From polar adventurer to climate warrior: The amazing life of Jade Hameister

18 April 2023

Jade Hameister

Jade Hameister is in her final year of a Bachelor of Commerce at
Monash Business School.

At the age of 16, Jade Hameister became the youngest person ever to complete an extraordinary feat – skiing the Polar Hat-Trick, an unsupported and unassisted journey to the North Pole, across Greenland and via a new route to the South Pole.

Five years since she attained the ‘hat-trick’ and amid other amazing skiing feats, Ms Hameister is now in her final year of a Bachelor of Commerce from Monash Business School.

Along the way she has been awarded an Order of Australia Medal for service to polar exploration, named Young Adventurer of the Year twice by the Australian Geographic Society and featured in a National Geographic documentary that aired in 170 countries.

Now, she is combining her passion for sustainability and love of the polar regions with finance and business to create impact at the highest level.

Her efforts have so far included attending the United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP27, in Egypt in November last year as part of the Monash University delegation.

Most recently, in January, Ms Hameister was invited to speak at the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos.

“I’m very passionate about climate change and sustainability. As likely the only person on the planet of my generation with the privilege of first-hand experience in Earth’s three main polar regions, I now feel a deep emotional connection to Earth and a strong sense of responsibility to help protect it for future generations,” she says.

“I would like to combine this passion with what I am learning in my Commerce degree at Monash to have a positive impact through this avenue.”

First brush with climate change

Ms Hameister’s feeling for snow dates back to her first expedition to the North Pole, aged just 14 – which she realises now, was also her first experience with the tangible consequences of climate change.

Captured in a National Geographic documentary, Ms Hameister travelled 150 kms over 12 days with no outside assistance other than from a small team made up of her father Paul Hameister, a guide and a National Geographic camera operator.

Every day she would ski for up to 10 hours, pulling all her provisions in a sled across the sea ice and climbing over ice ridges, at times enduring minus 40-degree temperatures.

“My parents encouraged me to be adventurous from a young age. I grew up around a dad that climbed lots of mountains and has climbed the world’s seven summits,” explains Ms Hameister.

“When I was 12 and my brother was 10, we trekked to Mount Everest base camp. I became friends with an Icelandic lady there who had skied solo to the South Pole a few years earlier. I was inspired by her and wanted to do something similar.”

Jade Hameister

Jade Hameister's feeling for snow dates back to her first expedition to the North Pole,
aged just 14. Picture: @jadehameister/Instagram

A year later, she set off to a training camp in New Zealand where she learned to ski, raise tents in the snow, pull a sled and generally become independent in very harsh conditions.

“Only then did we realise that you must be 16 years old to be allowed to ski to the South Pole. So that was a setback,” Ms Hameister explains.

“We had to rethink, and we came up with a new plan of doing the North Pole and Greenland in the meantime.”

Another challenge presented itself.

“We were delayed for two weeks because the floating sea ice on which we needed to land a plane to start our expedition kept breaking up due to warm weather. There were even discussions about cancelling the season altogether – which they have had to do in recent years because there’s not enough sea ice.

“This was the beginning of my first-hand experience with climate change. It’s scary. I didn’t really think about it then because I was so young,” she says.

Polar expeditions

Since her first polar expedition, Ms Hameister skied 550km across the Greenland ice sheet (2017) and 600km via a new route through the Trans-Antarctic mountains to the South Pole (2017-18).

She is the youngest woman in history to cross the Greenland ice sheet and the youngest person in history and first Australian woman to ski from the coast of Antarctica to the South Pole. She is one of only two women in history to set a new route.

“The toughest of the three expeditions was the South Pole, which took us 37 days. We had the worst weather our guide had seen in 25 years. There were multiple days where temperatures reached minus 50C with wind chill. You are just cold all the time,” she says.

The team would set up a stove in their tent at night and in the morning to melt snow for water, which produced a bit of heat.

“But as soon as it went off you wanted to be in your sleeping bag wrapped up quickly,” she says.

“During the day you keep warm by moving. Most of the time, food and drink breaks were awful.”

Coping mentally was an additional challenge.

“We were skiing eight to nine hours a day and almost always in single file, not easily able to communicate with each other. So, I had a lot of time in my head with my thoughts. I had to teach myself to be present and focus on the breath and just get on with it. I made it a habit not to listen to music whenI was training, so I had those tools already.

“On the Greenland and South Pole trips, part of our team was an ex-special forces soldier, assisting the NatGeo camera person with the heavy load. I spent a lot of time with him and he taught me a lot of cool mind tricks to keep going.

“Things like tricking yourself by smiling or pushing extra hard for the next 30 seconds. By tricking your mind into thinking that you’re not in pain, you realise how much farther you can actually go.”

Back to normal life

All three of Ms Hameister’s polar expeditions were captured by National Geographic, who produced two documentaries that aired in 2016 and 2018. Since her polar expeditions she has released a book to educate young people on climate change and she is an avid speaker.

In 2019 along with her dad she was awarded an Order of Australia Medal for service to polar exploration. Ms Hameister has also been named Young Adventurer of the Year twice by the Australian Geographic Society.

But transitioning back into normal life was not easy.

Jade Hameister

Jade Hameister has been named Young Adventurer of the Year twice by the
Australian Geographic Society. Picture: @jadehameister/Instagram

“Coming back home to my final year of high school was the hardest. It was difficult to sit in a classroom after spending 40 days on what felt like another planet. I had to shift focus and find a new sense of purpose.

“I am also very lucky that I have such a supportive group of friends – we didn’t spend a lot of time talking about it either. They’re not surprised anymore when I tell them I’m going on some big adventure – when I’m with them it’s not really about that.”

Now 21, Ms Hameister is in her final year of Commerce at the Clayton campus, with a major in finance. She is interning part-time at a renewable energy infrastructure developer in their investment team. She is also the president of the Financial Management Association of Australia (‘FMAA’) at Monash.

Despite university life, the adventures haven’t stopped. Last year she spent eight months overseas, where she completed an internship at The Villars Institute in Switzerland, a not-for-profit climate institute whose purpose is to be a platform for inter-generational collaboration and systems change.

'Be inside the tent'

She also says attending COP27 for Monash was a “huge eye-opener”.

“I think there is a lot of criticism that surrounds these kinds of events, which I can now understand and acknowledge, but I also don’t think we have time to be screaming.

“I would rather be inside the tent, involved in the conversations surrounding my future, than outside the tent screaming at it.”

The situation is urgent, but Ms Hameister is optimistic. And she would like to see more youth involved and represented at a high level.

“If I wasn’t optimistic, what would I be doing? There is still time, but it’s running out. And fast. It’s so important that we don’t lose hope,” she says.