Just for a record, North Pole a draw
By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published May 7, 2007
NEW YORK - The bone-numbing trek to the North Pole is riddled with enough perils to make a seasoned explorer quake: Frostbite threatens, polar bears loom and the ice is constantly shifting beneath frozen feet.
Barbara Hillary completed the trek to the world's northernmost point last month at the age of 75. She is one of the oldest people to reach the North Pole, and is believed to be the first black woman on record to accomplish the feat.
Hillary, of Averne, N.Y., grew up in Harlem and devoted herself to a nursing career and community activism. At 67 and during retirement, she battled lung cancer. Five years later, she went dog sledding in Quebec and photographed polar bears in Manitoba.
Then she heard that a black woman had never made it to the North Pole.
"I said, 'What's wrong with this picture?' " she said. "So I sort of rolled into this, shall we say."
In 1909, Matthew Henson made history as the first black man to reach the Pole. Ann Bancroft, a physical education teacher from Minnesota, was the North Pole's first female visitor in 1986. Various scientific organizations said no record exists of a black woman matching Bancroft's feat, although such record-keeping is not perfect.
"It's not like there's a guest book when you get up there and you sign it, " said Robert Russell, founder of Eagles Cry Adventures Inc., the travel company that leads thrill-seekers like Hillary to the farthest corners of the globe.
Hillary enrolled in cross-country skiing lessons and hired a personal trainer, who finally determined she was physically fit for the voyage.
"She's a headstrong woman. You don't tell her 'no' about too many things, " Russell said.
On April 23, Hillary set off from Norway on skis with two trained guides. Russell, fearing for her health, had persuaded her to take the daylong ski route to the Pole in lieu of the longer trips.
When Hillary reached the Pole, the enormous expanse of ice and sky left her, for once in her long life, speechless.
Hillary hopes her journey will inspire hope in other cancer survivors. With her feet back on dry land in New York, she is already plotting a new adventure: that of a global-warming activist.
"What if?" she said. "I'd like to go and lecture to different groups on what they can do on a grass roots level (to fight global warming)."