NB Slots Sports >Extreme Sports >Experience: I walked 922 miles across Antarctica, solo, in 70 days | Life and style

Experience: I walked 922 miles across Antarctica, solo, in 70 days | Life and style

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Even if the visibility is good, you can’t see much – it’s a white horizon. It’s physically difficult, but it’s also mentally difficult

Preet Chandi
Fri 3 Nov 2023 10.00 GMTLast modified on Mon 6 Nov 2023 14.07 GMT
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It started with a half marathon, when I was at university in London in 2011. I then progressed to marathons and ultramarathons, doing a different event each year. I’d wanted to do something big for a while, but didn’t know what. In the summer of 2018, someone suggested an Antarctica expedition. At first I thought: not a chance.

But the idea stayed in my mind. In April the next year, I ran the Marathon des Sables, a 156-mile ultra marathon in the Sahara Desert. I thought: if I can do that, then I can do Antarctica.

I decided I wanted to do a solo polar ski expedition across Antarctica. To get some experience, I did a two-week polar expedition training course in February 2020. We learned all the basics: how to camp in the snow, how to pull a sled and what clothing to wear. Later that year, I did a training course in Greenland.

Soon after that, I put my application in with an Antarctic expeditions and logistics company. You’re on the ice solo, but they organise all the logistics and provide support and backup.

They rejected my first application because I didn’t have enough experience. Instead, I broke it down into two trips. Phase one was 700 miles from Hercules Inlet to the south pole across Antarctica, which I started in November 2021 and completed in January 2022. That gave me enough experience to attempt phase two, which was about 1,100 miles, travelling coast to coast across Antarctica.

I only took necessities. I didn’t even take a hairbrush – it took six weeks to untangle my hair when I got home
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In October 2022, I flew to Punta Arenas, in Chile, where the logistics company is based. From there, it’s a four-hour flight to Antarctica. I’d allowed 70 days, which would make it the longest unsupported solo one-way expedition across Antarctica.

I only had food and fuel, a tent, my sleeping bag, a repair kit, goggles, face masks, gloves and a medical kit. I only took necessities. I didn’t even take a hairbrush – it took six weeks to untangle my hair when I got home.

The first few days were rough. The winds were about 60mph, and my sled weighed 120kg. I remember thinking: it’s going to get easier. But it didn’t. Even if the visibility is good, you can’t see much – it’s a white horizon. Without a compass, you could go in any direction. It’s physically difficult, but it’s also mentally difficult, as it doesn’t feel like you’re moving towards anything.

I was on the move for 13 to 15 hours a day and getting four to five hours of sleep a night. I’d melt snow in a pot on a portable stove to heat up my freeze-dried meals, such as pasta bolognese. I had a hot chocolate every day. On my first expedition, I craved sweets, so for this trip I took 25 pieces of Haribo.

It’s amazing how you can get used to being on your own for so long. I had a satellite phone, which I used to call my partner and the logistics company every day to let them know I was OK. I also had voice notes from friends and family, which I listened to on hard days. I’d downloaded them before I left – they were poems, memories and stories. There was one from my 11-year-old niece. It was special to hear her voice. I had messages written in my tent, too. One said: “Remember to enjoy it.” It’s funny how many times I rolled my eyes at that.

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Compared with my first trip, I found the conditions to be much worse. There was more sastrugi, ridges of hard snow caused by wind, and it felt colder. I was also pulling more weight on my sled, because it was a longer trip. As a result, I fell behind schedule. In the end, I covered 922 miles and fell more than 100 miles short of my goal. The last 40 hours were really hard. I fell over about 14 times every two hours.

Towards the end of my trip, the logistics company flew to pick me up. They had been waiting there for four days by the time I reached them. The relief I felt when I saw the dot in the distance was unbelievable. When I got to the plane, I bawled my eyes out. They handed me a cheese and salami sandwich, a cola and some pain relief.

It took me a while to be proud of what I’d achieved, because I had failed to reach my initial goal, but I’ve learned it’s OK to move the goalposts. Antarctica is an incredible place. I don’t agree with the idea of conquering somewhere. You treat places with respect and hope they’ll allow you safe passage.

As told to Isabelle Aron.

Do you have an experience to share? Email [email protected]

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