In April, Melbourne teenager Jade Hameister posted a selfie on Instagram almost every day. She described the weather, the food she’d eaten, her current mood and her location. On the surface, it sounds like almost any young person’s Instagram feed. But in her pictures, Jade is squinting against the cold, wrapped up in thick layers, her face framed by a fur-lined hood. She’s not just dealing with the onset of a Melbourne winter. As the temperatures range around -25ºC, Jade’s mood evolves from ‘tired’ to ‘exhausted’ and then, on Day 10 of her expedition, to ‘pumped’. 24 hours later, Jade Hameister became the youngest person in history to reach the North Pole.
The Hameisters have always been an adventurous family. Jade’s father Paul became the twelfth Australian to climb the Seven Summits, and Jade conquered Mt Kosciuszko with him at the age of 6. By 12 she had trekked to Everest Base Camp, partly a wish to ‘go and see where Dad had been’. It was on this trip that Jade met Vilborg Arna, the first Icelandic person to solo ski over 1100km from the coast of Antarctica to the South Pole. Vila inspired Jade to take on her own adventure. She decided to become the youngest person in history to conquer the Polar Hat Trick: skiing to the North Pole, the South Pole, and across the Greenland glacier.
With her dad at her side, Jade set her plans in motion. In 2016, to trek to the North Pole from Barneo, the temporary ice base established by a Russian team every year from which adventurers can make the trek. A year later, to then ski 540km across the Greenland ice cap, coast to coast. Finally, she aims to follow in Vila’s footsteps by skiing from the Antarctic coast to the South Pole, a journey of 1,170km. This “Hat Trick” would see Jade become the youngest woman in history to ski across Greenland, and the youngest person – ever – to ski to the Poles.
Walking along the beach at Lorne, you might be surprised to find a teenage girl dragging tyres along the sand. It’s one of the ways that Jade trains for her polar expeditions while based in our very different climate, preparing to ski pulling a sled of her own bodyweight carrying all her equipment and supplies. ‘We were pulling sleds at the beach and in our backyard, and also up the Thousand Steps along a track,’ she explains. The Hameisters have always made the most of the Victorian landscape to prepare for adventures abroad, climbing Mt Bogong together before their Base Camp trek.
Still, nothing in Australia could prepare Jade for the alien world she would enter in April. ‘The environment was pretty extreme and surreal,’ she says. ‘But I think the training that we’d done was pretty good.’ It took longer than expected to get going, with cracks in the sea ice making it difficult for the Barneo base to be established. At one point it looked as though the base wouldn’t be set up in time for the expedition to reach the Pole. The team, made up of Jade, her father Paul, polar guide Eric Philips and cinematographer Peter Nyquist, had to adjust their plans to cover over 150km in just 11 days.
Life on the ice settled into a routine: getting up early to make breakfast and melt snow for drinking water, skiing for 6 to 7 hours to cover approximately 15km each day, and back to snow-melting and cooking in the evenings, when Jade would post her Instagram updates. When asked if she ever thought it might be too much, Jade admitted to ‘a few extremely tough moments – but I think the fact that we’d worked that hard over a year, I didn’t want to give up.’
The landscape was not one of featureless white, as you might imagine, but made up of ‘lots of rubble and compression zones where the sea ice collides to create one to three metre-obstacles that you have to ski over.’ While the establishment of the Barneo base had been more difficult than in previous years, such obstacles were apparently more common, too. At one point the team reached a stretch of open water, which they crossed by putting their sleds together to make a raft, then pulling each other across. “That was pretty cool,” Jade laughs. While no wildlife made itself known to them, they did come across some polar bear tracks in the snow.
‘It was all absolutely incredible but I think my favourite moment was actually making it to the Pole. That was pretty special,’ says Jade. There is no permanent landmark to indicate the place – only their GPS could tell them that they’d reached their goal. As the sea ice is constantly shifting, Jade and her team were only on top of the world for a short time. ‘Once we got there and set up our camp we would have drifted off the pole in like half an hour,’ she explains.
One history-making expedition later, Jade is home in Melbourne, settling back into the routine of school and homework like any other teenager – except for her polar training. Greenland is next on her list and she’s not taking the challenge lightly. Her Instagram feed is still testament to her determination: CrossFit, weight lifting, and out dragging her sled again.
It is truly inspiring to see a young woman raised in Melbourne who has such love for the outdoors. Whether she’s dragging a sled in the Dandenong Ranges or across Greenland’s glacier, Jade is clearly connected to the landscape and passionate about exploring it. She hopes to pass on the inspiration she felt meeting Vila to young women everywhere through her adventures. ‘One of the big things I wanted to get out of this trip was to inspire young girls in particular to chase their dreams and become more fit and healthy,’ Jade explains. ‘Dreams that are unique to them and not for other people.’
Alex Mullarky is a writer and environmentalist from the UK who has called Melbourne home since 2014. She is a graduate of English Literature and is particularly interested in the connection between language and landscape.
You can find her on Twitter at @saesteorra.