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Polar explorer, teacher Ann Bancroft to speak at UND

Polar explorer and teacher Ann Bancroft was 10 years old when she first read "Endurance," the gripping account of Ernest Shackleton and his crew, who in 1915 were trapped in the Antarctica and survived for five months by eating dogs, penguins and...

Ann Bancroft

Polar explorer and teacher Ann Bancroft was 10 years old when she first read "Endurance," the gripping account of Ernest Shackleton and his crew, who in 1915 were trapped in the Antarctica and survived for five months by eating dogs, penguins and seals.

Actually, Bancroft wasn't a strong reader, but the book had remarkable black and white photos of the perilous expedition.

The more she studied them, the more she wanted to be part of a polar adventure, the Scandia, Minn., native said.

"All I can tell you is I saw myself in those pictures," said Bancroft, who will speak at UND Chester Fritz Auditorium at 7:30 p.m. Thursday as part of the "Cold Recall" exhibit at UND.

Since then, Bancroft has become the first woman known to ski to both the North Pole and South Pole. In 1986, she was part of an expedition that used dogsleds to travel from the Northwest Territories of Canada to the North Pole. She also led the 1993 American Women's Expedition to the South Pole, a 67-day trek of 660 miles on skis.


In 2000, Bancroft and Liv Arnesen made history again by becoming the first women to cross Antarctica. They plan to return to Antarctica in November with a team of women from around the world to promote the cause for "Access to Water."

Physical training

Bancroft credits the fulfillment of her ambitions, at least in the beginning, to her parents, who supported her girlhood dreams.

"It was huge," she said. "It would have been very easy to say 'That's not what girls should do' or 'That's too far away' or 'That's too big' or 'You're so naïve.' That's another thing we tend to tell young people."

What makes for a successful expedition to the poles? A lifetimes of experiences, Bancroft said.

"You call upon absolutely everything when you're out there," she said. "It is so remote. There are so very few people with you. Sometimes in sort of the everyday environment, we don't think about all the skills we're using. But on a expedition you really think about it."

Right now, with her next Antarctic trip coming up in November, Bancroft is biking and running to get ready, and soon will begin kayaking. She also takes three old tires out of the barn and drags them around for four hours a day to mimic the weight of the sled they'll be pulling.

Physical work, strategy and research all are part of getting ready.


Better tech

What has changed the most since her first expedition 25 years ago is technology. Back then, she said, they navigated using a sextant and a compass and had a little two-way radio that barely worked.

Now they have GPS to determine their location and use a satellite phone to share voice messages, pictures and video so people can follow their journey online. They use the sun to charge all of their electronics.

"We will be Tweeting, blogging and Facebooking our way across Antarctica," Bancroft said.

Technology also brings a margin of safety as well.

For instance, she has been in expeditions that used dog sleds, as did many of the early 20th century polar explorers such as Roald Amundson and Ernest Shackleford. Sometimes they ate their dogs (or killed them for dog food) as a matter of survival.

During her more recent sled expedition, helicopters were called twice to take dogs away as sleds grew lighter and fewer dogs were needed to pull them. With a way to safely remove them and better more modern food options, no one considered killing the dogs for food, she said.

As much as she loves adventure, Bancroft said, she wouldn't go without the educational component and the broader purpose of the trip.


"I've been to both Poles," she said. "I feel very lucky to have seen them. But what drives me is feeling I'm contributing to a bigger picture in some small way through the education. That's what gets you through the hard days of the expedition."

If you go

• What: Ann Bancroft, polar explorer and teacher, will be featured speaker at UND's next Great Conversation. Norwegian Programs director Melissa Gjellstad will be the moderator.

• When and where: 7:30 p.m. Thursday at UND Chester Fritz Auditorium. The event is free and open to the public.

• Also see: The "Cold Recall" exhibit at UND Chester Fritz Library through April 27. It's about Norwegian polar explorer Roald Amundsen, whose expedition on Dec. 14, 1911, became the first to reach the South Pole.

The exhibit was created by the Fram Museum of Oslo, Norway, in partnership with the Royal Norwegian Embassy, and is touring the U.S.

Reach Tobin at (701) 780-1134; (800) 477-6572, ext. 134; or send e-mail to ptobin@gfherald.com .

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