Ann Daniels: The Polar Pioneer

Polar Pioneer

A record-breaking polar explorer and renowned international speaker, Ann Daniels is the first woman in history – along with expedition teammate Caroline Hamilton – to reach the North and South Poles as part of all-female teams.

A great believer in living life to the full, Ann takes opportunities as they appear.

With no previous experience and as a mother of 18-month old triplets, Ann beat off fierce competition from over 200 other women on a gruelling Dartmoor selection weekend to be chosen to join an all-female, relay sledge-hauling expedition to the North Pole.

Ann's team was tasked with crossing the toughest sections of ice, in the coldest weather, to give this record-breaking expedition the best possible start.

The McVitie's Penguin Polar Relay marked the beginning of a new chapter in Ann's life and she has since gone on to complete many more arctic adventures.

"Good leadership is... trusting your team to do their job, but also knowing when to step in and help."

You’ve completed challenges in some of the world’s toughest environments. What motivates you to take them on?

I like a challenge, but it has to have a purpose. In the early days achieving world records was a path to a more interesting future, but they soon stopped motivating me to put myself through physical hell for long periods of time. That’s when I moved onto scientific expeditions such as the Catlin Arctic Survey, which is for the good of the environment.

I’ve since been involved in other scientific-based expeditions and have had the honour to work for NASA and other recognised bodies in the field of exploration. It's easy to stay motivated because it's all for a purpose far greater than any entry in a record book.

Why polar expeditions?

Climate change. Our planet is rapidly changing and nowhere faster than the polar regions. Having spent so much time there, mainly in the Arctic, I care passionately about what's happening to the world at the edges of our planet.

Over the past 23 years I’ve seen first-hand a dramatic change in the icescape and the wildlife and people that live in these regions. My unusual set of skills mean I have the ability to help experts in this field understand what's happening up there. I couldn’t imagine not putting those skills to work.

You lead polar expedition teams. What makes a good leader?

Good leadership is helping your team achieve their best. Treating people well and respecting them is paramount. You have to trust your team to do their job, but also know when to step in and help.

It's important to remember that your own morale affects the whole team. Always be the best you can be. Get to know your people, but also understand that change is inevitable. Embrace those changes and the challenge that comes with them, and then evolve your leadership accordingly.

© Martin Hartley
"If I’m on the ice and I’m about to cross a difficult area I ask myself if I can look my children in the eye and be okay with making the decision to cross."

Polar expeditions can be dangerous. How do you ensure your team's safety?

I manage risk by looking at the possible outcomes. If I’m on the ice and I’m about to cross a difficult area I ask myself if I can look my children in the eye and be okay with making the decision to cross. It stops me being reckless and taking needless risks. If I can't, I don’t do it, and I'll look for another way even if it’s a much longer way around.

If I decide to take the risk I'll assess what could go wrong and how to mitigate it. What to do if things go wrong, and how to get out of the situation.

What sacrifices have you had to make to get where you are?

We all make sacrifices every day. For me, time away from family, a secure monthly income, and of course the physical and mental pain while carrying out my job on the ice are the main ones.

It's not as big a sacrifice, but I also don't like having to put on weight before I’m due to go on expedition. It’s necessary, but like most females on the planet I don’t like having an extra 20 pounds added to my usual frame!

The need to train every day is also tough and as I get older it's only getting tougher.

How do you cope with the physical demands of expeditions?

I have to train hard for many months before an expedition to prepare my body. Then, while on an expedition it's all about routine. That means eating high calorie meals each morning - whether I feel like it or not - and drinking at least a litre of fluid before I leave the tent.

I also have to be strict about how long I ski for, take breaks to eat and drink regularly, stop for the day before complete exhaustion sets in, and again be sure to eat and take on enough fluid each night.

Wearing sunscreen is also super important, as well as avoiding unnecessary risks and holding as many positive thoughts as possible.

What’s your next challenge?

When I first ventured onto the ice the Arctic ocean was full of multi-year ice, where it hadn’t melted completely in the summer and got thicker and thicker each winter. Now, the multi-year ice has all but disappeared and there are only a few small pockets of it around Greenland, Ellesmere and Russia.

With the help of NASA and The European Space Agency, my next mission is to go and find the multi-year ice and document it until it disappears forever. My team will collect samples and then add tracking beacons to the ice so the scientists can track the ice and know when it finally breaks up for good.

After that I'm taking on a project of Alan Chambers and Wayne Hoyle. It will be a crossing of Antarctica from Vahsel Bay, where Shackleton's ship was entombed in ice, collecting snow samples along the route to test for micro plastics, which, as it’s a landmass covered in ice, can only have been taken there by the wind. Again, my team will be working with scientists who specialise in this field.

Described by The Daily Telegraph as one of the top 20 Great British Adventurers of all times. Ann is regularly asked to speak on leadership, motivation and overcoming challenges in an ever changing world. As a Polar guide and leader of four major scientific Arctic surveys, Ann is living proof that good leadership, teamwork and a positive mental attitude does make a difference to the success of a team. Check out her website for more information.