My hair is matted and stuck to my scalp. I haven’t washed it for six days. Around me are ladies bearing streaks of blistered and blackening skin across their faces from frostbite. Yet today, we’re all smiles. After five days battling an Arctic storm with gale force winds and temperatures down to -42°C, the sun has finally come out. It is warm enough to sit together in a group and, without the wind, it’s peaceful enough to hear each other speak. I can finally deliver the letters from home that I’ve secretly been carrying in my pulk (sledge) since we left the north shore of Baffin Island, high up in the Arctic Circle.
Sitting in a semi-circle on the front of their pulks, which carry everything needed to survive (tent, stove, sleeping bag, roll matt, clothes, food and water containers), they take it in turns to read out their letter from their loved ones.
“I love you mummy. I’m so proud of you,” reads one.
“My friends at school think you’re really EPIC! One day I want to go to the Arctic, just like you,” reads another as the tears fall.
“You might not recognize the kids and I… we’ll be the ones looking dirty and disheveled at Heathrow on your return,” writes a father in humour, although possibly laced with truth.
Myself and 13 other women are all taking part in the LeasePlan Women’s Arctic Challenge. The 100 km, 18 day expedition across the Arctic Circle was the brain child of my twin sister Debra Searle MVO, MBE. She has letters after her name. The MBE was for ‘Services to Adventure’. I have none and I don’t even like camping in the summer let alone at -42. Yet somehow she persuaded me to help lead the expedition, including the selection of the other women and all the preparation. Then, 10 days before we were due to depart, she went skiing with her family and tore the ligaments and cartilage in her knee and had to drop out. Suddenly I’m on my own.