To the Poles Without a Beard by Catherine Hartley
Reviewed by Steve Rudd
This extraordinary woman was the first British woman to reach first the South Pole and then the
North Pole (along with another lady called Fiona), and this is her story...
Essentially an exquisite autobiography, this book starts out by chronicling Catherine's life -
in brief - through her twenties when she seemed to constantly feel the need to prove her mettle
to both everybody around her and herself.
A shy person by nature, she felt compelled to try and become more confident and a better
person by travelling, which she did extensively in Australia and Borneo.
Then one day she had the wild idea of walking to the South Pole, and through doing so
into the record books.
True to her dreams, her attempt to reach the pole was a resounding - albeit naturally gruelling -
success, in the company of some other people who were hell-bent on making it to the Pole
to celebrate Millennium Eve.
Alas, they didn't make enough time on the trip to see in the new Millennium, but they did all
get there in one piece, after man-hauling their respective sleds of food supplies and tents for the
best part of 700 miles from the Patriot Hills camp on the West coast of Antarctica to the
scientific base at the Pole.
Upon returning to Britain and resuming her career working for the BBC as a locations manager
(which sounds to be a tough, life-consuming job) Catherine found it hard to readjust to the
lunacy of rat-race living and it wasn't long before she set her mind on tackling a trek to
the North Pole too.
Getting to the North Pole though proved to be far trickier, given the fact that the majority of
their journey through the Arctic was over moving ice.
We also started to meet open water, Catherine recalls, leads that had not refrozen or huge cracks
through which we could see the ocean foaming beneath.
When everything had been frozen it was easy to have the illusion of being on land.
Now we were being shown reality.
As a result, the true North Pole is often quite difficult to locate,
compared to the more stable and safer South Pole.
Bearing in mind that Catherine hadn't had any previous experience in these harsh-as-hell
environments, her achievements are all the more remarkable, with this book being an
extraordinary feel-good read that instills the belief in the reader that anything really
is possible if you put your mind to whatever that something might be.
Indeed, she draws this account of her adventures to a close on a high by gushing that
Whatever field I turn to next, I will always have the knowledge that I managed to achieve
something that, with Fiona, no other woman in the world had yet done (walk to
both poles unaided by dogs or machines, that is), and this allows me to believe that any
dream can be made reality, if I am determined enough.
Afterall, dreams may be just fun yet they can make life quite extraordinary.
ISBN 0-7434-5038-8 (published by Simon & Schuster in 2002)
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