Preet Chandi, a British Army officer, made history this week by becoming the first woman of colour to complete a solo expedition to the South Pole.
Chandi skied and trekked her way 700 miles across Antarctica, completely unaided, starting from the Hercules Inlet.
She began her journey in November 2021 and trudged her way to history with nothing but audiobooks, voice-notes from friends, and a face mask named Miles to keep her company.
Chandi documented her entire journey on her website, which sports her self-dubbed nickname ‘Polar Preet’.
“I am now in Antarctica on my solo, unsupported expedition to the South Pole,” her site reads. “This involves me travelling 700 miles, pulling a pulk (sledge) with all of my kit, battling temperatures of up to -50c and wind speeds of up to 60mph. This journey will take approximately 45 – 47 days.”
Chandi revealed she had trained for more than two years to get to this moment, and struggled to find the right support at the start of her endeavour. She spent most of her money, including her life savings, to fund the training and eventual journey across the world’s coldest continent.
Messages from the ice
Chandi provided an insightful daily audio blog, which was uploaded to her website along with a live location tracker. This was her only contact with the outside world.
Friends, family, and strangers were able to tune in and keep up to date with her journey as she tackled the harsh conditions.
She was equipped with a satellite phone to provide the audio updates, as well as an inReach — plus GPS devices and a compass to aid her expedition.
The voice recordings, which were each about two minutes long, gave brief but fascinating snippets into Chandi’s experience on the ice, day by day. Her family at home uploaded the recordings and also kept her Instagram updated over the 40 days she was out there.
On the seventh day, Chandi admitted it was “definitely the longest I’ve ever been alone and not seen anybody else.”
As the days and weeks went by, listeners got to learn more about Chandi’s life and background, including her role within the British Army, her MSc in Sports and Exercise Medicine, and the hardships she faced as an Asian woman growing up.
Surviving the antarctic
Chandi gave details on what she described as ‘tent admin’ — the process she went through to ensure she was fed, watered, and rested ahead of the next day of travelling with her 84kg pulk.
After 11 hours of travelling, she would begin her admin, which involved melting snow in order to drink and cook food, repairing any damaged gear, and logging her nightly check-in calls.
Chandi reflected on the second day of her journey when she discovered her Covid face mask in her coat pocket, which she named Miles.
“It’s me and Miles on our way to the South Pole together,” she said chirpily.
Her heartwarming voice recordings, each of which were dedicated to someone or something she loved, gave insight into her family dynamic, training background, and relationship with her fiancé David.
Chandi also kept herself occupied during the gruelling treks by listening to audiobooks and music.
But despite her uplifting reports and positive attitude, it was far from an easy daily routine for Chandi.
She discussed the reality of travelling in such unpredictable terrain and the mental exhaustion she suffered during whiteouts, which seriously decreased visibility.
On the Day 15 audio blog, Chandi stressed the importance of taking breaks during the day in order to not get too hot or too cold. Overheating poses the risk of sweating, which can freeze in the harsh conditions.
She also became ill towards the end of her expedition, which resulted in vomiting, diarrhoea and fatigue.
Chandi spoke of missing her sister-in-law’s apple crumbles, how she named her skis and pulk after her niece and nephew, and even asked her six friends to be her bridesmaids at her wedding.
After giving a shoutout to a number of schools in her Day 5 audio update, Chandi revealed she will be visiting students in over four months in 2022 to share her journey and “hopefully inspire the next generation.”
In one of her Instagram updates, Chandi’s family posted a powerful message from her as she celebrated her progress out in Antarctica.
“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… let’s change the image you expect to see.”
As she relished in her astonishing achievement on Day 40, Chandi implored others to believe in themselves and stressed the importance of pushing boundaries.
“You are capable of anything you want,” she said. “No matter where you are from or where your start line is, everybody starts somewhere. I don’t want to just break the glass ceiling, I want to smash it into a million pieces.”