Linda has been successful in making journeys to the North pole, South pole and Greenland and now she is going to cross the South Patagonian icecap.
She was the first Australian woman to reach both the South and North poles, “skiing all the way”. In 2010 she was the Australian Geographic adventurer of the year.
”I travel in small teams that are completely self sufficient. My journey will be with my husban,d Rob Rigato, and Kerryn Wratt.
“This is to the South Patagonian icecap to see whether a fresh approach will get us successfully across the icecap after last time failing due to challenging weather and changed conditions.
“We almost need to take flippers, goggles and bathers to cope with the wet weather that bogged us down last time!
With a gear list more suitable to wet, windy and not quite so cold weather, and a reduced weight more suitable to back packing, the team’s plans will accommodate the load hauling that is required to get onto the glacier.
It will take up to a week to reach the icecap. Once there they can lighten their loads by using small sleds to haul our gear.
“This time we are going in spring when there will be much longer daylight - though we will also need to allow for the wind storms that the Patagonian Icecap is renowned for,” she said
If the team can gain access up the glacier and cross the 150 kms of mountainous icecap, descending a huge and vastly crevassed Jorge Montt glacier Linda will have succeeded in doing a crossing of the four major icecaps of the world.
The team is committed not just to spending time in the wilds of Chile with minimal support, but to taking a world of armchair adventurers with them, to spread a message about what women and teams can achieve, about the importance of preserving wilderness, and about the power of nature to enhance our understanding of ourselves and our world.
“I know what it takes to keep going on these trips, having battled blizzards, ice shifts and rafted across open water, all the while hauling sleds weighing up to 80 kg.”
The team will experience strong highs and lows as the inevitable challenges of weather, cold and difficult conditions contrast with the beauty of the ice landscape, the joys of gaining ground and the emotional warmth generated by a cohesive and productive team effort.
The wanderlust started early when Linda was taken to several different countries to live with her family when she was a child.
They lived in the USA, went camping in the Grand Canyon and also spent time in Germany and Argentina.
Her love of wilderness and being in the bush was also fostered by her family camping out every year over Easter at Howqua and walking up Mt Howitt in Victoria’s Alpine area.
But it wasn’t until her children left home she felt she could pursue more of an adventurous life on her own. A natural extension of her bushwalking was to complete a mountaineering training course in n Australia.
This led her on to New Zealand and then Canada. It wasn’t until she found some female role models that Linda believed she could make more adventurous journeys and join in on expeditions to the most isolated parts of the world.
When asked about who inspired her there are fewer examples for women and there are not the stories out there that women can relate to.
Reading the book To the Pole by Caroline Hamilton, gave her the idea there was a different way of expeditioning. Unlike the accounts of men’s expeditions which were full of pushing against adversity and defying the elements there was a different approach which involved long days of careful steps and learning to read the ice and snow conditions.
In our own state we have Brigitte Muir who has climbed the seven summits and “her positivity about what I could do, really gave me the impetus to have a go at these bigger journeys”.
“She also has a very strong concern for the environment which I also share. Before then I wasn’t sure I could do this.”
Although Linda didn’t have enough experience to join an expedition with Brigitte first up, she encouraged her to train further on ice and snow and then an opportunity arose to go to the South Pole.
Linda writes after the 2004 trip: “It’s hard to believe I’m back – because for quite some time it was hard to believe I would ever make it to the South Pole.
“We skied for day after day across a flat, white landscape, with no sense of progress because there were no visual clues that we were actually moving anywhere. The only sign was a new reading on the GPS at night and each camp marked off another centimeter on the map.
“I did make it though - with my four companions, Denise (guide from Canada), Stuart (from the USA), Hannah (from England) and Craig (from Scotland). It took us 56 days to cross from Hercules Inlet on the edge of the Antarctic to the South Pole - 600 nautical miles (approx 1200 km).
“It was a wonderful experience, testing both my physical and metal stamina. I felt privileged to be there - there’s nothing like a huge, white, icy, windy land to remind you of the insignificance of human beings in the grand scheme of things.
“Antarctica has a way of sending reminders not to take anything for granted - a blistering wind, temperatures around -20 degrees Celsius, a whiteout fog,, a challenging day of soft snow or large sastrugi or a beautiful day of clouds and sun haloes.”
The in 2007, Linda travelled to Greenland with Rob and Roger Chao and completed an East West crossing of the Greenland Iceap.
They travelled for 35 days from near Nagtivit to Kangerlussuaq, On their 4th day they experienced a Pittarak (wind storm) which kept them tent bound for four days, destroying one of their two tents.
After 35 days they completed a journey that included being “dwarfed by the ice cliffs and wind scalloped gouges”.
“At times we felt we could be clambering and sliding over these obstacles for ever. Pulling took on a new dimension as the sleds came alive with a momentum of their own,” she said.
“We controlled them as best we could, sliding them backwards down some slopes but they frequently ran into our legs, spun us around and dived down side slopes sometimes taking us with them.
“While progress was slow and hard we were fascinated by the colors and shapes around us and frequently stopped to take photos. It was a beautiful and unworldly landscape.”
In 2010, Linda returned from the north pole where after 55 days trekking 780 km from the northern-most tip of Canada, she became the first Australian woman to travel to both poles on foot and when she got there Mother Nature put on one of her best shows. “It actually turned out to be beautiful,” Linda said. “The sun came out, we could see it, it did look magical.”
Linda is Executive Officer of the Women’s health service in Bendigo.
During the weekend and after work she can be found hauling a heavy pack and sometimes dragging an unwieldy tyre, through the local Box Ironbark forest.
The continued training has led her to experience the burst of spring and enjoy the wildflowers and birds emerging from winter and the cold.
She can also be found climbing up and down poppet head in Rosalind Park in Bendigo, lugging bricks in her heavy pack. Mt Macedon has been a destination in the last few months doing a 15k circuit and climbing up to the Cross so she gets that power in her legs and is used to carrying a 32 kilo pack.
“This is the steepest climb that is within easy driving distance. Going to the icecap needs a lot of preparation.”
The icecaps are a harsh and cold environment but they also have their own natural beauty. Linda says “the ice caps are nestled amongst the mountains in Patagonia and there are different colours of blue and we see sunbows when the sunlight travels through the ice and creates visually beautiful effects”.
Linda believes that not only that she can conquer the cold, ice, lack of food and energy required for these journeys and through making these trips she can show that other women can achieve the difficult challenges that life may provide.
“I love being out in the wilderness and the challenges it presents”
To travel in the bush and see places hardly anyone else has ever seen. This gives me the focus to keep training and I love the physical activity, getting fit to do the trips and then the resilience you build when undertaking these challenging journeys.”
My children don’t worry about me as they know I have planned this journey and done the preparation, they are excited about what I am doing but so far have not wanted to join me.
This is my journey but I hope other women can take something of my will to do it and my determination and I can encourage others to challenge what they may think are their limits.”
Linda has started her own company Journeys for Learning and talks regularly to schools and Companies about how her extraordinary goals can be applied to every day life. Linda talks with students and company employees and then provides an online journal of her journeys so all can be involved and this can provide leadership and encouragement in other areas of life.
“Journeys in remote and wild places on this earth and experiences of adventurous challenge and triumph draw on capacities, skills and attitudes we use daily, I find that journeys in the bush, on snow, in the mountains, on rivers and seas - anywhere away from our urban landscapes - link readily to three themes - environmental sustainability, resilience and team work.”
Linda decided to do these trips, as a response to empty nest syndrome. Other women take up writing, exploring overseas travel but Linda decided to do something extraordinary. What she wants people to know is that everyone has the capacity to do something exceptional in their lives.
She says “through the insights of people who are prepared to push physical, mental, spiritual and geographic boundaries there can be exploration of ideas that we are all concerned with such as how we should be relating to this planet and the natural world and what attitudes and beliefs help us deal with the emotional and social challenges in our lives”.
Having conquered the North Pole, skied to the South Pole in 2004 and crossed the Greenland Icecap in 2007, there is one more box Linda wants to tick. The Patagonia Icecap and she has her air ticket and team and is setting off to traverse the Icecap and complete her journeys.
- Liz Martin