Text by Molly Loomis
Even as a young girl, the idea of a lengthy expedition
in a stark winter landscape appealed to Pam Flowers.
This yearning for exploration and adventure wouldn’t
disappear, even as she grew older. In her mid-thirties
Flowers did the illogical, enviable, and inspiring;
she walked away from an established city life and
successful career in order to pursue the dreams she’d
been putting on hold for years.
“I realized that I hated living in a big, hot
city, surrounded by cars and pavement and buildings
and people,” Flowers remembers. “I was
about as far away from the snowy vastness I longed
for as I could possibly get.”
In 1980 Flowers began working toward her ambitious,
exploratory desires when she signed up for a NOLS
course, where she hoped to learn the skills necessary
for traveling and surviving in a winter environment.
“It was real agony,” says Flowers. “The
instructors didn’t think I’d finish the
course.” Flowers, who weighed a mere 85 pounds,
had a pack that weighed over 50.
“But I was really determined. Like many NOLSies,
I haven’t ever thought of things in terms of
hard or easy. Once I decide I am going to do something
I just think about how I am going to find a way to
Shortly after her NOLS course, Flowers took an apprenticeship
at Howling Dog Farm in Willow, Alaska, home to over
200 sled dogs. Before long, her confidence and strength
in winter extremes had grown: She ran the legendary
Iditarod race and completed two successful trips to
the magnetic North Pole.
On February 14, 1993 Flowers took the next ambitious
step in winter exploring when she left Barrow, Alaska
with her eight-dog team alone in an attempt to cross
the frozen roof of the world. Her plan was to retrace
the route of Danish explorer Knud Rasmussen, who traveled
in 1923 across 2,000 miles of the Northwest Passage.
Her route would take her in the opposite direction,
from Barrow to the tiny, remote, Canadian Arctic village
of Repulse Bay, 2,500 miles to the east.
When Flowers completed her solo trip on January
9, 1994 she became the second woman known to have
finished the entire route, and the first woman and
first American to do it solo. “After traveling
2,000 miles, enduring darkness, isolation, cold, one
of the stormiest winters on record, a polar bear encounter,
and melting, flooded sea ice,” Flowers says,
“the expedition was temporarily halted when
break-up arrived in the Arctic over five weeks early.”
So Flowers and her sled-dog team, advised by the Inuit
people, paused for the next five-and-a-half months,
living on King William Island in Gjoa Haven with the
Qitsualiks, a family of five Inuit people. Flowers
documented all of these adventures she had along the
way in her book “Alone Across the Arctic,”
which includes photos, illustrations and excerpts
from her journal.
These days, Flowers travels around the country speaking
at schools and other public venues about her experiences.
She uses stories about herself and her dogs as metaphors
for teamwork, self-reliance, and the importance of
expedition behavior. Flowers hopes that her presentations
inspire audience members to pursue dreams of their
“However corny it may sound, I believe you
really should pursue one big dream in your life even
if no one believes you can do it,” Flowers says.
“Find a dream and go try to make it come true.
It is the most important thing you can do for yourself.”