‘Polar Preet’ Makes History – Preet Chandi Becomes First Woman Of Colour To Solo Trek 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.
Her 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 she 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.
Throughout her trip Chandi 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, Chandi 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 Her As First Woman of Colour To Do 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 Chandi 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