The Sunday Magazine

Meet the first black woman to ski to the North Pole: Barbara Hillary

Barbara Hillary has some advice for retired people. Do something. And surround yourself with interesting people. She took her own advice, and at the age of 75, she became the first black woman to ski to the North Pole.
Barbara Hillary at age 75 at the North Pole on April 23, 2007. (Moderage Photo Services NYC)

It goes without saying that trekking to the top of the world is not for the faint of heart. The bitter temperatures, wild wind storms and gaping crevices in the ice make it a perilous and unforgiving destination.

This spring, an international team of women from Europe and the Middle East made history — women from Qatar, Oman, Kuwait, Slovenia, Sweden, France, Cyprus, Russia and the UK, almost all of them novices — made the 45 km slog from Base Camp Barneo. 

The Euro-Arabian Expedition was the first all-womens team of its kind to make it to the North Pole - 11 years after Barbara Hillary's journey. (Euro-Arabian Expedition)

Of course, the 11 women who made this trek stand on the shoulders of the ones who came before them. Few are more inspirational than Barbara Hillary, a retired New York nurse who became the first — and oldest — black woman to ski to the North Pole at 75 years old.

Barbara Hillary's boldness and adventurousness was evident from the time she was a little girl in 1940's Harlem. 1:49

She trained hard, raised more than $25,000 and hired guides. She did it solo, as she's done most things all her adult life, just a couple of years after a bout with lung cancer. On April 23, 2007, she stood on the top of the world.

On January 6th, 2011, at age 79, she became the first black woman to stand on the South Pole.   

Another first: making it to the South Pole at age 79.

Barbara's now 87 and she's planning a great hurrah for her 90th birthday.

Click through the photo gallery below to see more from Barbara's adventures.

Click 'listen' at the top of the page to hear the full documentary.