Fearless Women and their Formidable Adventuresby Yash Saboo July 27 2018, 2:28 pm Estimated Reading Time: 4 mins, 41 secs
As normal as it would sound in the present times, women indulging in activities such as climbing to the top of the world’s highest peaks, diving into the ocean’s depths, and skiing across both poles were widely discouraged in the past. Sexist comments were thrown on them, they were told to stay where they belong, in the "kitchen". But some women refused to be deterred by their gender and continued their formidable adventures.
Meet the remarkable women, who tackled some of the world's harshest landscapes—blazing a trail for the next generation of explorers.
Ann Bancroft celebrates a successful expedition to the North Pole. (Photograph by Jim Brandenburg, National Geographic Creative)
Ann Bancroft, Polar Explorer
Ann Bancroft’s life is distinguished by the number of firsts she has achieved. In 1986, she became the first woman in history to cross the ice to the North Pole, traveling 1,000 miles by dogsled from Canada’s Northwest Territories. In 1992–93, she headed an all-woman team to the South Pole, becoming the first female to cross the ice to both the North and South Poles. Bancroft also led the first American women’s team to transit Greenland and teamed up with Norwegian explorer Liv Arnesen to become the first two women to sail and ski across the Antarctic landmass.
But this was not plain sailing for her. Although Bancroft received constant tutoring and attended summer school each year, she continued to fall behind. Even worse, she was being pulled out of activities like art, music and sports in order to get extra help in academics. Yet, she went on to become one of the world’s preeminent polar explorers.
She has received numerous awards for her accomplishments and public service. She helps women and girls throughout the world pursue their dreams through grants provided by the Ann Bancroft Foundation, and through Bancroft Arnesen Explore offers educational curricula aimed at inspiring young people to achieve their individual goals and fulfil their personal potential. A former special education teacher, Bancroft is an instructor for Wilderness Inquiry, which provides outdoor adventures for disabled and able-bodied individuals. She is also a spokesperson for organizations including Wilderness Inquiry, the Learning Disabilities Association, and Girl Scouts of the U.S.A.
Myrtle Simpson smiles for a photo. (Photograph by Dr. Hugh M. Simpson, National Geographic Creative)
Myrtle Simpson, Skier
She was the mum who visited the Arctic Ocean with a six-month-old baby and later took her young family on the start of an expedition to the North Pole. But as she looks back over an extraordinary life of exploration, 87-year-old Myrtle Simpson says she was always at her happiest cuddling up to her four children.
Myrtle, who was awarded the prestigious Polar Medal earlier this year for her Arctic exploits, said: “The happiest I have ever been was in a little tent with the kids. When you hear people wailing now about how bad everything is, I would say: ‘Take your family and go camping’.”
Back in the ’60s, Myrtle’s extreme travels with her young family attracted criticism, but she says attitudes towards taking children on far-flung adventures are beginning to change. She, however, is adamant she will not change her active lifestyle and, in her ninth decade, still goes skiing.
Miriam O’Brien sits at the top of a spire in the Chamonix Aiguilles after climbing the ridge with a camera in her teeth (Photograph by Mrs. Dean Peabody, National Geographic Creative)
Miriam O’Brien, Mountain Climber
Miriam O’Brien possessed that innate drive to push herself physically and emotionally for no reward other than the summit. But according to the rules of the day, she “needed” a man to show her where that summit was. This struck her as a load of total bullshit.
Each summer O’Brien added new summits to her growing resume: the first-ever traverse from the Aiguilles du Diable to Mont Blanc du Tacul, a climb requiring five separate summits each above 4,000 meters; the third-ever ascent of the northeast face of the Finsteraarhorn, the famous peak’s most difficult route. These summits earned the respect of the best Italian and Swiss guides, while her kind and generous attitude gained the friendship of the old men who ran the alpine huts.
Kaltenbrunner rests after her summit of K2. (Photograph by Tommy Heinrich, National Geographic Creative)
Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner, Mountain Climber
She was the first woman to summit all fourteen 8,000-meter peaks without oxygen: Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner. In 2016, she was awarded the ISPO Trophy for her life’s work. The K2 is her fateful mountain. It took the extreme mountain climber seven attempts before she finally reached the summit on August 23, 2011.
Just a year earlier, the now 47-year-old was anchored in the ice slope, forced to watch as Sweden’s Fredrik Ericsson, a good friend, fell 1,000 meters into the depths. The K2 was the last of a total of fourteen eight-thousanders on earth, all of which the Austrian native conquered.
"There are only 14 eight-thousanders, and I’ve been able to summit them all. So the subject is completed for me. I don’t want to do any repetitions. I’m very happy that I’ve been able to return safe and sound each time. There are also very lovely five, six and seven-thousanders that I’d still like to pick up," she said in an interview.