Trailblazer, innovator, groundbreaker, trendsetter: all synonymous but yet, seemingly inadequate when it comes to describing the five exceptional women we have highlighted below. While many of us thirst for adventure, some of us living it only through the books we’ve read or movies we’ve seen, these women have lived it repeatedly, becoming living legends in their own right! So with much fanfare, we proudly present to you 5 trailblazing female adventurers/explorers!
After living in Kenya for 2 years as a child as well as leading her cousins on backyard wilderness expeditions, it’s no surprise that Ann Bancroft grew into a woman to hold many firsts in the world of exploration. Sometimes affectionately referred to as ‘Wander Woman’, she became the first woman to reach the North Pole on foot and by sled in 1986. She further went on to become the first woman to cross the South Pole as well as the first woman to ski across Greenland and Antarctica. In 1992-1993, she created history again by leading the world’s first all-female expedition to the South Pole. Within the last two decades, many of her excursions have been undertaken to bring awareness to environmental issues such as climate change, proper waste disposal and the importance of clean waterways. She currently co-owns an exploration company, Bancroft Arnesen Explore and even established the Ann Bancroft Foundation, both of whose mandates is to encourage and promote exploration and adventuring amongst families and individuals.
This woman is without question, a living legend! Some people simply reach for the stars but Valentina Tereshkova went one step further and flew among them! Hailing from Russia, she made history by becoming the first woman to go into outer space, a position she bested more than 400 applicants for. In 1963 Tereshkova successfully launched and single-handedly piloted the Vostok 6, orbiting the Earth 48 times in 3 days in space. She was a certainly a giant amongst men logging more flight time in that single trip than the combined times of all the American astronauts who had flown up until that point. Of course, for holding such an auspicious component of history she has been decorated, honored and celebrated with awards and accolades too numerous to mention here (but they do include honorary citizenship in over 15 countries, her own minor planet and a crater named after her on the far side of the Moon). In 2000, she was designated Woman of the Century, receiving the award of the same name by the International Woman of the Year Association.
Before she became famous for running almost 20,000 miles around the world, Rosie Swale-Pope sailed the 30,000 miles around world on a 30 foot catamaran with her first husband and young daughter in tow starting in 1971 and ending in 1973. Ten years after the completion of her family sailing expedition, she sailed solo across the Atlantic, navigated only by the stars, on a 17-foot boat. Becoming the fourth woman in history to sail alone to America, she created a record by completing the 4,800 mile journey in 70 days. One year year, she would find herself trekking 3,000 miles through Chile on horseback. In the late 1980’s she took up marathon running, participating in marathons across the globe in places such as the Sahara Desert, Cuba and Nepal just to name a few. However, after the loss of her second husband to pancreatic cancer in 2002, she decided to run around the world to bring awareness and raise money for this cause. Five years and 19,900 miles later, she successfully raised £250,000 for several charitable causes, an endeavour which earned her a Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE), presented to her by Queen Elizabeth II. To date, she has 6 published books, all of which documents her many adventures around the globe.
One of the most prominent people to hail from Ireland, Dervla Murphy is best known for her 1965 travel book Full Tilt: Ireland to India With A Bicycle. As the name suggests, it is a chronicle of her journey through places like Europe, Afghanistan and India on a bicycle, often times alone, without luxuries and highly dependent on the kindness of strangers. As a travel writer for over 40 years, she has amassed quite a few stamps in her passport, either country-hopping with her daughter in tow or moving unaccompanied through far-away lands such as Romania and Siberia. What’s even more remarkable is that she experienced everything from wolf attacks, robbery and even threats from Ethiopian soldiers and lived to tell it in over 20 publications, many of which are now considered to be travel classics. In 2010, she was the subject of an award-winning documentary which further shone the spotlight on her prolific life.
Although we already have the first woman to reach both the North and South poles on our list, no adventuring trailblazers list would be complete without mentioning Barbara Hillary. This woman is determination personified, not only becoming the first woman of colour to go to both Poles, but she simultaneously became the oldest to do so!. With 25% less breathing capacity due to lung cancer and $25,000 she raised to fund the expedition, she arrived at the North Pole on April 23, 2007, becoming the oldest person to do so at age 75. On January 6, 2011, she repeated her record, this time on the South Pole, becoming the first African-American woman as well as the oldest person on record to stand here at 79 years of age. Following the completion of her expeditions to the Poles, Hillary has gone to have an illustrious career as a motivational speaker and community activist, founding the Averne Action Association, a group dedicated to the improvement of life in the New York communities of Averne and Rockaway.
It is, without question, an honour and privilege to have these women walk amongst us in our lifetime. Quite simply put, they are our “She-roes”, levelling the playing field and continuously proving that when there is a will, there will always be way regardless of age, race or background. For the final instalment of this series we will feature our Top 5 women making waves in the world of adventuring so be sure to check our blog again next week!