but had to be airlifted off the ice just 89 nautical miles from her goal because of the terrible conditions.

Now she is going to try again to complete the Arctic challenge that has only ever been achieved by seven men.

Mrs Stancer, who lives in Rotten Row with husband William and son Jock, 11, says: “I just missed it last time so I’m going back on unfinished business.

“I will be trekking for 65 days. When I first get out there and feel the cold I will be thinking, ‘I can’t believe I’m going to do this’ but I will get used to it.”

She will have to cope with temperatures as low as -60C when she sets off from the northern tip of Canada in March next year. She will be walking, climbing, skiing and swimming as she attempts to go beyond the 326 miles she managed last time.

“That year is now recognised as having some of the worst weather conditions in history so things were slightly against me,” says Mrs Stancer. “Then again, you never know what the Arctic is going to throw at you.

“I’m going to go fast and light because you have less time to get there as the ice is way thinner and therefore tends to break up much more in the storms. It’s a bit of a vicious circle because the thinner the ice the more storms there are and more open water and rubble there is. The more open water there is, the more it pulls in storms.”

Mrs Stancer, who is 5ft 2in, says “ice quakes” create walls as high as 60ft, which she will have to climb. She will have to swim in temperatures of about -3C wearing a thermal suit as the ice begins to melt.

She says: “You are in a race against time to get to the North Pole before the summer ice melts. I always have in my head a rough equation of how quickly the water is going to freeze over so I know whether it’s worth waiting or whether I swim it.

“I do enjoy having to solve and overcome problems and obstacles on my own, although it’s very onerous having to make all the decisions yourself and there’s a myriad of decisions every day.

“This is especially because the Arctic is so much busier than Antarctica. There’s so much going on during the day because the ice is very violent and full of movement.You need to listen to sounds in the ice and look at different cloud formations and changes in the weather.

“Navigation is important because while you are trying to move towards the North Pole the ice you are on might be pulling you in a different direction. It’s very noisy and unpredictable. Every morning, the only thing I know for sure is that a different challenge will be thrown at me.

“I spend most of my time totally terrified but there’s nothing more satisfying than having known I’ve got through another day and am closer to the North Pole. It’s amazing what you can get through when you’re really determined.” Mrs Stancer, who will be conducting physiological research during her expedition, will combat her loneliness by talking to the “characters” in her equipment.

Her swim suit is named Ursula after the actress Ursula Andress, who is best known for coming out of the sea in a bikini in the James Bond film Dr No. One of her two sledges is called Priscilla after the bus in her favourite stage show Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.

She says: “There’s a lot of chatter going on from me and it’s very reassuring to be able to talk to my chattels. I develop a personal relationship with them because every little item is mission-critical. You take a very limited amount because of what you’re pulling so everything has to be multi-functional and is precious to you.

“It’s natural psychology domination that you have communication with objects because there’s nothing else to talk to. You can swear at them when things are testing and you can have a laugh with them. When things are really bleak and despairing I can give my poles a good thrashing.”

Mrs Stancer says her husband, a marketing director, and Jock are fully behind her. “They are a very good safety net and stop me from taking any unnecessary risks,” she says. “If I’m about to take a risk I will think very carefully about the pros and cons of taking that step and I will measure it up against my family.

“I wouldn’t go if I didn’t have the support of my son and it has to be his willing support,” she says. “Jock doesn’t see the expedition as an external threat and he’s fully involved in it. He manages the timeline at school and uses it in his curriculum, such as in geography, history and science.”

Adventure is in the family’s blood. Mrs Stancer’s grandfather Earl Granville was chosen for Captain Scott’s penultimate exhibition to Antarctica in 1911-12 but was dropped because he was too tall for the tents.

Her husband’s grandfather Sir James Wordie embarked on the 1914-1917 Trans-Antarctic Expedition led by Sir Ernest Shackleton.

However, Mrs Stancer was not aware of the family history when she first became an explorer.

She recalls: “I heard a radio interview about a selection process for women to join the first ever expedition to the North Pole back in the Nineties and something inside me lit up. I was determined to get on to that team. The selection process took a whole year but I got on to the team along with 19 other women and it was a triumph.”

She was part of the first British all-female team to reach the North Pole in 1997 using guides and two years later, she was one of five women who reached the South Pole without guides. It was on the latter expedition that Mrs Stancer decided to go solo.

She recalls: “We all had our own tasks and roles and I found myself admiring the skill sets. I thought, ‘why shouldn’t I be able to do it, why don’t I set myself the challenge of doing what I’m most frightened of, which is doing it alone, and intensifying the whole experience?’”

Her 2004 solo expedition to the South Pole was a “tough, long challenge” as she pulled a sledge twice her weight more than 620 miles.

She reached the pole in 43 days 23 hours, breaking the original record by seven days, but was still narrowly defeated in the race to the pole by Fiona Thornewill.

Mrs Stancer says that finding out she was second best was the worst feeling she has ever had. “Those last six miles or so were the hardest, most gruelling, painful miles of the expedition because after all I had been through it was with such a heavy heart,” she says.

By comparison, her North Pole trek was a “triumph” despite the fact she had to abandon it when pilots said they wouldn’t be able to pick her up if she continued due to the ice cracking.

“It’s a big deal to me this time going back and finishing the business,” she says.

“It is more significant in that it’s not necessarily a world first but a world last.The ice in the Arctic is thinning and breaking up with such alacrity even the ice which is several hundred years old is breaking up. I think that quite soon people won’t be able to get to the North Pole the way I’m doing it because the ice will be too broken up.”

l Mrs Stancer, who is sponsored by Mars, is raising money for the Special Olympics, a sports organisation for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. To donate, call Char Harrison on 01206 330180 or email

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