When she was 12, Olivia Gourley successfully trekked high into the mountains of Peru.
Now, at 14, her sights are set on conquering the harrowing conditions of Antarctica by becoming the youngest person to ski to the South Pole.
“I like to challenge myself, so I think skiing to the South Pole will be a new challenge,” she says.
“And, specifically, I want to show young women that they shouldn’t limit themselves to what they can achieve. “That they can set high goals for themselves and they can achieve those goals if they’re willing to put in the work and be dedicated to it,” she says. “And, that they don’t have to fall into society’s expectations of what they can do, because that’s really up to them.”
Such an undertaking is obviously not for the faint of heart, considering it involves long days of skiing for up to three weeks in extremely harsh conditions and terrain, all while pulling a 45-kilogram (100-lb.) sled.
At age 11, Olivia underwent a groundbreaking form of spinal surgery after being diagnosed with scoliosis, an abnormal curvature of the spine.
The procedure worked and by the next year she was fit enough to accompany her father, Chris Gourley, on a hike that took them 15,000 feet above sea level to the Salkantay Pass on Machu Picchu, Peru.
But even that pales in comparison to their Antarctica adventure.
“The weather will be like minus-40 degree temperatures. And there will be so many different snow conditions,” Olivia says.
Before dealing with those obstacles, however, she and her dad have another daunting hurdle to clear – coming up with more than $100,000 to cover the expedition expenses.
The daughter-and-father duo are hoping to generate both corporate and private funding for the expedition. Olivia recently created a web page and a GoFundMe account.
But as opposed to treating this simply as a personal experience, the Gourleys are hoping to use the web page and their overall experience as an educational tool for others to both learn and draw inspiration from.
Unlike the North Pole, which is essentially a giant, floating glacier with no land mass, the South Pole is a polar ice sheet with a land base and a topography that rises to over 2,800 metres (9,300 ft.) above sea level.
“We’ll be pulling sleds that have everything we’ll need. Spare tents and skis and food and fuel, everything,” Olivia says.
High winds create large ridges of snow called sastrugi, which along with katabatic head winds blowing down from the polar plateau to the coast, combine to make for difficult travel
The expedition is planned for next year with all logistic and travel arrangements being coordinated through Antarctic Logistics and Expeditions (ALE). And while the pair will have communication and rescue capabilities throughout their journey they will otherwise will be alone.
“If there is any trouble, ALE is there for support and it’s called the world’s most expensive taxi ride,” Chris says, with a chuckle. “On the ice, just the two of us.”
Chris, 41, and a longtime member of the “adventure community,” describes himself as a kind of “silent partner” in the planned expedition and says the driving factor is absolutely Olivia.
Currently, she stands at 5-ft. 3-in. and about 110 lbs. But Olivia is physically active, running seriously five days a week as well as participating in such sports as soccer, hockey, track and field and CrossFit.
“One of the classic ways to train for this is just pulling a tire and walking up hills because that imitates pulling the sledge,” she says.
But it’s not all about physical strength either.
“You think the physics is the main thing but really it’s the mental aspect of it,” Chris says. “Because it’s just one foot and the other for very long periods of time in hard conditions. So it’s the mental aspect that’s really the challenge. The monotony, the landscape that’s really non distinguishable.”
With their massive fundraising effort at its early stages, both admit there is a chance the expedition might not come about. But that’s not the basis upon which they are proceeding.
“We can’t lose,” Chris says. “If we don’t even get off the ground here and get to go, there’s so much learning involved in the preparation for it that we can’t even lose through the whole event.”
Olivia prefers to concentrate on the many preparations involved and with getting started on her physical and mental training.
“I think the biggest part is the fear of the unknown. I’m sure that things will come my way that I won’t know how to handle and that are new to me, so I am going to have to overcome that,” she says.
“And that’s the thing that might get me a little bit second guessing. That happens just in life, so I am sure that is going to happen on the Antarctica continent. But that is going to help me find my mental strength and help me push through.”
Ollivia’s website link: https://www.oliviagourley.com/