Renowned North Pole explorer to visit Key Peninsula


Rodika Tollefson, KP News

Renowned adventurer Helen Thayer has a handful of “firsts” on her resume: first woman to walk and ski to one of the Earth’s poles, first woman and first American to circumnavigate the magnetic North Pole, first woman to walk (4,000 miles) across the Sahara Desert, first person, with her husband, Bill, to walk across the entire Mongolian Gobi Desert—trekking more than 1,500 miles at age 63.

One of Thayer’s many incredible feats was to live a year with Arctic wolves in 1994. Together with Bill and their dog, Charlie, she spent six months about 100 feet from a wolf den in Canada’s Yukon Territory. They later returned during the winter months, observing and documenting the lives of wolves and polar bears.

In March, Thayer, who is a professional speaker and best-selling author, will share her experience with a Key Peninsula audience. The Friends of Key Center Library have invited her to present a program including rare and fascinating photography about animals living in the Arctic North tundra.

Helen Thayer with her canine companion, Charlie, in the Arctic. Photo courtesy Helen Thayer

Born in New Zealand, Thayer climbed her first mountain at age 9. One of the people who inspired her was family friend Sir Edmund Hillary, the first person to conquer Mount Everest.

Thayer, a National Geographic Explorer who lives in Snohomish County, was 50 years old when she took her first solo trek, accompanied by Charlie. Walking to the North Pole, one of the most dangerous spots on the planet, she pulled a sled by herself, without resupplying, and faced polar bears and a storm that destroyed most of the food and supplies. Thayer said in an interview she took the quest in an effort to develop an educational program for an adventure classroom. “I’ve been doing it ever since,” she said.

Thayer’s 60-year birthday may have been the most memorable one: She celebrated it during a 450-mile solo expedition in Antarctica, which entailed pulling a 260-pound sled, and being without any contact with the outside world.

Now 69, Thayer is far from slowing down. She and Bill are planning a trek to Tibet to study and document, through writing and photography, the area’s disappearing cultures. As with all the other expeditions, no animals will be used, and the couple will walk — this time, 2,000 miles.

“We are environmentally sensitive,” she said. “We walk, we don’t use animals; this way we experience the environment more.”

Thayer’s adventures have resulted in several books, including “Three Among the Wolves,” in which Charlie plays a key role. The husky, who was also featured in her “Polar Dreams” book about her first expedition, passed away in 2003, at age 23.


‘I Lived with Arctic Wolves’ presentation

Helen Thayer will present at 7 p.m. on Thursday, March 8, at the Key Center Library. The program is free. Books will be available for purchase and signing during the program. For more information about Thayer, visit[/box]