‘Polar Preet’ Makes History – Preet Chandi Becomes 1st Woman Of Colour To Complete Solo Trek of South Pole
32 year old Captain Harpreet Chandi (aka Polar Preet), an Indian- origin British Sikh Army officer and physiotherapist, created history on January 3 2022 by becoming the first woman of colour to complete a solo expedition across Antarctica. Chandi has now become the first person to reach the South Pole on foot in two years as well as the third fastest woman to trek across the continent.
Polar Preet’s Trek To The South Pole
On November 24 2021 she began her expedition after flying from Chile South America to Antarctica and in 40 days she trekked 700 miles to the South Pole. During this time, she faced harsh weather conditions, isolation and illness. There were temperatures of -45C and winds of up to 60mph that she had to tackle against all while each day skiing and walking for 11 hours, pulling her sled full of equipment with her.
At night she would stop to pitch a tent, give check-in calls and sleep. Her only contact with the outside world was through these daily check-ins with her support team, who would then post daily updates to her followers via her blog and Instagram. She also used live tracking data to keep friends family and followers/supporters updated on her current route with audio updates when you clicked on where she was on the map.
To keep her spirits up Polar Preet listened to many audiobooks – stating ‘you want to have good audiobooks while you’re out here.’ – including ones by Will Smith and Amy Poehler, all while also giving insights on what she learnt from them while on her current solo journey in her posts.
Christopher Michel from San Francisco, USA, CC BY 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
Throughout her trip, Polar Preet also dedicated each daily post to some of the individuals who helped or supported her in some way along her journey to the South Pole, including one dedication to Antarctica itself.
On her first day she made a post honouring her late Grandfather saying ‘Thank you Baba Ji for letting me know that I was just as important. I hope you’re watching down on me for this journey.’ Her penultimate post went out to some of her friends who she then asked to be bridesmaids at her upcoming wedding. ‘I read somewhere that when you ask people to be your bridesmaids it’s nice to do it in a special way, so all the way from Antarctica I would love nothing more than for you to be my bridesmaids.’ says Chandi.
Other than that she was pretty much completely isolated, with the exception of her voice notes from loved ones and the Covid mask she still had in her pocket which she named ‘Miles’ after the dog she and her partner do not have yet. On her daily post that day she stated how it would be ‘me and Miles on our way to the south pole together.’ To help keep her loved ones close she also named some of her equipment after family members, such as her niece and nephew who she names her skiis and sled after.
”The more you do, the more you realise what you are capable of…”
Before heading off to complete her challenge, Chandi spent two years training for this expedition. In preparation for pulling her 87kg sled, which would be carrying all her food and equipment, she pulled a tyre along the streets of Derby. She also had a 27 day trip to Greenland to help her become used to the extreme weather conditions shed have to face in Antarctica such as ‘whiteouts’ When facing whiteouts on her South Pole trek, Polar Preet explained this experience as ‘you can’t see anything at all. Somebody else described it as “like travelling inside a marshmallow” which I think was a good example.’
With a background in running ultramarathons and mountaineering , her career in the army, and her trips to Kenya, Morocco, The Alps and many more where she went hiking and climbing, Chandi clearly enjoys challenge and adventure. It’s no wonder then that when she told her family of her plans to cross Antarctica, her brother wasn’t surprised. She quotes him as saying ‘you never give up.’, further reiterating this fact in her own blog, stating ‘even if it is out of pure stubbornness to not give up, I know I will achieve this goal’. Her spirit and determination comes from her past adventures and achievements as she states ‘the more you do, the more you realise what you are capable of.’
Why Its Important to Celebrate Polar Preet As First Woman of Colour To Achieve This
A huge importance to Chandi is helping to show other women that they can also achieve things like this, especially women of colour. ‘There are only a few female adventurers that have completed a solo, unsupported trek on this continent.’ says Chandi. ‘It is time to add some more names, diversity and to make history.’
Not only does Polar Preet hope to become a role model to other women, including her young niece, she is also using half of the funds raised for her trip to help pay towards an adventure grant for women similar to herself that are wanting to conduct unique challenges but need funding to do so. She states that by ‘completing this challenge, it allows me to act as a role model to young people, women and those from ethnic backgrounds’.
With Nirmal ‘Nims’ Purja’ and his ‘Project Possible‘ climbs of all 14 highest peaks and now Preet Chandi becoming the first woman of colour to solo trek the south pole, it finally seems people of other backgrounds and ethnicities are being celebrated for their achievements and steering us away from the usual views and assumptions of explorers as mostly just white men.
In her final daily post on day 40, the day she completed her challenge, Chandi says ‘You are capable of anything you want. 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.’ And by now becoming the first woman of colour to walk solo to the south pole, she’s definitely made a huge achievement that we can now use to consider that glass ceiling destroyed.
Feature image and final image credit : @polarpreet – Instagram
An Interview with Polar Preet’s Endurance Coach : Jon Fearne
To be able to reach record-breaking achievements like Preet’s it takes more than just one person, there’s a whole team behind them to help make their their ambitious goals come true. We interviewed Polar Preet’s very own endurance coach to get some insights on his preferences and tips on training for expeditions.
What are your thoughts on seeing representation changing in terms of explorers/ adventurers?
For me seeing anyone getting into the world of adventure is amazing, but it has so much more meaning when someone from an under represented demographic breaks down a barrier and gets out there, it shows to others that you can chase their dreams.
What are the first steps you take to train someone up? Could you train people at any level of fitness?
The first step is starting a profile of the individual, so looking at activity history, obviously any medical issues, what training time they have available etc. All this starts to build a picture that enables me to design their personal training (I use a few questionnaires to gather this information). After these forms are done we have a call and discuss the training options and move forward.
Yes I work with people of all levels across the world of adventure and endurance, to me everyone’s goals are equal.
What would you recommend people do before getting started with endurance training, or getting a coach?
The first thing is find a goal, a goal will help you keep focus and motivation, going deeper, find your why, why do you want this so much? This becomes your drive (super important)
Favourite expedition food?
I am super lucky to have Torq Fitness sponsor me for nutrition (it genuinely is great fuel) but my go to post a hard trip or even a single day in the mountain is a can of coke and a chocolate milk, many times coming off the mountain I will call or message my wife and in a desperate way say “babe need Coke and chocolate milk”
How important is goal setting in endurance and expedition training?
As mentioned earlier this is super important, not just a big goal, but small ones that act as stepping stones on the way to the main goal. Keeps you on track.
What is it like seeing so many people you’ve trained up achieve what they set out to do?
From an early age I realised I got more joy from seeing others achieve (with my help) than my own sporting success, this was as early as 12 years old (I was a junior international athlete, High Jump, I would help younger athletes after my training and so looking back it was already my path)
Now it’s just amazing to know I can have such a positive impact on so many people’s dreams.
Name a song that you think embodies your training style as a coach:
Wow great question, my style is no style it’s all about fitting in with your athlete so with that in mind I would chose Just Breathe by Pearl Jam, the lyrics maybe not be the best but the title is a key to get us through those hard moments that we encounter when training, so just breathe and get your focus and then keep moving forward.
What are your top three all-rounder bit of kit all explorers should have in their tool kit?
Your feet are so important, so boots/trainers etc. are really key to make sure you can keep moving forward, a good hat (from cap to thermal I love a good hat, I guess part of my mental process) A strong mind-set should always be taken with you along with a good sense of humour.
Do you have a Spotify playlist you can recommend for longer training sessions?
I make joy own playlist for training or adventures, I believe these are so personal and also need to reflect our mood and environment etc.
What’s the biggest obstacle people have to overcome with this type of training?
For many its self-belief, taking that first step is always the hardest but once you can get people to see how the journey of training will unfold they see it as less of an obstacle and more a vehicle towards the goal.
What are the harshest weather conditions you’ve experienced / how do weather conditions effect the training you do?
I love this question, so part of my coaching process is to throw myself into horrible places and weather to make sure I am getting the training spot on for my clients, so when I started working with Polar Preet I went off into the mountains to camp for a few nights in winter (French Alps) to remind me of what goes on after days on skis and setting up camps etc and then I am in tune with the process.
I always want to make sure my clients are over prepared, so their end goal is not going to cause them any real concerns because they have dealt with the situations both physically and mentally.
My personal worst conditions were actually on a road bike Col de Saisies when a freak snow storm hit and I had to descend, I really thought I could curl up and die I was so cold. (Always respect your environment.)