Explorer completes epic 40 day and 700-mile solo ski of South Pole

Explorer completes epic 40 day and 700-mile solo ski of South Pole

January 4, 2022

Female army captain completes her one-woman quest to walk to the South Pole unaided after battling through minus 50C cold and 60mph winds

  • Preet Chani, 32, is the first woman of colour to ski solo to Antarctica’s South Pole 
  • She revealed in blog post how she stopped pulling tyres around her park at night 
  • She said she became ‘scared’ while alone in the dark after ‘recent horrific events’
  • Derby-born Army physiotherapist plans to launch fund for female adventurers
  • British-born Sikh also hopes to inspire other Asian women with her historic feat 

A trailblazing army captain has become to first woman of colour to walk to the South Pole unaided after battling -58F cold and 60mph winds.

Preet Chandi, 32, dragged an 190lb sled for 45 days alone en route to tackling her epic challenge that saw her complete a 700-mile trek in just 40 days.

The London-based servicewoman, who serves in a Medical Regiment in the north-west of England, kicked off her epic trek on November 24 after flying to the ice cap from Chile in South America. 

She sent out daily blog posts and pictures, revealing how she skied for around 11 hours each day – and having to ‘laugh it off’ each time she falls over due to the icy conditions. 

Using live-tracking data to keep friends, family and followers updated on her route, Preet completed her extraordinary quest on Monday, January 3. 

Remarking on her incredible feat, she explained: ‘Feeling so many emotions right now.

‘This expedition was always about so much more than me. I want to encourage people to push their boundaries and to believe in themselves.’ 

Polar explorer and trailblazer Preet Chandi, 32, dragged an 190lb sled for 45 days alone en route to tackling her epic challenge of walking to the South Pole unaided

After flying from Punta Arenas in Chile to Antarctica’s Union Glacier, she has set off from the Hercules Inlet on southern edge of the Ronne Ice Shelf, some 702 miles (1,130km) from the South Pole

After flying from Punta Arenas in Chile to Antarctica’s Union Glacier, Preet set off from the Hercules Inlet on southern edge of the Ronne Ice Shelf, some 702 miles (1,130km) from the South Pole. 

In the weeks running up to her trip, the ultra-marathon runner dragged tyres tied to her back in preparation for having to pull her 87kg ‘Pulka’, or sled, carrying all her food and equipment.

Preet also spent 27 days on the ice cap in Greenland where she fought through some of the most extreme weather conditions, including ‘whiteouts’ which she says were like ‘travelling through a marshmallow.’

After completing her journey, she shared an inspirational message: ‘I knew nothing about the polar world three years ago and it feels so surreal to finally be here. 

‘It was tough getting here and I want to thank everybody for their support.

This expedition was always about so much more than me. I want to encourage people to push their boundaries and to believe in themselves, and I want you to be able to do it without being labelled a rebel. 

‘I have been told no on many occasions and told to “just do the normal thing”, but we create our own normal. You are capable of anything you want. 

‘No-matter where you are from or where your start line is, everybody starts somewhere. I dont want to just break the glass ceiling, I want to smash it into a million pieces.’ 

On Christmas Eve (pictured) she updated her blog to reveal she was ‘doing well so far’. She said: ‘Still making my way through the Sastrugi. Visibility was good which is helpful’

On Day 30 Preet shared a photograph of the terrain she was facing. She said: ‘I fell a few times (nothing serious) and I had to use my arms to pull the pulk out from the deep Sastrugi areas. They can get to a few meters high so when its a whiteout and you cant see you’re stepping very carefully’

Preet battled temperatures of -50C and fierce winds of up to 60mph, and is live tracking her journey with an interactive map on her website (Pictured on a preparatory expedition to Iceland earlier this year)

But the arduous journey itself was the least of her worries when she began her intense training regime back in England.

The Derby-born Army physiotherapist, who has served in the likes of South Sudan, became incredibly ‘frustrated’ by the fear she felt while training in the dark at her local London park.

The 32-year-old revealed in an October blog post how she stopped part of her training outdoors at night – which saw her drag tyres tied to her back and waist by a rope – following ‘recent horrific events.’

It came after Sarah Everard, 33, and Sabina Nessa, 28, were both murdered while walking alone at night in the capital earlier this year.  

Preet had been pulling her tyres at around 7pm when it suddenly became dark. 

‘I was scared,’ she revealed, ‘I thought about how I should’ve checked if there were street lights. 

‘I thought about how people would tell me that I shouldn’t have been out on my own at that time which made me more frustrated.’

Preet said she held her poles out in front of her ‘ready to defend’ herself if needed, and that when she got back to her vehicle she drove away as quickly as possible.

She added: ‘I felt uncomfortable about going back to that park, even though I’ve been regularly in the day.’

Preet wrote to the local council after returning a week later with her partner during the day to see that there were in fact lamp posts dotted along the route, meaning they must not have been working.

She added: ‘There have been some horrific recent events, it’s so frustrating to see people victim blaming.

‘We shouldn’t have to feel afraid, I don’t have answers but I do want to feel safer and help others feel the same way. I know I’m not alone in feeling this way.’ 

The sports enthusiast, who once trained at the Novak Djokovic tennis academy as a teenager, pushed on with her training and has received heaps of support online since setting off on her journey, including from British adventurer Ben Fogle, who told her on Instagram: ‘Good luck, I’ll be following you.’ 

The sports enthusiast, who once trained at the Novak Djokovic tennis academy as a teenager, has received heaps of support online, including from British adventurer Ben Fogle, who told her on Instagram: ‘Good luck, I’ll be following you’ (Pictured with her boarding pass before her flight to Antarctica)

While at home in the UK, Preet was regularly seen pulling tyres to mimic the heavy sled she would be pulling across Antarctica – but admitted she became too scared to pull them around her London park in October following ‘horrific recent events’ 

Spending Christmas in Antarctica, speaking with her fiancée David and sipping a celebratory Coke Zero at the end of her trek were among the highlights of Preet’s journey that she shared in her daily blog posts.

Preet wrote on day 12: ‘So tough day today, terrain was icy. I fell over a few times in just the first hour. 

‘The first time I fell I was frustrated and then the next few times I laughed it off and got up and kept going. Just taking one step in front of the other. 

‘Besides, I cant control the weather or the terrain, I can control how I react to it though. So I focus on what I can control, my mindset.’

She added a couple of days later: ‘Strange to think that I haven’t seen any sign of another person for 14 days. I haven’t even started to talk to myself yet.’

On day 14 she made it to 83 degrees south which she described as ‘awesome’.

Preet has been listening to audiobooks along the journey, including three of Ben Fogle’s – Up, Inspire and Race to the Pole – Amy Poehler’s book Yes Please and Will Smith’s.  

On December 20, day 27, she wrote: ‘I’m in good spirits still and I’m still enjoying my own company which is always good.’ 

By day 29 she added: ‘I’m doing ok so far. Bit tired. Feels strange to have been alone for 29 days, its funny I thought I’d feel more lonely but to be honest I felt much more lonely as a teenager living away and playing a sport full time I wasn’t enjoying.’

She revealed she got engaged to her fiance David just weeks before leaving on the trip and added: ‘David has been waking up every morning in the early hours every morning for my check-in call while on this expedition. Dave is quite simply my rock.’

On Christmas Eve she updated her blog to reveal she was ‘doing well so far’. She said: ‘Still making my way through the Sastrugi. Visibility was good which is helpful. Its going slow through this section, around 30mph winds today. It’s also getting colder which means I don’t stop for as long on the breaks. I’m feeling ok, a bit tired.’  

Preet takes a photo of herself skiing her sled across the Antarctica, more than two weeks into her trip

Preet, who serves in a Medical Regiment in the north-west of England, kicked off her epic journey on November 24 after flying to the ice cap from Chile in South America (pictured in a selfie on Day 14 of her historic trek) 

Preet (pictured), a British-born Indian Sikh, who currently lives in London, said she hopes to inspire other Asian women with her historic feat

The British-born Indian Sikh said she hopes to inspire other Asian women with her historic feat.

She revealed she had eggs thrown at her when she was a teenager because she ‘looked different’. 

In one blog post she wrote: ‘It took me a long time to be proud of the colour of my skin. I used to be embarrassed, having eggs thrown at me and people spit at me when I was a teenager because I “looked different” certainly didn’t help. 

‘It took me a while to appreciate my culture and my roots, so when I describe myself as a “woman of colour” it is because I am finally proud of my skin colour, my roots, my culture. 

‘This term isn’t used to offend anyone. It is part of me and doing this expedition as a woman of colour is incredibly powerful. Having been told on many occasions that I don’t look like a polar explorer… lets change the image you expect to see.’

She told the Army before setting off: ‘When I decided I wanted to go to Antarctica, I didn’t know I would be the first woman of colour to do a solo expedition on the continent and people have said to me “You don’t look like a polar explorer”.

‘I think it’s really important to show diversity and increase that diversity just to show this is possible and it doesn’t matter where you come from, what your background is or what you look like, you can achieve something like this.

‘It might not be the norm, I might not be the image that you’d expect to see doing something like this, but I think it’s important to break out of what people expect to be the norms… if enough people do something new, it becomes normal.’

According to the Army, Preet had never even been camping before signing up to the force.

Since then, she has been mountaineering and wild camping in Wales and spent months learning polar navigation and sled-pulling in Norway. 

The super-fit squaddie has also hiked in the likes of Brazil, Bolivia and Peru.  

But sport and competition has always been in her blood, leaving home at 14 to play tennis at an academy, before joining the Novak Djokovic Academy in Czech Republic just two years later.  

She is also an ultramarathon runner and has completed some of the world’s most gruelling challenges, including the 156-mile Marathon des Sables across the Sahara desert earlier this year.

‘It was very hot throughout and we experienced a nice sand storm which blew our tent away on one of the nights!’ she recalls in her blog.

‘The highlight was being given a coke zero (my achilles heel) on day five… and finishing of course.’ 

Preet poses with the Twin Otter plane after being dropped off in Antarctica 

Preet was hosted by the Chilean Army while she waited for a flight to Antarctica 

The trailblazer is using half of the funds raised for her trip to pay towards an adventure grant for women conducting unique challenges, which she plans to launch next year

A training trip to Iceland this year saw Preet practicing pulling a heavy sled and toughing out severe weather conditions 

The Derby-born Army physiotherapist serves in a Medical Regiment in the north-west of England but has also worked out in the field, including South Sudan 

Preet named her sled after her nine-year-old niece Simran and her skis after her baby nephew Karanveer.

The trailblazer is using half of the funds raised for her trip to pay towards an adventure grant for women conducting unique challenges, which she plans to launch next year.

The rest will go to Khalsa Aid, ‘who’s message is to recognise the whole human race as one,’ she said. 

Announcing her trip on her website, she wrote: ‘Hopefully doing something that pushes me so far out of my comfort zone will inspire others to believe in themselves and push their boundaries.

‘There are only a few female adventurers that have completed a solo, unsupported trek on this continent. 

‘It is time to add some more names, diversity and to make history.

‘I want my niece to grow up without boundaries, knowing the possibilities of what you can achieve in life are endless.’

She added: ‘This journey aims to inspire future generations in achieving whatever they desire and pushing boundaries.

‘By promoting and completing this challenge, it allows me to act as a role model to young people, women and those from ethnic backgrounds.’

Polar Preet joins other inspirational British women who have smashed Antarctica records 

Mollie Hughes (pictured at Edinburgh Airport after becoming the world’s youngest woman to climb Mount Everest from both sides in 2017), 29, who lives in Edinburgh, is became the youngest woman to ski alone to the South Pole in 2019

British women appear to have a thing for conquering Antarctica – and setting records along the way.

Briton Felicity Aston was the first woman to ski alone across the ice cap back in 2012. 

The record-breaking adventurer completed her exhausting journey over the icy continent on January 23 of that year after 59 days of pulling two sledges for 1,084 miles.

She tweeted that she had made it to Hercules Inlet on the Ronne Ice Shelf, after finally completing her journey which started from the Leverett Glacier on November 25, 2011.

Aston, from Kent, also set another record for the first human to ski solo across Antarctica using only her own muscle power.

A male-female team already combined to ski across Antarctica without kites or machines to pull them across, but Aston was the first to do this alone. 

More recently, Edinburgh-based adventurer Mollie Hughes, 29, became the youngest woman to ski solo to the South Pole in January 2020. 

Ms Hughes skied for 58.5 days pulling all her food in a sledge during her lone trek across Antarctica, before confirming she had reached the geographic South Pole via Twitter. 

Ms Hughes, who is originally from Devon, hauled 105kg on the 702-mile journey from the coast of Antarctica to the South Pole. 

She described her expedition, which began on November 13, 2019, as ‘extremely tough’ due to ‘extreme’ conditions.

Having initially hoped to reach the South Pole by New Year’s Day, she was almost derailed by the weather in the first two weeks.

She faced headwinds of more than 55knots, temperatures of -45C and a whiteout for eight days in a row.

Ms Hughes had already become the world’s youngest woman to climb Mount Everest from both sides in 2017.    

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