People have always felt an urge to explore the unknown and push the boundaries of what we believe is humanly possible. Neil Armstrong, Christopher Columbus, Lewis and Clark, Edmund Hillary, Percy Fawcett – these are the names of some of history’s best-remembered explorers.
But women such as British explorer Felicity Aston have also put their names on the map. Felicity is the first and only woman in the world to ski across Antarctica alone. The 1084-mile, 59-day journey — completed in January 2012 — also made her the first person in the world to do so purely by muscle power without the aid of kites or machines.
In addition to this great accomplishment, Felicity was part of the first British all-women’s crossing of the Greenland ice sheet in 2006, a 450-mile winter crossing of Lake Baikal in Siberia, and an adventurous expedition in Iceland for young people with brain injuries. She was also part of the first, ever, all-female team to complete the Polar Challenge, a 350-mile endurance race to the magnetic north pole and has completed the notorious Marathon Des Sables, a 150-mile foot race across the Sahara. Trained as a Physicist and Meteorologist, Felicity’s first polar experience was as a scientist with the British Antarctic Survey. Based for three years on a remote research station on the Antarctic Peninsula, her job was to monitor climate and ozone.
In 2009, Felicity led the 38-day, 600-mile Kaspersky Lab Commonwealth Antarctic Expedition, the largest and most international women’s team ever to ski to the South Pole. The team included women from Brunei, Darussalam, Cyprus, Ghana, India, Jamaica, Singapore and New Zealand. Felicity was responsible for selecting, training and leading this diverse, multicultural team of ‘ordinary’ women for one of the most arduous journeys on Earth.
Outside Magazine – the most popular adventure sport magazine in the US – named her a 2012 Adventurer of the Year, and in 2014, she was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the Queen’s 2015 New Year Honours List and was one of very few women to be awarded Her Majesty The Queen’s Polar Medal.
Felicity has written three highly acclaimed books about her experiences in some of the coldest places in the world. Her book about the 2009 expedition, Call of the White: Taking the World to the South Pole was published in March 2011 and was a finalist in the Banff Mountain Book Competition that year. Her second book, Alone in Antarctica, was released by Summersdale in 2013. Chasing Winter, A Journey to the Pole of Cold, was published in 2014.
Felicity has served on the Council of both the Young Explorer’s Trust, the UK’s national association of youth exploration societies – a national charity dedicated to promoting safe and responsible expeditions for young people, and British Exploring – a historic educational charity that provides scientific and adventurous expeditions for young people. Felicity also acts as an Ambassador for two inspiring organizations – the British Antarctic Monument Trust which aims to commemorate the achievements of the men and women whose scientific exploration in Antarctica has led to a new understanding of our planet, and to honor those among them who did not return – and Equaladventure which provides support for individuals and organizations striving towards inclusive participation in sport and adventure.
Felicity’s ongoing commitment to make exploration a more accessible option for women, youth, and people living with disabilities is truly inspiring. Below is a letter of advice she wrote to her teen self for the anthology, Advice to My Thirteen-Year-Old Self. Her letter resonates with all people – young and old alike – who are following their own paths.
Melissa Banigan Founder/Managing Editor Advice Project Media
Dear Thirteen-Year-Old Felicity,
You think often about the future. Despite being confident that you have the ability to do anything you want, you feel frustrated by the fact that the future is so unclear, and you are scared of making the wrong choices and afraid of missing out.
I want to tell you not to let that fear paralyze you into indecision. You have so much time ahead of you that you can afford to make mistakes. But do you know what? No decision you make will be a mistake. I know it feels hard to believe right now, but you are already on the right path. Instead of searching for a template to follow, be reassured that your heart and your head will guide you well and that the decisions you make will lead you to good places.
As you grow up you will see those around you following their own paths and it will seem as if their journeys are very different from yours. You will worry that perhaps this means you are doing something wrong, that you are being foolish to chase such ambitious dreams such as skiing to the South Pole, writing books, and being an expedition leader. Don’t be discouraged – you will eventually find a way to make all these things happen. The secret is to never lose sight of what you enjoy and of what you are good at.
I promise that one day you will look back and it will seem as if each and every step of your life brought you to exactly where you want to be – as if you had been following a roadmap from the outset. Along the way you will see some incredible places, do great things, and meet people who will touch your life and stay with you forever. So don’t waste time and energy worrying about the future, focus instead on enjoying every moment of the present because it so quickly becomes our past.
Felicity, no one can tell you the way, you have to find it yourself – but the way is never clear until you step forward. Have faith in yourself and follow your instincts.
*Note – All photos on this page were used with Felicity Aston’s permission. Advice Project Media and authors hold the copyright to all of the content on this website, meaning that this letter (or portions thereof) cannot be reprinted without permission.