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Readers note: This is an excerpt from the Trailblazers: Australia’s 50 Greatest Explorers exhibition, developed in 2015. This content was written as a brief biography on why this person was included in the exhibition.
Linda Beilharz earned the nickname ‘the Icy Pole Lady’, after becoming the first Australian woman to successfully ski to both the North and South poles as part of a larger challenge to cross the world’s four icecaps (including Greenland and Patagonia).
Born on 15 April 1960, Linda earned her degree in Community Development and Master of Health Science at La Trobe University. In 1981 she married Rob Rigato, her partner on all her icecap journeys. They live in Bendigo, Victoria, where Linda is Executive Officer of Women’s Health Lodden Mallee and a member of the Alpine Search and Rescue team.
Over 10 years and 146 nights of ice camping, with temperatures down to minus 38 degrees Celsius, Beilharz immersed herself in an endless white world as “a choice to generate momentum and challenge in my life”.
In 2004, she became the first Australian woman to ski 1100 kilometres from the edge of Antarctica to the South Pole. Three years later she traversed the Greenland icecap and in 2009 made her first attempt to cross Patagonia’s.
On the North Pole journey in 2010, aged 50, Beilharz trekked for 56 days over cracking, drifting ice. Large open leads required swimming in survival suits, a long circumnavigation or a courageous leap with a following sled. Skiing a total of 780 kilometres, the route was hellish at times. In the final days, the team endured a ruthless push to the finish, covering 27 kilometres in 17-hour days with only one hour for sleep.
In 2013, Linda and Rob returned to Patagonia, this time successfully crossing the icecap.
Beilharz formed Journeys for Learning, a not-for-profit organisation to link the journeys of adventurers with the lives of ordinary people in schools, communities and workplaces. In 2010 she was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia for her South Pole trek, and was named Australian Geographic Society’s Adventurer of the Year.
Linda Beilharz’s motto is: “Don’t panic till you really need to” and sees her icecap journeys as arbitrary goals – a means of exploring human potential and the spirit of the wilderness.
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