After 40 days, 7 hours and 3 minutes, Harpreet Chandi became the first woman of color to reach the South Pole in a solo expedition yesterday, making history. She is the third fastest woman on such an expedition. Set off from Hercules Inlet in Antarctica on November 24, 2021, the young physiotherapist and British Army captain covered ten degrees of latitude, 1,111 kilometers, and a difference in altitude of more than 2,700 meters to reach her destination.
The expedition demanded a lot from “Polar Preet”, as she calls herself: rapid weather changes, whiteouts, wind speeds of 65 kilometres per hour and above, temperatures as low as minus 45 degrees Celsius, the constant ascent – from just under 80 metres at Hercules Inlet to about 2,800 metres at the South Pole – and sastrugi (hard parallel waves in the snow formed by the wind) over countless kilometres left her quite exhausted by the end of the expedition. In addition, she was plagued by a persistent cough and, in the last third, suffering from sickness and diarrhea.
Nevertheless, Chandi mastered the difficult, little varied route even almost a week faster than planned – she had expected 45 to 47 days – and announced yesterday with joy: “I made it to the South Pole where its snowing. Feeling so many emotions right now. 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.”
She also says that this expedition is not just about her. “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.”
The many difficult passages with strenuous climbs, headwinds and sastrugi, which made pulling the almost 90 kilogram pulka even more difficult, shortened Chandi with music, audio books and previously saved voice messages from her friends. Especially the so-called whiteouts, when everything around you appears in the same white without contrast and the ground and sky merge seamlessly, drained her energy, as she had to keep a constant eye on her GPS and compass.
Most days she skied eleven hours a day – divided into periods of 90 minutes of skiing followed by ten minutes of rest – and slept less than six. The rest of the time she was basically busy setting up and taking down the tent, melting snow, cooking and some “administrative” tasks like making the daily call home with news that can be read on her website or repairing her gloves.
Retired Major General Lamont Kirkland from the Team Army Sports Foundation, which backed the challenge, told Forces News:”There are plenty of adjectives that could describe Captain Preet Chandi – tenacious is right up there as one of them, determination, this sense of ambition. This girl is amazing, in every which way. I had that sense when I first talked to her and when I met her for the first time at her launch event in October. I was absolutely sure, in all certainty, that she would make this.”
Julia Hager, PolarJournal
Link to “Polar Preet”‘s website: https://polarpreet.com/
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