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Alumni Explorers
By Kerry Brophy

This issue’s Trailblazer Series proves that once you’re a NOLS grad, the fun is just beginning…


Pam Flowers
Arctic Explorer
Text by Molly Loomis

© Jenning Steger

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 do it.”

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 own.

“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.”


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