Melbourne's Teen Polar Explorer Takes on Greenland

Being a teenage girl can be tough. Young women are constantly bombarded with messages telling them they need to look a certain way, dress a certain way, be a certain way. Sixteen-year-old Melbournian Jade Hameister is trying her best not to pay attention.

“There is too much emphasis on chasing perfection,” she says.

Jade is chasing something else instead. This year she hopes to fulfill her dream of becoming the world’s youngest person to complete the ‘Polar Hat Trick’ – a feat only a handful of people have accomplished. By the end of 2017, Jade is planning to have completed a three-pronged mission to ski to the North Pole, cross the world’s largest icecap in Greenland and ski to the South Pole.

She is already two-thirds of the way. In April 2016, at age 14, Jade completed the first stage of her mission by skiing 150km over shifting polar sea ice to the North Pole. In doing so, she became the youngest person in history to ski to the North Pole from anywhere outside 89 degrees.

Jade trains all over Victoria, pulling tyres along the beach at Lorne and along the Kokoda Track to mimic the action of pulling a sled – that weighs as much as she does – over the ice.  

In May this year, Jade set out on the second stage of her mission, to traverse 540km across the world’s largest icecap in Greenland, unsupported and unassisted.

“I was very committed to trying to finish by day 27, which we did, because I wanted to finish aged 15,” says Jade. She turned sixteen the day after they completed their journey, on June 5th.

Teen polar explorer Jade Hameister after becoming the youngest woman in history to traverse the Greenland icecap, the day before her sixteenth birthday. 

Teen polar explorer Jade Hameister after becoming the youngest woman in history to traverse the Greenland icecap, the day before her sixteenth birthday. 

She made the trip on skis, dragging a 70kg sled containing 30 days of supplies. To make things even harder, the weather was not always on Jade’s side. Her group had to delay their start date due to rain, and stop for two days during the trek to shelter and dry out their gear after being soaked in a blizzard. 

“The most surprising part was how warm it was,” says Jade, but this was not necessarily a good thing. “The warm weather also meant the ice was very slushy, which makes dragging sleds very difficult (they glide much easier on hard ice) and meant that we were sweating lots in our polar clothing and boots. Our boots are rated to -100°c, so in the heat of the day our feet were literally cooking – which meant lots of blisters.”

The group also had a close run-in with one of the locals, coming across the fresh tracks of a mother polar bear and her cub. They were 150km inland from the coast at the time (“where there isn’t much food, except us!”), so they spent a few nervous days setting up perimeters around the camp to make sure they were alerted to any unwelcome intruders. 

“Thankfully we never actually saw the bear.”

Jade had to drag a 70kg sled of gear behind her for the 540km journey. 

Jade had to drag a 70kg sled of gear behind her for the 540km journey. 

The trials, setbacks and hard work were all worth it, however, as Jade was able to complete her mission and spend some time in “one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.” 

It is spending time out on the ice, and meeting the local people, that has solidified Jade’s view of our changing planet. Part of the generation that will inherit the effects of climate change, Jade has started using her firsthand experience of the most fragile part of the planet to raise awareness about the effects of rising temperatures.  

“From what I have seen, experienced and researched, and the scientists and indigenous people I have interviewed, global warming is very real.” She says, “Our beautiful and fragile polar regions are disappearing fast.”

Jade now has her sights set on her next and final step: the South Pole. In December, Jade will ski 1,170km over unexplored territory, which may take up to 60 days, depending on the weather, to reach her final goal. 

“South Pole will be next level. We are attempting a new route from the coast, so it will be true exploration.” 

#bravenotperfect “If we choose bravery over perfection, then we give ourselves permission to fail or look foolish and we try anyway.” – Jade Hameister, 16

#bravenotperfect “If we choose bravery over perfection, then we give ourselves permission to fail or look foolish and we try anyway.” – Jade Hameister, 16

Jade’s mission is not just about crossing the ice. She is trying (and succeeding) to show that young women should not just be valued by how they look, but by what they do. She has been pushed out of her comfort zone, and now Jade is embracing being a role model for other girls who may be afraid to give something new a try.

“We need to shift the focus for young women from how we appear to the possibilities of what we can do and contribute to this world.”

Keep an eye on Jade as she heads towards the final stage of her mission in December:
www.jadehameister.com / @jadehameister


Ella Kelly

Ella is a PhD Candidate at the University of Melbourne, where she spends a lot of time thinking about why some quolls don’t eat cane toads (if only she could ask them!). She also enjoys talking and writing about science, and would ultimately love to have an actual impact on the conservation of Australia’s biodiversity.

You can find her on Twitter at @ecology_ella.

All images courtesy of Jade Hameister.

Jade Hameister: Melbourne’s Teenage Polar Explorer

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

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