LONDON — There’s something about those Bowes-Lyon women.
Britain’s late Queen Mother, born Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, smiled and waved her way to the age of 101 after guiding her husband King George VI — and her nation — through hard times. But last week, one of her great nieces, Rosie Stancer, embarked on another sort of endurance test: A solo trek to the South Pole. If she succeeds, she’ll be the first British woman to do so.
With her cousins Prince Charles and the Earl of Lichfield among her patrons, Stancer will attempt to reach the Pole by February. Photographer Patrick Lichfield, whose mother Anne was a Bowes-Lyon, has taught Stancer about cameras, and the Prince has promised to call her on the satellite phone on Christmas Day.
Stancer’s trek, sponsored by Snickers, will raise money for Special Olympics Great Britain. But the 43-year-old married mother of one says the journey is a personal challenge.
“Maybe it’s a very primitive urge to test one’s self to the extreme. And I don’t see it as pitting myself against the elements — I’m trying to work with them. I’ll cease to regard the cold as hostile,” says Stancer in a pretrip interview at Joe Allen in Covent Garden.
A petite blonde in a hot pink sweater, Stance doesn’t exactly look like the type who spends time hauling tires around Richmond Park in preparation for dragging her 440-pound sled. But her business card, decorated with a pair of hot pink stilettos on skis, says it all.
In 1997, Stancer took part in the first all-female relay expedition to the North Pole on foot. Three years later, she trekked to the South Pole with four other women, part of the first British female team to walk there unguided. “It was all very emotional when we got to the South Pole. There’s an American base there and they played ‘God Save the Queen’ and gave us champagne,” says Stancer. “It was a horrid shock when we looked in the mirror and saw how thin we’d all become. But there was a real sense of fulfillment, a feeling of complete self-sufficiency.”
Stancer isn’t the only Antarctic adventurer in the family. Her grandfather, William Spencer Granville, was selected for Capt. Robert Falcon Scott’s original Antarctic team in 1910, but was later rejected because he was too tall for the tents. Her husband’s grandfather, James Wordie, took part in Sir Ernest Shackleton’s legendary 1914 Antarctic expedition.
During this trip, she’ll be packing in 5,000 calories a day, eating her way through daily rations of Snickers bars, dehydrated food, full-fat butter, salami, cheese, nuts and porridge. She’ll be dragging her sled with its supplies more than 600 miles.
To insulate herself from temperatures that will drop as low as minus 40 degrees, Stancer ordered a bespoke wardrobe for the trip, including Norwegian-made canvas lace-up boots, fleeces, an all-in-one flying suit — and a fur hat.
“The fur traps the air in such a way that it creates a microclimate around the face,” says Stancer, adding that she’ll wear a “full Darth Vader face mask” to complete the look.
Despite the difficult conditions she’ll face, Stancer is looking forward to returning to the cold continent. “The Antarctic is not as colorful as the Arctic, but it is so vast in scale and majestic and haunting with all its shades of white.” She describes seeing parhelions — 360-degree halos around the sun — ice crystals that float like fairy dust through the air, and the menacing whiteouts with their zero visibility, which Stancer expects to encounter once every three days.
“I dread them. With no edge to your world, it feels like walking inside a ping-pong ball,” she says. She also fears things like her tent blowing away or catching fire, the loss of use of her hands, and, of course, the loneliness. “There is nothing in the interior — even the wildlife lives on the outer edges of the ice pack.”
Still, Stancer believes she’s prepared. “The physical training gives you psychological confidence,” she says. “What will also be propelling me is the charity, the notion of getting back to my family, and the responsibility I have to my sponsors.”