Talk to Helen Thayer a bit and you start to wonder: What hasn’t this Snohomish-area woman done?
Because this adventurer, who was named one of the great explorers of the 20th century by National Geographic Society and honored by the White House, has a long list of the desolate and harsh places of the Earth that she’s traveled over and through.
The New Zealand native made history when she walked alone to the magnetic North Pole, becoming the first woman to do so for either of the Earth’s poles. It was 1988. She was 50. Her only company on that trip was a docile black husky named Charlie. He would figure prominently in another adventure in 1994, when she and husband, Bill, spent a year in the far north of the Canadian Yukon Territory observing wolves with Charlie — whose grandfather was an Arctic wolf — as their go-between.
“We’d always wanted to study wolves but weren’t interested in studying captive wolves,” explains Thayer, now 69, as the reason for their decision to go into the wild.
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Thayer will talk about that year Friday night in Bellingham during her slide show presentation. The couple’s year of studying wild wolves in their summer and winter habitat is the subject of Thayer’s book, “Three Among Wolves: A Year of Friendship with Wolves in the Wild.”
She says the star of that book is Charlie, just as he was in Thayer’s book chronicling her North Pole walk, “Polar Dream.”
Charlie was raised around wolves and polar bears in the far north before Thayer bought the dog at the start of her North Pole journey to warn her of approaching polar bears.
“They do hunt and kill humans for food,” says Thayer, adding that her solo North Pole trek was the most difficult of her adventures. “It was really hard, being alone, down on the ice with the bears.”
This time around, Thayer needed Charlie to help gain entry into the world of wild wolves; the wolves would see Charlie as the Thayers’ alpha, so they accepted the trio’s presence among them.
For six months they lived 100 feet from a wolf den, observing the daily lives, habits and even some of the hunts of these animals.
“The highlight was when the pups were born. It took about three weeks for the mother to bring them out of the den. … She gradually accepted us and allowed us to get quite close. We never touched them, of course. But she allowed them to be around the camp and around Charlie,” Thayer recalls.
During that year, the couple also traveled to the frozen polar sea and the Mackenzie Delta in the frozen north of Canada to observe another pack of wolves.
Thayer — who also educates children about the animals, the land and the people that make up her adventures in the corners of the world through her business Adventure Classroom — has given previous talks about the year among wolves, opening the eyes of her audience.
“They learn the real nature of wolves … the way they live is a close bond of family that cares for each other. People go away knowing what wolves really are and how they live. People tell us, ‘We fell in love with the wolves.’ ”
Just as Thayer fell in love with journeys. Among her other adventures: In 1995, she and Bill kayaked 1,200 miles in a remote area of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil. In 1996, they walked 2,400 miles across the Sahara desert, where temperatures can hit 136 degrees during the day and fall to freezing at night.
On her 60th birthday, she walked alone over 400 miles in the Antarctica.
In 2001, Thayer and her husband again walked across a desert — this time it was the 1,450-mile-length, west to east, of the Gobi Desert in Mongolia, which, she says, is even drier than the Sahara.
She was 63. Bill was 74 and that walk will be chronicled in her new book, “Trekking the Gobi: Desert of Dreams and Despair,” which is due out in September.
Next up, the Thayers are planning to walk across China.
“We’ve got lots of expeditions ahead of us — lots planned.”