Where is Felicity right now...?

Speaking at #PolarDay2019...

Congratulations to Eric Post, Pernille Sporon Boving and the Polar Forum at UC Davis in California for putting on yet another thought-provoking, inclusive and memorable Polar Day.

I was completely thrilled to be involved again (I spoke at Polar Day at Penn State a handful of years ago) alongside a stellar line-up of polar presenters. First was Hester Blum, Professor of English, Americanologist and polar devotee who set eyes on her newly published book for the first time at the event: The News At The Ends Of The Earth - The Print Culture of Polar Exploration. Hester shared just a tiny amount of the paper ephemera from polar expeditions that she has been carefully studying over the last decade including menus, newspapers, play bills and cairn notes.

Next was Liz Bradfield, who coincidentally also saw her new book for the first time at the event. ‘Toward Antarctica: An Exploration’ is a volume of poetry, travel journal and photography inspired in its style and format by Basho, a Japanese poet of the 1600s. I was first introduced to Liz’s work by Hester, so it was a real treat to meet her and hear her read from her new book.

Before it was my turn (I spoke about last year’s Women’s Euro-Arabian North Pole Expedition), Lily Simonson introduced us to her work - some of which was on display around the room. She traced her journey from painting lobsters, moths and Yeti Crabs (white hairy crabs from the deep ocean) to diving in deep sea submersibles and under Antarctic sea ice to depict otherworldly sub-ice worlds and polar sea creatures.

It was such a pleasure to be part of an event that took such a holistic approach to the polar regions, beautifully blending art, the humanities, science and exploration to give a much more rounded view of the Arctic and Antarctica. At the heart of it though was a committed and positive determination to ensure the well-being of these regions that we each care so deeply about.

In particular, for me, one phrase rang out - stated by Eric right at the outset of the day: What happens in the Arctic does not stay in the Arctic.

This is a stark reminder that the consequences of changes in the Arctic environment will be felt globally, providing one more reason why we each - no matter where we live or come from - have reason to be informed and engaged in the fate of the polar regions.

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Celebrating launch of Wild Women!

Couldn't be more chuffed to have a chapter of my book 'Alone in Antarctica' included in this new anthology of travel writing edited by Mariella Frostrup. Other authors include some of my all-time heroes; Gertrude Bell, Mary Wollstonecraft...as well as modern-day heroes like Lois Pryce, Junko Tabei and even some names I haven't come across before. The book is yet another demonstration that women have always been explorers and adventurers, we just don't celebrate them nearly often enough.

I went along to the book launch in London last night and met five of the other living contributors to the anthology; Christina Dodwell, Lois Pryce, Catherine Fairweather, Bella Pollen and Josie Dew.

Even if I wasn’t in it, this book would be a joy to own. It will certainly sit proudly on my bookshelf at home ready to be used anytime I am in need of some extra motivation.
You can buy the book from Waterstones at: https://www.waterstones.com/book/wild-women/mariella-frostrup/9781788540018

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Walking a frozen river...

Years ago I heard of the tiny Himalayan region of Zanskar in the far North of India, which was completely cut off from the rest of the world during winter when the mountain passes were blocked by snow, except for a narrow river gorge whose waters froze, forming an icy highway link.

For years slow progress has been made on a road to link Zanskar permanently to India all year round, but today, the road is still far short and the frozen river remains the only way to get in and out of Zanskar during the winter. There is a helicopter service but - as we were to find out - this is for emergencies only and the waiting list for non-emergency passengers is a long one.

The frozen river is called the ‘chadar’ meaning blanket and i’ve just got back from hiking the chadar into Zanskar (and back out again) with a group of women gathered on Facebook. The Chadar and Zanskar has undoubtedly changed unrecognisably from the place I read about all those years ago but I was still blown away - like countless others before me - by the beauty of the place and the culture. I was also deeply grateful for the good company of the group, which goes to show that Facebook is not completely populated by axe-murderers and weirdos.

The Himalayas now loom large in my daydreams and I’m already starting to plot other journeys in the region…here’s to future Momos!

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The non-axe-murderers of Facebook and our superstar Zanskari guide, Angla.

The non-axe-murderers of Facebook and our superstar Zanskari guide, Angla.

Talking at schools up and down the UK

It’s always lots of fun to share with schools my experiences of Antarctica and the Arctic - plus I get to feel that I am doing my bit to inspire the next generation. So it was a real joy spending a couple of months concentrating on visiting schools of all ages in various parts of the country as they completed projects on the polar world. In some workshops we designed new polar stations or came up with ideas for polar clothing and equipment and I was struck by how knowledgeable the students were about new technology and different demands on various resources. For me, the best bit is the Questions and Answer sessions…I am always asked questions that make ME think and that provide food for thought long after I’ve left the school. So thank you to all the explorers of the future I have met…I am reassured that the future of the worlds most magnificent environments is in good hands with you all x

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At the annual EXPLORE Seminar

They told us not to look like a line-up…

They told us not to look like a line-up…

The Explore weekend is always awesome - not just because I come away feeling re-motivated and re-inspired to do more and be better, but also because it is often the one and only chance each year to catch up with some friendly faces from the expedition community (as well as to meet with some new ones).

This year was no exception. I enjoyed being on the Polar Panel alongside Steve Jones, Martin Hartley, Claire Grogan and Denise Martin. It was a particular treat to finally meet Denise who I have heard so much about thanks to all her legendary polar guiding but have never actually met before.

It was interesting that this year, unlike previous years, the panel was asked more about Russia/Siberia and Greenland/Arctic Europe than it was about the High Arctic and Antarctica.

Presenting the Euro-Arabian Expedition at the Royal Geographical Society

It is always an honour to speak in the wonderfully historic Ondatje Theatre in the Royal Geographical Society headquarters in South Kensington, London - so I was really thrilled to be invited to speak about The Women’s Euro-Arabian North Pole Expedition 2018 as part of the Society’s Monday Night Lecture Series.

The event was a great opportunity not just to share the story of the expedition but to thank all our wonderful supporters and sponsors (many of whom were able to be there in person) and to have a small team reunion! Misba and Natasa both joined me on stage to answer questions from the audience after the talk, while Steph supported from the stalls. We were also delighted that Caroline Hamilton (who was on the expedition with us as a guide to the film crew), Alexandra Shackleton (descendant of the Polar Hero) and guests from both Oman and Slovenia were also in the audience.

A special thank you to BRBL who provided gifts for the guests that asked us questions after the talk! I bumped into one of the lucky recipients the following week who was wearing the thermals at the time and said that she had barely taken them off!

Lots of people asked afterwards about the forthcoming film ‘ Exposure’ - the latest news is that the production team are planning for a 2019 release. We will be sure to post any additional news as soon as we have it.

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Celebrating 'First Women'

On Thursday I was invited to the opening of Anita Corbin's '100 First Women Portraits' at the RCA Dyson Gallery in London. Anita has spent a decade travelling across the UK to photograph women who have been first in their fields and the exhibition has been timed to mark 100 years of women's suffrage in the UK. The result is an amazing collection celebrating the variety and depth of what women have been doing in the UK over the last 100 years. Walking around the exhibition I was struck by how recent some of the 'firsts' were and how fundamental. For me, it had the effect of highlighting just how far women still have to go as well as a demonstration of how far we've come.

I can't recommend enough going to take a look. The exhibition is free to the public until 22nd August at the Dyson Gallery which is on the south side of Battersea Bridge. Anita has also produced a book of the portraits available at www.1stwomenuk.co.uk.

It was such a privilege to celebrate the opening with so many of the first women - 62 of the 100 were there - great to see Sarah Outen and Rebecca Stephens, and to meet Beth French, Dany Cotton and so many other experts in their fields. Wonderful, uplifting evening.

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Celebrating the heritage of women in Exploration

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A loud THANK YOU to Tania and Bex of the Womens Adventure Expo for putting on an event at the Royal Geographical Society in the centenary year of suffrage in the UK to celebrate the long history of women in exploration. A day-long conference was followed by an evening event at which I was incredible grateful to be given the opportunity to talk about a subject I feel passionately about - the story of women in the polar regions.

It is a surprise to many that the story of women in Antarctica for example, begins in 1773 - the same year Captain Cook first crossed the Antarctic Circle. Many of the women whose stories I share were not free to explore in their own right, but nevertheless they found ways to explore within the roles available to them (or sometimes trespassed into roles that were not open to them). Either way, they carved out their own relationship with the Polar Regions and left us with a rich heritage that is in itself worth exploring.

The day was topped off by the appearance on stage of the Ice Maidens and my own Women's Euro-Arabian North Pole team. The Ice Maidens skied across Antarctica earlier in the year and although the Euro-Arabian journey was a lot shorter (!), it felt unique to have a stage full of women who had been both North and South in the same year sitting together on stage at the Royal Geographical Society - I wonder whether anything similar has happened on that particular stage before?

Fresh back from the North Pole!

After two long years of preparation and delays, successes and setbacks, I finally stood at the top of the world alongside the 10 team members of the Women's Euro-Arabian North Pole Expedition on the 21st April.

The sea ice of the Arctic Ocean was simultaneously intimidating and mesmerising. We saw such beautiful colours and incredible variety of ice formations and yet everywhere was the unnerving evidence that we were not on solid ground but a shifting, unpredictable raft of fragile ice. We saw open water steam into the freezing air and hang over the ice like a sinister mist, we saw vast boulders of ice balanced in heaps as if swept up by giant hands and once, on prodding the far side of a lead, I saw the seemingly solid ice move away from me frighteningly swiftly.

I am used to expeditions that last weeks, that are all about making slow and steady progress - but the Arctic Ocean was the exact opposite of everything I was used to. We had a very short time window to complete our journey and from the moment we were deposited on the ice we were against the clock. Everything had to happen so quickly and the challenge was to be ready for that. No time to fall into routines or to adapt.

I look forward to sharing the story and experiences of this expedition in the months to come - as always I learned a lot from those we travelled with, about mistakes made and things that I could have done better, as well as a reaffirmation that the human spirit is a wonderful thing to be admired. The team are each speaking about their personal journey in schools and at events, we are all writing up our memories and Holly has already begun the long process of editing expedition footage into a film.

With things changing so rapidly in the high Arctic I feel very fortunate to have been able to experience it and I very much hope this won't be the last time I stand on the ice at the top of the planet.

 

Expedition Leader Felicity Aston on the ice with the team..jpg
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Longyearbyen Svalbard

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I've been here in Longyearbyen for a week and am already beginning to feel like a local - it doesn't take long to settle into such a small community and for faces to become familiar. Preparing for the Women's Euro-Arabian North Pole expedition later in the month, we have set up a temporary HQ on the last hunk of rock before the frozen expanse of the Arctic Ocean. There is a lot to do.....preparing equipment, sorting logistics for the arrival of the rest of the team, keeping sponsors and supporters in the loop and undertaking the initial tests for the science studies the expedition will take part in. You can follow our progress on the expedition website and social media strands at @northpole2018.

In between the feverish activity, it's been a real pleasure to spend time in this unique town - to see the light travel around the mountains that rise up on all sides - watching the lines of snowmobiles trail up the glacier every morning and return every evening - to hear the stories in the bars and coffee shops - and to catch up with the extraordinary friends that live here.

GLOBE Forum 2018

Delighted to have presented the latest expeditions at the GLOBE Forum 2018 in Vancouver - a wonderful platform. The theme of the conference is 'Disrupting Business as Usual'. That is precisely what our Euro-Arabian Expedition aims to do by inspiring everyone to think twice about their perceptions. Lots of shock in the room about the precarious state of Arctic Ocean sea ice.

My big takeaway from the conference came from Emily Penn's talk about ocean plastics. Of 39 toxins banned by the UN that come from plastic she found 27 present when testing her own blood. This coupled with the news today from the BBC that plastic fragments were found in all brands of bottled water sold within the UK has really hit home with me.

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Competition to win a trip to the North Pole

How would you like to join Kaspersky Lab CEO Eugene Kaspersky on a unique trip to the North Pole?

To commemorate Kaspersky Lab's support for the Women's Euro-Arabian North Pole Expedition, Kaspersky Lab are offering one EU citizen the chance to accompany Eugene when he meets and congratulates the expedition team at the finish line.

The winner will be flown to Svalbard in the Arctic Circle, then to the remote Barneo ice camp at latitude 89 degrees North, before boarding a helicopter and flying to the geographic North Pole.

The prize is valued at €20,000 and includes all travel, accommodation and meal expenses, as well as equipment hire.

This is a very special once-in-a-lifetime experience. Win it, and you'll never forget it..

So if you're an EU resident, in good health, aged 18-years or older, and ready to fly between April 10 and 16 2018, enter now. It couldn't be easier to get involved!

To enter go to: https://www.kaspersky.com/about/sponsorships/win-your-trip-to-the-north-pole

On a snow-covered lava field in Iceland...

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For the past week the Euro-Arabian team have been braving some stiff Icelandic winter storms to prepare for their North Pole expedition in April. You can follow their progress on social media or through the expedition website at www.euroarabianexpedition.com

Look out for some dramatic tent-footage of a storm and the team courageously taking part in ice-breaking drills!

University of Reading

I was very honoured to be presented with the 2017 Alumnus of the Year Award by the University of Reading today. I attended Reading between 1999 and 2000 to complete a Masters degree in Applied Meteorology.

Recognition is always lovely but receiving this award was particularly wonderful because when I graduated from the University I wasn't able to attend the graduation ceremony - I was already on my way to Antarctica for the first time. So, today, it felt like I finally graduated - just 17 years late!

Huge thanks to the Chancellor and everyone at the University who made the day special - but especially Professor Giles Harrison who gave a wonderful award speech. You certainly did your research!

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Giving Public Lectures in the UK

I have three very different but equally exciting public lectures coming up in the South East of the UK this October.

The first is a return to the Guildford Travel Club. It will be an extended lecture (2 x 45 minutes, with a very sociable interval for wine and chat) about the Pole of Cold expedition, followed by a book signing on Tuesday 3rd October. I spoke at the GTC a few years ago about my last Antarctic expedition and thoroughly enjoyed the evening so I am looking forward to this return. Details can be found here: http://www.guildfordtravelclub.org.uk/events/2017/talks/01-FelicityAston.html

Next up is Salon London, the always thought-provoking mash-up of art, science and psychology with its unique speaker format. This time it is an afternoon event in central London on Wednesday 4th October. Details and tickets here: http://www.salon-london.com/content/About_Us/

Finally, I will be interviewed by Jim McNeill at the Royal Aeronautical Club in Mayfair, London, on the 4th October as part of his 'Icons Interviewed' series. Details and Tickets at https://spark.adobe.com/page/oTJ7CAhOAASZP/?w=3_3106

If the South East is not your usual stomping ground, never fear! I'll be venturing West to Bristol later in the year (see Forthcoming Events) and North to Scotland for a mini speaking tour with the Royal Scottish Geographical Society early in 2018. I'll post full details as soon as dates and venues have been confirmed.

I look forward to seeing some of you there!

Enjoying the documentary teaser

If we find the sponsorship in time, I hope to be travelling to the Arctic in Aprilnext year to ski the last degree to the North Pole with a team of women from across Europe and the Middle East.

Holly Morris is making a documentary about our journey and she has put together a short video for us to introduce the expedition and the project. It uses footage taken during our two training expeditions - the first in Iceland, and the second in Oman.

It's a tantalising teaser of the full length film to come (working title 'Exposure')...but it all depends on finding the support we need...if you can help get information about our expedition in front of the right people, please do get in touch! You can contact the expedition via the website at www.euroarabianexpedition.com

Oman

Last September I held the first training meet of the Euro-Arabian North Pole Expedition on Langjokull Glacier in Iceland. For the team's second training meet it seemed fitting that - having travelled to a European destination last time - we should this time head to the Middle East.

The team in the distance clearly visible on the Sugar Dunes...

The team in the distance clearly visible on the Sugar Dunes...

Finding a suitable location for Polar training on the Arabian Peninsula might seem a hopeless prospect but Oman provided the perfect solution. We spent a week crossing the Wahiba Sands of Oman, a compact desert of bright red sand dunes a few hours drive from the capital. The heat was certainly a new challenge for a Polar team but in many other respects the skills demanded were ideal. From navigation to on-the-spot route finding, travelling together and learning to trust each other as a team - it was a perfect training ground.

Oman also provided a white landscape to make us feel at home. A little further along the coast from the Wahiba Sands are the Sugar Dunes, a patch of desert so white that at first glance it could be snow and ice. As the team hauls sledges full of equipment in polar style, the only thing that gives it away in the photos are the t-shirts and bare feet!

You can read a daily account of our training journey in Oman on the expedition website at www.euroarabianexpedition.com

Receiving an Authors' Foundation Grant

Very excited to have received a grant from the Society of Authors administered Authors' Foundation Grant. The funds will enable me to make a journey needed to finish off a book I have been working on for a while. However, I'm also deeply grateful for the belief in the project that the award of a grant implies. Thank you!

Giving the Royal Geographical Society Annual Children's Lecture 2016

I was really delighted to be asked by the RGS in London to give their annual lecture aimed at younger inquisitive minds. The 700 or so capacity Ondaatje Theatre at the RGS - with the names of legendary explorers etched in gold around the walls and a palpable sense of history - is always a pretty intimidating place to speak but I admit that a younger audience motivated me to prepare even more carefully than usual!

My talk 'Freeze! Adventures through the coldest weather in the world' ranged from meeting the Lord Keeper of the Cold in the coldest inhabited place in the world, to travelling to the North Pole in a nuclear-powered icebreaker, to skiing through whiteouts in Antarctica. There were lots of really great questions from the audience at the end - which, I think, is always a good sign that everyone has enjoyed themselves and found something interesting at the same time. I certainly enjoyed meeting many of the young geographers afterwards, even if I did miss out on the squash and activities going on in the next room!

Thanks to Sandi for the photo...

Thanks to Sandi for the photo...

On the BBC!

You might remember that I disappeared off to the Yukon for a month back in May/June? Well, the BBC History three-part series we were filming is due to be broadcast on BBC Two over the coming weeks with the first episode airing tonight (Sunday 30th October) at 9pm.
The remaining two episodes will be broadcast on Sunday 6th November at 9pm and Sunday 13th November at 8pm.

We had an epic time in the Yukon following the route of the 1898 Klondike Gold Rush, crossing mountain passes, running rapids in home-made boats, rowing 400km down the mighty Yukon and mining for gold. It was a lot of fun to film (mainly due to my companions Dan Snow and Kevin Fong being so unrelentingly witty and the rest of the crew being brilliant too) so I hope its as much fun to watch...

Update: If you missed the shows, you can see them on iPlayer for the next month here:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episodes/b0824c7w?suggid=b0824c7w