Listen: Ann Bancroft, arctic explorer

MPR’s Kate Moos talks with St. Paul’s Ann Bancroft about her expedition to the South Pole. Bancroft recounts the challenges of being in the Arctic.

Bancroft, a former teacher, participated in the Will Steger International North Pole Expedition, and arrived at the North Pole together with five other team members after 56 days using dogsleds. This made Bancroft the first woman to reach the North Pole on foot and by sled.


1986 Northwest Broadcast News Association Award, award of merit in Documentary - Large Market category


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KATE MOOS: It was about three weeks ago that Ann Bancroft stood on a spot of polar ice where every direction is south. Now, she stands in the backyard of the farmhouse she shares with roommates, not far from her parents' home on Sunfish Lake, and looks over the expansive garden. At the pole, she had told reporters she was looking forward to getting home to plant it, but so far there just hasn't been time.

ANN BANCROFT: It's so time consuming and I just-- this is only the second time I've been out here to look at it. So I farm it with my dad. He takes half and I take half. And we get very possessive and we get real competitive. See whose vegetables are doing the best or whose roles are the neatest.

KATE MOOS: Ann Bancroft grew up in Saint Paul, moved later with her family to Sunfish Lake. She attended Saint Paul Summit School and Sibley High, and graduated from the University of Oregon before becoming an elementary school teacher first in Saint Paul, last year at Clara Barton School in Minneapolis.

ANN BANCROFT: I wanted to be a lot of things. I had a hard time deciding. I wanted to be stuff from veterinarian to wildlife biologist to a teacher. I had a hard time deciding between people and animals when I was a kid or all through college actually. But I chose to be a teacher and something that centered around moving around or being active with people or else the same with animals in an outdoor setting, taking trips with my mother, taking trips with my father, canoe trips.

They always let me camp out in the yard. We had quite a bit of land where we lived before. And they always let me go out in the orchard way out beyond the house and camp out when I was probably too young to know how to do things the correct way.

But they never let me freeze. I think they monitored me from the house, but they never told me I couldn't do it. So they were quite encouraging that way.

KATE MOOS: Bancroft says she's always been something of an adventurer. She has climbed Mount McKinley and been on several trips. She met Will Steger through her father who knew Steger as an outward bound instructor. And when after several conversations the offer came to join the expedition, she says she didn't hesitate to accept.


Co-leaders Will Steger and Paul Schurke set out with team members Brent Boddy, Bob Mantell, Geoff Carroll, Richard Weber, Bob McKerrow, and Ann Bancroft on March 8 and encountered rough going at the outset. Bad ice, temperatures down to 70 below, and 1,200-pound sleds holding supplies needed to keep the team self-sufficient till the end of the trip made progress practically nonexistent. By March 25, 18 days into the journey, they were at 84 degrees, not far from their start according to Bancroft. They were already dropping gear to save weight and were no longer shuttling their supplies. Ann reads from her journal account of the day.

ANN BANCROFT: We pulled out of the tents late because of the weather. The wind is still blowing with a lot of limited visibility. As we ate our dry oatmeal, the sun came out. By the time we got out of the tent, it was marginal again. The weather changes constantly up here.

McKerrow went out to find a route. I packed up Sam. Sam is a dog that-- probably my favorite dog.

And he had been in a fight. His team ganged up on him and tried to kill him. He was an outsider somewhat.

So he was quite injured and so I'm trying to get him up on his way-- trying to get him back on his feet. And it's always hard because we never had a day off. So the dogs couldn't heal very well. So packing him up always was kind of an added chore.

You had to treat his wounds. And then that weather was just terrible. And nothing worse than trying to treat wounds as you can't take your gloves off. So that's what I was doing all the time.

And it says, he's not in a very good way. I was pretty cold by the time the last sled left, which I was on. We really had to dig out all of our gear, et cetera this morning.

I stayed with Geoff today. It was a hard six-hour day. The dogs just wouldn't pull. They are strong, but just don't seem to want to pull. Either that or it's a lack of communication being that they're Inuit dogs and maybe our English or our Inuit is just too poor.

I felt like crying. I wondered what day it was and what people at home were doing. It's always a little easier to keep track of the people at home when you know what day of the week it is. We just don't seem to be able to keep track of that. I needed some sort of strength emotionally so I kept turning my thoughts back to home and then trying to shut him out of my head for fear that it only being day 18, I'd never be able to last out here if I kept thinking of home at this soon-- in this early in the trip.

Fantastic moon tonight. At first on the horizon, it was a faint ball almost totally round sitting on the horizon in the haze. 30 minutes later, it was higher and brighter in the sky, really quite something to see.

It was nice to have the sun set on one side and the moon rise on the other, a phenomenon which I'd never really seen before. So much happens up here near the top of the world. It's hard to explain to folks back home.

It was nice also to notice-- it was also nice to notice all this when we were being so frustrated. It seemed to perk us up. Geoff and I seemed to be in a low ebb. And then when we started paying attention to the elements, the sun and the moon, our spirits seemed to raise up to the occasion. I pushed so hard I could feel my insides strain.

We entered a type of terrain today that should be a pole seeker's dream, wide open pans of snow and ice. The wind was the wind was a blessing. It hardened up the drifts and the warm weather makes the runners move over the ice and snow a lot easier. We only made 5 miles, but it didn't leave camp until-- but we didn't leave camp until about 1:30 PM. And then we left with full loads.

No more shoveling hopefully, very significant. Maybe we are due to make some miles for a change. Maybe we have a chance at this pole after all. Question mark.

Got in and administered first aid to Zap and Sam. Gave Sam lots of loving too. He does get preferential treatment from me. Will ran him in the team and I don't think maybe he should have done that. But the weights were so heavy that we had to.

I really want him patched up before the dog pick up. I want him to go to the pole with me. He's emotional.


What is it? There goes the phone again. He is very important to me emotionally, that Sam, the dog.

Breakfast discussion was whether or not Bob McKerrow should fly out. He has until the 1st of April to think about it. Scary thought, I'm sure, for him.


Sad thought for me if he does. I checked out the ribs, they're still swollen. Checked out Geoff's fingers too, really need to watch them.

Brent has a rash. I made him wash. Paul's face is oozing again. I played nurse to everyone and the dog's. No fun in this weather.


Well, I'd lie if I said I was never scared. I think we were all scared at certain points in time.


Sitting in Eureka, which was the last place where we'd see other humans before I flew out to get on the ice, I was pretty nervous, pretty uptight. I had every range of emotion I could possibly have from being excited, scared. What am I getting into? I'm not a dog sledder.

I'd rather be doing something else at this point in time. That unknown feeling that I always get before a big trip really overwhelmed me at that point in time. But once you get on the ice and start doing what you're supposed to be doing, which is chopping, or pulling, or pushing, that feeling initially just vanishes and generally never returns or it never returned for me on this trip. I don't remember ever being afraid on the ice.

I fell through the water. And you get in those scary situations, but you're not afraid at the time. I mean you're just-- you're too busy dealing with what you're supposed to be doing to get yourself out of those situations. So I wasn't afraid of those.

I was very cautious with the ice, the ice when it would move under your feet or the pressure ridges were forming right there. It wasn't really fear. It was amazement and total respect. And at the same time, you got to deal with it and get out of the way so you don't grow with the ice as it's forming this 30 or 40 foot pressure ridge you know right under your foot. You got to get out of there.

I think if you stop and think about those things, you might get scared. But we were so busy working that you don't get caught up in those things. If you sit around and maybe if we had a 5 or 10-day storm to sit and fret, I think the biggest fear was, oh, my god, we may not get there. Those types of things when things look bleak, those are the kinds of fears that we dealt with, not the fears of the elements going against us.

KATE MOOS: Ann recalls the first discouraging leg of the trip as in the kitchen over cups of strong, creamy coffee, the telephone rings nearly constantly and squabbles between the house's dog and their visitor Zap interrupt conversation. Bancroft says, during the early grueling leg of the trip, there were constant doubts that the expedition would succeed.

ANN BANCROFT: Yeah, every day. The trip went in stages. The beginning of the trip was in the minus 70s, extremely cold with a breeze.

A breeze up there-- 5 mile an hour breeze is brutal, especially in that temperature. So that brings the wind chill down to minus 100, minus 120. And you've got everything covered.


Easy, you two. McKenzie, leave Zap alone. The beginning of the trip for me was-- everyone dealt with it differently, as I said. Will would tell you a totally different scenario. But for me, the minus 70 was not that bad.

I think I was fat and sassy. I'd gained 10 pounds on purpose for the first time in my life. I'm pretty proud of that, that I was able to do that. And I was happy to be there.

And it actually was very hard for me to make a conscious split that we were actually on the pole trip now because we had done so much training. And we'd been dog sledding since the snow started to fly and in late October in Ely. So it just seemed-- in some ways, it's just like another training trip. And I kept having to say to myself, this is the one. Let's smarten up here.

And so the first two weeks, they were brutal in terms of the fact that the sleds weighed 1,200 pounds a piece, way more than we had planned, way more than the dog should be pulling. We only made 1 mile, I think, the first day. I mean we went nowhere and our hearts were really high, our spirits were high.

We left [? Drep ?] Camp with the idea that this is going to be great. We're going to move. The pressure ice isn't nearly as bad as we thought.

We had all conjured up these huge images of enormous pressure ridges for miles, and miles, and miles and I mean really big. I think we had all painted the worst scenario possible. I know I had.

And so I was quite relieved that it wasn't looking as bad as I thought it was going to look. And when we didn't move, I think my elation of being out there compensated for that. And I didn't feel that it was that bad.

The second week into it, I guess, it started to get a little more difficult in terms of, OK, this is enough now. We could start making maybe 10 miles a day. It was amazing to all of us that we were only going 2, 3, 4, 5 miles a day. 5 miles was a stupendous day. And our whole strategy had to change.

Suddenly, we were shuttling our loads where we thought we would just go in one shot, make our mileage camp, and then continue on. But since I was feeling fresh, it wasn't that bad for me. Later on, I think it was harder.

And the physical part, it was just-- it was one of those trips where for 55 days till we reached the pole, it was a hard, physical grind that never changed. It would never let up. But it was always different.

So people always talk about the beginning because the pressure ridges were the tallest. That was the shear zone where what's happening is the currents are-- the sea ice is bashing against the land and so it's creating these enormous pressure ridges, which go on, and on, and on for quite some time. I had either conjured up something 10 times harder in my imagination, which coupled with the fact that I was fresh, it didn't seem that bad. And I didn't get discouraged with the low mileage per se mainly because I expected it.

What became hard for me was the constant work. It just never let up. There was never a day where you could say, well, that was our easy day. I don't even remember truly a real easy day.

And the emotional part was 10 times harder than the physical. You expect a trip like this or any camping trip to be hard physically and you get ready for that, and you go out, and you do it. And that, as I said before, becomes a way of life. That's what you do. You get up in the morning and you start again.

Every once in a while, it creeps up at you. I remember getting up one day and Geoff and I were running the same team of dogs. And they were just-- we were always the last sled because of the formation that the group took.

And we were all by ourselves. And I get up and I start to push again. And I thought, boy, this is the same darn thing that I did yesterday all day.

You don't stop for lunch. You don't talk oftentimes for the entire day when you're pushing that hard. And you just thought-- I remember a feeling of, what am I doing out here? Is this what I think is enjoyable?

And it's the same terrain oftentimes for periods of days. And you think, well, what is this pole? It's not climbing-- it's not like climbing a mountain where you can see the summit off in the distance on certain days when it's clear. And you can say, well, that's what I'm going for.

You look out over the polar ice cap and it all looks the same. It looks flat for a while with a lot of snow drifts, which are just as hard as the high pressure ridges. And you think, where am I going to get this relief? And what is this thing that I'm going after, this so-called pole that I know that it's going to be no different than what I'm looking at right now. Those were the harder days.

We were so heavy being a self-sufficient trip, that our sleds, we would get stuck in a snow drift. And the dog, we'd have to stop and PV these sleds, and push, and pull, and sometimes have to get four and five people on a sled to get this over. And you knew that if the sled was lighter, you just whiz over this stuff. And that the dogs could normally do this, but we were so incredibly heavy for so much longer than we anticipated. Emotionally, that was-- let alone physically, but emotionally that was so debilitating for us all.

KATE MOOS: While the team was still almost 200 miles from the pole, a crucial decision was reached to leave behind much of the expedition's equipment. And Bancroft recalls the very real possibility that the team would be sent off the ice, leaving the leaders Will Steger and Paul Schurke to try to save the attempt at the pole. One team member was gone already.

Bob McKerrow had left with injuries. And another, Bob Mantell, would soon leave the ice with severe frostbite. Bancroft called these the lowest days of the trip.

ANN BANCROFT: In fact, we had a day where we went for a few miles, and a very few hours, and we strained so hard. This was when we were down to three sleds that we stopped, set up camp, and talked about what the heck we were out here-- what's going on here. We're not doing what we should be doing in terms of mileage. We got to reevaluate, reassess our strategy or we're not going to make our goal.

And to set up camp mid day like that and having not gone anywhere, I mean the depression. And the faces on the people in that tent where they were the worst that they ever were on that trip. It was just that we had total despair. And we really had to do some soul searching, find out what else we could drop.

This is when we dropped sleeping bags. Possibly we were thinking of dropping a tent. We dropped all sorts of gear, parkas, tools, everything from toilet paper to tea bags, which weighed nothing, to a 50-pound sleeping bag. We decided as a group we had to get down to 300 pounds before we started out the next day in order to make our mileage not burn out our dogs and make the pole.

And the fear that-- that's when I felt fear is that I, oh, my god, they might send me back and we'll have the leaders go on. But the determination of the group to suddenly-- to make it that next day, I don't think I've ever pulled with such vigor as the next day. We'd pull one sled out and I'd run up and get the other-- and help with the other sled for fear that the leaders were thinking that maybe we weren't making enough mileage. And the four of us would have to go back and the leaders would go on. I mean, that thought to me was so scary.

I just thought of people back home, how would I face them. And intellectually, I knew that they probably wouldn't care. My family wouldn't care if I made it or not just if I got back safely.

But I wasn't-- you don't think that way when you're out there. You think in terms of letting those people down. And oh, my god, I can't leave. I got to get to the pole.

KATE MOOS: With lighter sleds and suddenly navigable terrain, the group's progress picks up. Finally, at 88 degrees, still seven days from the pole, the group begins its final dash, the leg of the trip during which expedition leader Steger says they literally sprinted to the pole. As they close in on their destination, Bancroft says spirits were high, weather was for the most part marvelous, and there were days when the forces of nature seemed to help rather than hinder their journey as facing the spring breakup on the Arctic Ocean, open water continually blocked their way.

ANN BANCROFT: We're going for the pole and it's gorgeous. It's warm out. Everything's in our favor. And there's all this water and we're finding our way through this maze of leads. And it's just gorgeous out.

They're our best day ever in terms of scenery and our spirits. And Will and I-- I'm skiing up ahead so the dogs will follow me and trying to find a way through this. And we get to this place to cross an open lead and there's a bridge of snow and ice. But it's not very good. And the dogs don't want to go so they veer off.

So I take my skis off and I'm going to try and encourage them to go across. And all of a sudden, you hear these noises. It sounds like a door is cracking or creaking. And all this noise and the ice is starting to move.

And Geoff says, we better move back because you never know how far it's going to extend. Because you're on this kind of flat and then it's like a river. And so we all move back and we're listening to this noise. And I grabbed the movie camera because I'm trying to document all this. And I'm starting to hook it up because I want-- what I would like to show is I can tell it's going to move and we don't know what's going to happen.

So I'm trying to hook up all the cords, and the microphone, and everything, and get the sound down. And all of a sudden, right in this one spot where we're trying to cross, it raises up, forms so that the dogs-- I mean it forms a beautiful bridge and then stops. So there's a noise for about maybe 30 seconds to a minute, forms a beautiful bridge, the dogs don't even bat an eye. All of a sudden, boop-boop, they go across the bridge like it was meant for them and we go north. And we go on to the pole.

And we just looked at each other and we said, we are meant to make it to the pole. If that is not a sign, I don't know what is. And the day was like that. Nothing could get in our way. We had water everywhere and we kept finding a path through it.

And Will's pretty frantic at this point. He's like, I got to get there. I got to get there. And he's scared that this water is going to stop us.

We don't know if we're within 10 miles or not of the pole and that's why we overshot it. And because we're just like, we gotta keep going. We got to keep going. And there's no mark to tell you that you're there.

And I'm just in this mood where, boy, I want to keep taking pictures. And I've got my movie camera on my back. I have my stills camera around my waist. And you're just totally nonchalant and you're just going for it.

And you could-- at that point in time, you could stay there forever. Of course, you think you're leaving. That's probably one of the reasons.

KATE MOOS: Now, within a handful of miles of the pole, more and more time is spent navigating under the constant Arctic sun. And during the final approach, the team is forced to camp and wait for skies to clear when it faces another loss, the death of Critter, team member Bob Mantell's sled dog within a few days of their destination.

ANN BANCROFT: We woke up and Critter had passed on. It would have been a miracle if he had pulled through. Critter was Bob Mantell's lead dog.

All the same it was strange. He had breakfast in the morning. The morning we left. And after being hooked up, he just sat. He just had no desire to pull any more.

We put them on the sled, wrapped them in a parka, strapped them on the sled, and traveled with them for the day. Geoff and I chewed up pemmican raw and then tried to get it into his mouth to force feed him. It's as if he was in a stroke or a coma. We thought he was fried so we put him on the sled.

At this point, I can't even talk about Critter. The tears just seemed to roll down my face. He's convulsed a bit and then he seems to have gone into a coma.

I've searched the human first aid kit for something to try and rouse him. I've tried force feeding him during the day. His eyes haven't dilated. I've kept him wrapped in this jacket, but it doesn't seem to have his condition change at all.

I cried really hard in the sleeping bag with Paul and Brent on either side of me, but they don't even seem to know. Why does it have to be Critter? How are we going to tell Bob? That thought just sends shivers all over me.

Later, I went outside and took off his harness before he got too stiff. Bob would probably want that anyway. Richard, of all people, came up and hugged me and allowed me to cry further.

Brent and Geoff took Critter away. I will have to write about this later. It's just too much at this time in the trip.

We had only laid out our bags on the snow at this point, thinking the weather would lift. But now we set up a tent to cook. All six got in the bags with the boots and clothes on to boot.

It was by the way, a pretty cold, miserable night. We sat on the wet cold floor of the tent in our damp, wet clothes and made dinner. It was a pretty quiet dinner. With Critter gone and our present situation, just not much to say.

The only thing nice was that for once, we didn't have to rush. There was nothing to rush for. We couldn't move. We could not-- there was nothing we could do at this point except sit.

If we were to try and move now this close to the pole, we could get further away. It would only be a waste of our time and energy. We had to have a sun shot. We had to have a shot at the sun at least to set the declination of the compass.

We ate, drank tea, and then we started to talk a bit finally. We pulled the bag in and crawled in. Mother Nature, or God, or both wasn't going to make this last dash easy for us.

We had at last traveled-- we had last traveled about six hours, maybe 8 miles if lucky. Now, we were only 12 miles away, we thought, to the pole. We were always wrong about this, but we kept guessing.

Another sun shot was needed to see. Paul has been stressed out by this. Taking sun shots in this weather and so much at stake was just taking the toll on him.

These last few days of navigation are crucial and you have to take readings all the time. The longitude lines are so close now. We could skip over a few in a day's travel.

I sat down and had a cry with Vio who's Bob's other dog that was left with us. I've got to take him home. As we slept, and got up, and slept, our dark mood seemed to rise. I think we all had the faith the situation would change and we would have one more stab at this pole.


We traveled yesterday from 10:00 in the morning till 10:00 PM, and stopped, and made supper. Two hours, then we're on the move again. We stopped at 4:30 AM, slept until about 10:30. Trying to keep this straight. It's getting incredibly confusing.

Paul this AM-- this morning thinks we are about 3 miles from the pole, a bit too far west maybe. The spring breakup is definitely here. There's water everywhere, lakes, leads.

All these polynyas are incredible. We've never seen these before. Polynyas are lakes of water instead of just leads, which look like rivers.

The dogs are incredibly hungry and tired, but they went well all day today. Brent and I snuck a 1-pound piece of pemmican to Dylan who's looking so depleted. He looks entirely different than he did when we started. He's such a trooper.

It's so beautiful up here. Fantastic traveling day, very warm, no wind, and all the terrain was exciting and beautiful. It kept us psyched up. I sure wouldn't want to float around on one of these ice floes for the summer.

People seem to be very excited. Good spirits generally. It was a long, long day, but it didn't really feel that way. It's incredible how our spirits are carrying us now. The pole is carrying us, me, all the way to get there now.

Soak it up and go home. My body has said it's had enough anyway. I have rashes on my legs. My feet seem to be rotting and my elbows are just burning with this tendinitis from pushing.

I am excited to go home to where people will seem to value me. I'm a little burnt out on the guys, I think. It'll be nice to get to where people-- to get back to people where maybe I'm appreciated a bit. I seem to be angry at least once a day, but it always blows over.

Held hands with Brent in the bag again. We've become pretty good friends in an odd sort of way. Let's see. Both groups in the tent seem to find a lot of comfort from sleeping together. That's pretty amazing.

Now, Paul thinks we went over the pole. Oh, my god, a lot of movies and pictures taken by me yesterday. I'm really feeling charged up by the environment and the fact that we may be out of here soon. I am trying to think of everything so quickly as not to forget anything.

Brent just went out and set off a bear scare and yelled congratulations. It's our only sign that we're at the pole. We still have to wait for confirmation .

We now find an airstrip and we'll do sun readings to make sure. Again, Brent and Richard had to stop Paul and Will so as not to go over the pole. We're so close and anything without checking can be crucial at this point.


KATE MOOS: Confirmation that the team has reached the pole comes later that day.

ANN BANCROFT: It turns out that we are here. What a strange place to be on top of the world and have such a difficult time knowing it. We backtracked about 3/4 of a mile and took to a place where we get a good landing strip.

Got some of the gear organized in our tent, went back to sleep. Brent had set off to bear scares. It's also been-- it's also been an odd feeling just-- it's also been an odd thing to suddenly get excited about. We're just so anticlimactic about all this, so nonchalant.

We just now got through on the radio clear enough to let them know that we think that we are here. No one said we weren't so we must be. They said they were excited for us. Tears immediately came to my eyes. The realization that it is over is really here.

I needed to hear it on the radio for confirmation. Our sun shots just weren't enough to really have it hit home for me. I think I would have wept a lot harder had I been alone. And then I have parentheses-- no one could see I had a hat over my eyes. Suddenly too the weather broke and they may even be able to get us in the next 14 to 18 hours.


KATE MOOS: The team was flown back to the base camp at Resolute Bay on the 3rd of May.


ANN BANCROFT: When you're out-- the thing that made this stand out as something different is the pressure that you were under just to make it, the amount of people following you. I've never done a trip where too many people have known about it, other than family and friends, and no one else seemed to care. So that makes the whole makeup of that trip entirely different.

The fact that people were following us as we were on it and were able to get news about us, that was something I have always-- in fact, even if I had the chance to do it, I would never let it happen because I like to let my family know about the scary stuff when I get home. So that put a whole new dimension on it. In terms of being out on the ice, it was probably harder than I've ever done before or any of us have ever done before. But you get into a rhythm when you're out there and it becomes your way of life. So you don't look at it in terms of something special or something different.

The mountain climbing is certainly stressful and I don't know that you can ever-- this was stressful too. It was all very different, a kind of stress. And a lot of the stress was because you had so many people at home rooting for you. This whole state went nutty and we didn't really realize it until we got home, what the media was doing to it. It was just a bigger deal.

You weren't thinking that you were out there making history. That did not comprehend at least to me. I think it did a little bit more for Will and Paul. They were a little more educated as to what the ramifications were of making this.

For us, it was-- or for me it was just I just want to go there, see what it's like, put this as another piece of experience under my belt and another adventure. And they kept saying, well, this is going to be a little different. And you're like, yeah, yeah, right, right. And it just didn't seem like anything different.

KATE MOOS: Ann Bancroft has earned her own headlines as the first woman explorer to make it to the North Pole. She says curiosity seems to focus on the difficulties of sharing close quarters with several men for a couple of months. But Bancroft talks about different hardships being the team's only female member.

ANN BANCROFT: That's the part that most people ask me about all the time. What was it like going to the bathroom, or getting your period, or what are the men like in that situation? Well, they don't-- I'm sure they have the same level of modesty that I have and they have to do that in the same respect.

So I may have to pee in the can, but so do they. And we're all there together so that we all deal with that and respect each other. And you're living in such tight quarters and no one really cares on those aspects.

The hard part of being the only woman was a lot of times it was lonely. There's a different level of nurturing that goes on with men. And when you have that many men and just one woman, I'm not counteracting them enough. Maybe if it was a 50/50 split, I would have felt maybe like there was the kind of nurturing that I needed where you can just sit down and talk.

And on a feeling level more, they have a harder time with that to make a bold generalization. But I truly think it's true. They seem to agree and depend on you for that. And it was odd.

It seemed all right for someone like Geoff Carroll who's big and macho. He's 200 pounds. He likes to be macho. And he was-- it would be all right for him to come and show me his frostbite and let me know that he was hurting. But he didn't share that so much with the rest of them.

So they seemed to like that and want that. I didn't like the role all the time. And I didn't want to be the babysitter in the emotional aspect of the trip. And I don't mind tending to frostbite or that type of thing, especially since that was one of my roles on the trip, but I certainly didn't want to always be the emotional babysitter and have them rely on that. And at times it was very lonely just to be out there by yourself.

And I felt a lot of times like-- and I tried to fight this all the time, but I didn't want to be having to prove myself all the time because I was female. And because physically, I was the weakest member of the trip and I knew I was going to be. There's no way on Earth I can beat out a Geoff Carroll in a weightlifting contest, but I didn't feel like that was going to hinder me on the trip either.

And I tried very, very hard not to constantly have to prove myself. And I didn't want to get stuck in that mold I think oftentimes, women in an outdoor setting, we get caught up into that where I've got to get to the top of this mountain. Because if I don't, they're going to think we failed because we're women.

Because when you're doing that, you end up burning out. And we had to go for at least 60 days, I knew that-- or 50 to 60 days. And if I'm going to go that long a time on the ice with that type of stress and that type of physical exertion, if I was trying to prove myself for 50 to 60 days, I never would have made it. I would have had to go out with the dogs on the first pickup 25 days into the trip.

To go the distance, I knew I had to just stay steady and be who I was. And I knew that my stubbornness and my determination would get me to the pole if I didn't try and be somebody I wasn't. It meant that I had to fess up to being tired or to being hurt. Injury, we were always dealing with that or different levels of frostbite.

We all dealt extremely differently with the cold. One minute, you're feeling great at 70 below and the next week you may find that 30 below is very difficult. So we found that at different points in the trip, the temperature was a factor in how we were dealing with things.

You just needed to be who you were and to acknowledge those things. And that is very difficult for me in an everyday setting. And I did get caught up into it. I was not me all the time and it affected my photography. I think it affected different aspects of the trip for me.

Some days you never worry about it and you'd say forget it. If that's what they think, that's their thing that they have to carry around. But other days, you get caught up into it.

KATE MOOS: Bancroft returned with other team members to Minnesota and a hero's welcome on a sunny 70-degree Sunday. She has since traveled to the East Coast for news conferences and talks. She's made a tour of schools in the Twin Cities, including Clara Barton.

She's been named woman of the year by One. and several national magazines are waiting for the privilege of an interview. But for Ann Bancroft, her status as first woman at the pole, hero, and historical figure to whom today's young girls and boys may look as a model seems barely to have sunken in. What does her achievement mean to her?

ANN BANCROFT: Boy, that's the hardest question you all throw at me. Going to the pole, someone said-- people were telling me all the time. And I certainly knew that if I made it, I would be the first woman to trek across the polar ice.

But it was very different to internalize that, to get that on an emotional level. I could intellectualize that and say, well, that would be neat. That's about as far as I could go and I haven't gotten much further since.

I know that at about 88 degrees, I remember that a Japanese woman went last year via snowmobile. And she had a whole entourage of Inuit men helping her get to the pole. And she got to 89 something. And I remember just short of 89, I was thinking it would be nice to beat her out and be the furthest woman North. And it was a fleeting thought.

And once I got to the pole and not only got past 89 degrees, but actually got to the pole, I wasn't thinking in terms of, oh, I made it. I'm the first woman to be here. It's I've always-- the trip has always just been, well, another trip. I don't even think of this trip as being an historical event.

People talk about that and say, what does that mean to you? And it's very hard to comprehend the fact that, yes, in fact, you may be in the history books or that this is something that's not only historical in its own right for being unsupported, and going to the pole, and getting within 200 yards, it's also no other woman has done that. That is the hardest question because I either I haven't comprehended it and I will or I may never comprehend it.

KATE MOOS: Bancroft says she's being urged to write a book. And having left her teaching position for the trip, she expects to be busy speaking and making appearances. In the long term, she says she thinks about outdoor education, maybe working with the handicapped beyond that, and hoping for a modicum of normalcy to return, and says she's not sure what's coming next.

ANN BANCROFT: And I haven't comprehended the fact that, yeah, you were sitting at the North Pole. It was 50 and above, sunny, and gorgeous, and you're moving around out there on the ice. And here you are in trees, and nice weather, and green. I mean, there are other colors for a change than the pastel blues, and the whites, and the grays.

But I don't know when-- I'm a little nervous. I don't know when this is all going to hit, the realization of what we've all just done. What it means to be the first woman, that hasn't hit. Is it going to hit or am I always going to treat this as just another trip?

So I don't know. I don't know when this is all going to take place. I keep thinking this is going to blow over in a week and I'll get the garden in.

I need to sit down and try and figure out what I want to do with the year. This summer I just want to have fun with this and just relax, go camping a little bit, visit with my family, see my sister in California, or whatever and just enjoy the warmth. And so I don't really know what's ahead of me.


KATE MOOS: Saint Paul native Ann Bancroft, the first woman to reach the North Pole at home on Sunfish Lake. This is Kate Moos reporting.


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