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Fri, 04.27.2007

The First Black Woman Arrives at the North Pole

Barbara Hillary

*On this date in 2007, the first Black woman trekked to the North Pole. 75-year-old Barbara Hillary of Averne, N.Y., made the journey.

The bone-numbing trek to the North Pole is riddled with frostbite and polar bears, and the ice constantly shifts beneath your feet. Hillary is also one of the oldest people to reach the North Pole. She 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 reached the North Pole. "I said, `What's wrong with this picture?'" she said. "So I sort of rolled into this, shall we say."

The expedition’s customers can travel to the North Pole in various ways, from 18-day cross-country ski trips to being dropped off at the Pole via helicopter. Hillary insisted on skiing. So she enrolled in cross-country skiing lessons and hired a personal trainer, who finally determined she was physically fit for the voyage. Her lack of funds didn't stop her, either. Hillary scraped together thousands of dollars and solicited private donors.

On April 18, she arrived in Longyearbyen, Norway. The travelers were then flown to the base camp, rebuilt each year due to melting ice, and pitched their tents. Five days later, she set off on skis with two trained guides. As the sunlight glinted off the ice, Hillary fought beneath a load of gear and pressed on. In her euphoria at reaching the Pole, standing at the top of the world, she made it. The enormous expanse of ice and sky left Hillary speechless.

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."

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