Ann Daniels: Polar Explorer


Ann Daniels, 45, is a polar explorer. She lives in Devon with her four children; 16-year-old triplets Lucy, Joseph and Rachel, and Sarah, 7 and partner, Tom O'Connor, 40, an aircraft engineer.

"I’ve had a very strange life; lurching from full time mum of four, to public and motivational speaker, to exploring out on the ice in the Arctic with absolutely no human contact, completely alone.

After leaving my job at NatWest to have the triplets, I heard an advert on the radio. They wanted people to be part of the first-all-female team to walk to the North Pole as a relay. Dartmoor was the closest I’d come to the great outdoors but before I knew it I was on the team! My parents moved into my house to look after the kids and off I went. At 32 years of age I’d finally found what I wanted to do as a career for the rest of my life.

That was 13 years ago and I’ve just got back from my most recent expedition, a 60-day scientific exploration of the North Pole. Every time I land there’s a huge range of emotions; fear, uncertainty, excitement and determination; I constantly tell myself: ‘Against all the odds, I’m going to achieve this.’

On an exploration, my alarm goes off at 6am and my team mates and I, Charlie Paton and Martin Hartley, get up for the day. We’re alone together in the same tent for 60 days, which can be hard, but 95% of the time we get on well. I turn on the torch inside my sleeping bag and put my contact lenses in. I sleep in my hat and socks so I put another two layers of thermals on and then my coat. All of our kit is tailored for each person. My coat alone would cost £600 but it gets down to -37˚C. You’ve never felt cold like it.

In 60 days we go through 15kg of chocolate each

First thing I do is go to the toilet. It’s just me and the elements; we wash ourselves with snow and battle frostbite the whole time. Then I go straight into the make-shift kitchen tent. Breakfast is tea and porridge, made out of a bag and boiling water like all the food we eat out there. We spend two hours melting enough snow to provide our water for the day and pack up the tents and leave at 8.30am.

The arctic is an ocean. There’s no map. Every day you have different ice to deal with; huge ridges, open water or a snow drift. We set forth in a straight line heading north across the ice carrying a 200lb pack for an hour and 15 minutes, then stop for some chocolate and a muesli bar, then set off again. We do that six times in a day. In 60 days we go through 15kg of chocolate each!

On the last expedition, we were there to carry out a scientific study into the acidity of the Arctic Ocean, taking water samples at different depths to give to the scientists at the end of the trip as part of a global study into the effects of climate change.

I've had run-ins with five polar bears - the trick is to make yourself as not-seal-like as possible!

Lunch is around 12.30pm and is another bag of dehydrated food. Then we just walk and walk. I’ve had run-ins with five polar bears. They are hunters and are not used to seeing anything other than seals in their environment, so the trick is to make yourself as not-seal-like as possible! I make loads of noise and jump up and down shouting until they run away. We do carry one shot gun though - just in case.

At around 7pm we stop walking and set up our tent. You get five choices of food bags for dinner like chicken curry. I get to sleep at 10pm. I always put on some Clarins moisturiser and suncream so I don't come back blistery.

I call my family every 10 days. I don't feel I have missed anything being away. I'm only gone once a year and when I'm back they get my full attention.

My partner is amazing. I get a letter from him every 21 days when supplies get dropped. Knowing he's with the kids makes me feel safe about being away. It's not something I'd do forever, it would break me, but I love what I do and that's what keeps me going.

Photos: Rex Features

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