Stephanie Solomonides is about to go bi-polar. No, this isn’t an indication of her mental state, but rather her fantastically far ranging travels… Because this 33-year-old is set to embark on her second intrepid trek across the uncharted wildernesses of our planet, making her the only Cypriot – male or female – ever to ski to both the North and the South Poles.
Back in 2009 the Kasperksy Commonwealth Women’s Antarctica Expedition took Stephanie, literally, to the end of the earth. In a celebration of the 60th anniversary of the founding of the commonwealth, this young woman was part of a seven-member, all-female team who skied over 900km across the barren wastes of the Antarctic, reaching the South Pole just in time for the New Year. Chosen from over 800 candidates, she was the only Cypriot on the team, and endured “an experience so far out of my comfort zone that I just can’t wait to do it again…
“It was an unbelievable experience, so self-affirming and so far out of my comfort zone that in an odd sort of way I wanted to do again,” Stephanie laughs. “I’m a hot weather girl at heart, Mediterranean born and bred, and I love the beaches and the sun. But there’s something about witnessing that beauty of the wilderness first hand… I think it’s the peace that pulls me, that pristine environment, the purity of the polar experience.”
Not only, she adds, does traversing the wildernesses of this world allow one the time to readjust and reset – “to just enjoy being in the present” – it’s also a fantastic to be part of a team: “Once every so often I look back and miss being out there being part of the team in such a unique environment, even more so now when living in a large city that’s so very, very busy and polluted.”
Since her intrepid southern adventures, Stephanie has been based in London, working for a merchant bank. But, despite her day job, her polar dreams endure: in 2012 she was the Home Support Officer for veteran polar expedition leader Felicity Ashton’s record-breaking solo traverse of the Antarctic. “It was great to be on the other side of the expedition,” Stephanie reveals. “I’d receive a call from Felicity every third day at 3am in the morning!”
Now, after one successful southerly mission and one crucial role on the home front, she’s looking forward to her next big adventure. Because Stephanie will be representing Cyprus as a member of the 13-woman team who, early next year, will be heading to the far north on The Women’s Euro Arabian North Pole Expedition 2017…
Aiming to promote communication and dialogue between Europe and the Middle East, the expedition will see the team trekking across the shifting ice of the Arctic in a bid to foster greater dialogue and understanding between women from Western and Arabian cultures; working to inspire all women to reach beyond the expectation of others and to fulfil their own ultimate life ambitions. “We’re all from countries that have no history of polar exploration,” Stephanie explains, “so we’re aiming to prove that the amazing and the unbelievable can be achieved by anyone; building communication through our diversity and showing the innate strength of women.”
Speaking of strength, the expedition promises to be a real challenge for those taking part. Pitting themselves against minus 40°C temperatures, lurking polar bears and constantly shifting pack ice in their bid for polar domination, this team of scientists, teachers, mothers and businesswomen – few of whom have had any previous polar experience – are currently completing basic training in their own countries. But, come spring, they’ll be gathering in Svalbard before flying to the floating base camp located on the Arctic ice at Barneo. Then it’s off to the pole: sleeping on the ice in tents, pulling sledges containing food, fuel and supplies for the entire trip, and skiing roughly 100km in ten days over ice that is always on the move.
“The Antarctic was very different,” Stephanie explains, with the wisdom borne of experience. “It’s an entire continent, and it’s land. But up north there’s literally just ice floating atop the water – and ice moves and shifts all the time. So along with the more usual cold-weather kit” – balaclavas and ski buffs, mittens, gloves, wind and waterproof gear – “we’ll also be pulling sledges, known as ‘pulks’, which double up as floatation devices for when we have to swim. Keeping in mind that the terrain has changed a lot in the last few years, and both the thickness and the quality of the ice have deteriorated, I reckon the ice water training we’re doing before the trip” – something Stephanie admits she is dreading! – “is probably going to come in very handy!”
“The challenges,” she adds, “are so unknown. And that makes me feel scared, but also elated and really determined. Elated because I’ve been wanting to be part of another expedition since we completed the Antarctic trek and I can’t wait to see what’s in store for us; determined because there’s so much to do – not just when we’re on the expedition, but also in the months before we set off.”
As the Team Manager, Stephanie will be responsible for finding sponsorship and funding to support the team on their epic journey, as well as for coordination and communication during the journey (the expedition aims to take as many people as possible on their adventure through the mediums of posts, videos, interactive maps and podcasts straight from the ice). But, as a polar veteran, she’s undaunted by the prospect…
“It’s a fantastic team,” she grins. “An entire group of strong, determined women, all of us representing our homelands and proving what we can achieve together, promoting the themes of communication and diversity that have always been – and always will be – so important. And which are integral in particular, I believe, to our island. Ultimately, this isn’t just me on an expedition,” Stephanie concludes. “It’s me representing my homeland, representing Cyprus. And I’m very, very proud that that’s what I’ll be doing, when I’m way up north and right on top of the world!”
Stephanie will be representing Cyprus in as the Team Manager on The Women’s Euro Arabian North Pole Expedition 2017. For more information on the expedition visit www.euroarabianexpedition.com, www.felicityaston.co.uk, the Facebook page ‘The Women’s Euro-Arabian North Pole Expedition 2017’, or follow them on Twitter at @NorthPole2017. For details of the fund-raising activities, visit the team’s Indiegogo page at www.indiegogo.com/projects/the-women-s-euro-arabian-north-pole-expedition