Travel News

The schoolgirl adventurer who trekked across Greenland

Jade Hameister has ski-ed to the North Pole and crossed the icy wilds of Greenland. Now, she is ready to ski to the South Pole.

For almost a month, on skis nine hours a day, Jade Hameister dragged an 80kg sled across the icy wilds of Greenland, every part of her body screaming with pain. She had persistent nosebleeds, blisters on her feet, and the beginnings of frostbite on her backside.

Every muscle ached, yet she battled on through sometimes ferocious winds, at one stage climbing over the chaotic surface of a steep, slippery ice fall, all the while hauling precious supplies heavier than herself.

“You just have to keep going,” says Jade, back in her family’s bayside Melbourne home after becoming the youngest woman to trek across Greenland, covering 550km in 27 days. “Out there you have nothing, just that voice inside your head – and you can actually learn from it if you listen to it.”

That inner voice, which continually told her to “just do it”, has become louder and more powerful the deeper she gets into her polar mission.

The goal? To become the youngest person in history to pull off the polar hat-trick, skiing to the North Pole, crossing Greenland (the world’s second-largest ice cap after Antarctica), and skiing to the South Pole.

In April 2016, at the age of 14, Jade knocked off part one of her quest – an 11-day, 150km expedition – becoming the youngest person to ski to the North Pole from anywhere outside the last degree, then completed the Greenland crossing this year on June 4, the day before her 16th birthday.

The records are nice, she says, but they are not her main motivation. So why do it?

“Because it’s epic,” she says, “because it’s something that I love. As much as I can hate it at times, at the end you just want to be back there… It’s adventure.”

Among the Greenland highlights were breathtaking sunsets and one surreal morning when she and her team were enveloped in low cloud, unable to see a metre beyond them. And despite the gruelling conditions, she relished spending hours on end with only her thoughts.

At home, there are too many distractions: “I don’t watch TV,” she says, “but social media is the killer for me.”

Jade’s dad, Paul, who joined her on the trip, along with a guide and a two-person National Geographic camera team, witnessed an extraordinary coming-of-age in his daughter.

“Kids of Jade’s generation just don’t get the time to think,” says Paul, a successful businessman and only the 12th Australian to climb the Seven Summits, including Everest.

“There’s constant stimulation – every minute there’s a bloody Snapchat coming through or some kind of ping on their phone. Just to watch your child move away from that influence and into a raw environment where they’ve got to work out who they are and deal with real stuff is really rewarding.”

Like most teenagers, he says, Jade isn’t too receptive to parental advice, but the camera assistant on the trip was Heath Jamieson, an ex-special forces officer in the Australian Army who had served in Afghanistan, been shot through the neck and told he’d never walk again – pretty much the personification of tough. He gave Jade some valuable tips on endurance.

“When he’s struggling, he’ll smile or make himself laugh – and it works,” says Jade.

“He’ll tell himself that he’s strong and he can do it. He also takes himself to another place and tries to forget about everything.”

Jade had her own revelations as well. “You have that much time to think, you learn so much about yourself,” she says.

“When I was struggling, I’d tell myself to go a bit faster and a bit harder, even if I thought I was about to give up. You realise that what you once thought were your limits aren’t your limits – and then you realise there really aren’t any limits.”

Determined to reach her goal and willing to suck up any hardship to get there, Jade has only grown in her father’s estimation.

“There’s no way I can look at Jade the same way any more because on these expeditions she has to be an independent, self-motivated, equal team member – you can’t carry her because you’re so busy struggling just to look after yourself and survive,” says Paul.

“She would often be quiet and you knew that she was dying on the inside, but not once did she complain.”

At night, the mercury dipped below -20 degrees, but ironically it was the heat in Greenland that caused havoc. Jade and Paul wore gear designed to withstand -100 degree cold, but daytime temperatures hovered unseasonably around zero, which meant their feet sweated and blistered and the daily 25km treks were hard-going.

The heat also meant the ice had receded at the start of the journey and the team had to join forces to shuttle each of their weighty sleds across more than a kilometre of dirt and rock before they reached the ice, costing them valuable time.

The heat in Greenland, coupled with the ice breaking up last year at the North Pole, has left Jade in no doubt about climate change.

“I’m a big believer,” says Jade, the focus of a National Geographic documentary that will chronicle her Greenland and South Pole treks and her growing understanding of global warming. “Because I’ve seen it firsthand, I know it’s happening.”

Jade has become a refreshing new role model for her generation. In her TEDx talk last year, she implored fellow young women to dream big and to ignore society’s messages “to be less – to eat less, to wear less, to be skinnier, to shrink my ambitions to fit in, to wait for my Prince Charming to come and save me”.

“I feel like people are always bringing girls down nowadays, telling them they can’t, or they do something ‘like a girl’ – and that’s supposed to be offensive,” she says.

“If someone has a goal they should try to achieve it, especially young girls – and I think it’s important to share that message.”

Every night in Greenland, thanks to a satellite modem, Jade would send a photo and an Instagram post home to keep followers up to date with her progress.

At the end of each day, she and her dad would shovel snow and melt it on a stove in their tent for three hours to make water, then it was dinner, journal writing, and the all-important call home to mum Vanessa and younger brother Kane in Melbourne.

For Vanessa, it was a chance to gauge her daughter’s mental state, which is always her number one concern. Jade was invariably upbeat, but that didn’t stop the anxiety.

After a month of fitful sleep, constant phone checking and the daily worry, Vanessa could finally relax when the other half of her family arrived home.

“Even though I had a snoring husband beside me, I could actually sleep,” she says, with a laugh. “I’m absolutely broken. Very happy, but broken.”

Pottering in the kitchen while Jade talks to The Australian Women’s Weekly at the dining table, Vanessa pipes up when her daughter fails to rule out a future crack at Everest.

She reminds her daughter of the deal they made when the family trekked to Everest base camp when Jade was just 12 years old.

“I said, ‘We’ll go as long as you don’t want to climb Mount Everest,’” says Vanessa – and so begins a bit of minor mother-daughter argy-bargy.

“Well, who knows?” replies Jade. “Maybe one day. Once I’m 18 I can do what I want.” Ruling a line under the discussion, Vanessa says, “Well, you’re not 18 yet.”

With Jade off to the South Pole in late November, Vanessa is bracing for a sleepless summer. It will be Jade’s biggest challenge yet: skiing from the coast of Antarctica to the South Pole, an adventure that will take her across 1170km in 60 days.

If she reaches the pole, Jade will be the youngest person to do it, but she is only too aware of what it will take to get there: “I’m excited, but I also know that it’s going to be a lot colder, a lot longer, a lot harder.”

Then again, as Jade says, “If it were easy, it wouldn’t be amazing.”

Words: Susan Horsburgh

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