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regular-article-logo Friday, 19 April 2024

Harpreet Chandi reaches South Pole after trekking 700 miles solo

En route she has faced 70mph winds, whiteouts and temperatures as low as minus 50 degrees Celsius

Amit Roy London Published 04.01.22, 01:53 AM
Harpreet Chandi.

Harpreet Chandi. The Telegraph

Indian woman Harpreet Chandi, a 32-year-old captain with the British army, reached the South Pole on Monday after trekking 700 miles solo and unaided across the Antarctic wilderness.

She is “the first woman of colour” to have done so.

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She reported journey’s end in her blog: “Hello everyone, checking in from day 40. I made it to the South Pole where it’s 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.

“This expedition was always about so much more than me. 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. I don’t want to just break the glass ceiling, I want to smash it into a million pieces.”

Known as Preet to her friends and now nicknamed “Polar Preet”, she began her journey on November 24 when an aircraft dropped her off at the starting point on the Union Glacier.

Preet, who has been filing a regular blog, reported on Sunday, her 39th day: “It definitely feels colder in the last degree where I’m at higher altitude…. And now I’m 15 nautical miles from the South Pole. I can’t believe I’m almost there.

Harpreet Chandi on the trek.

Harpreet Chandi on the trek. The Telegraph

“It has been a long few days but I’m doing well and I’m super close now as well. So, the weather can change so quickly here, it was so cold yesterday, I think about minus 45 degrees with wind chill and then in the afternoon there was hardly any wind at all which was amazing.”

She hoped her example would break the stereotype of the Asian woman.

“Don’t get me wrong: Shackleton, Amundsen, Scott, they’re huge polar names and they’re incredible people. But they’re not names that I was familiar with, it wasn’t something that I could personally relate to. I am excited to add some diversity to that, and Preet is actually quite a common Indian name. I’ve had people say to me, ‘Oh my daughter’s name is Preet, and they’re so excited to have the same name as you,’ and that is very powerful.”

She explained her decision to undertake such a hazardous trip: “Antarctica is the coldest, highest, driest and windiest continent on Earth. Nobody lives there permanently. I didn’t know much about the continent when I first started planning and that is what inspired me to go there. Hopefully doing something that pushes me so far out of my comfort zone will inspire others to believe in themselves and push their boundaries. There are only a few female adventurers that have completed a solo, unsupported trek on this continent. It is time to add some more names, diversity and to make history.”

In her November 24 blog, she had begun: “So I’m on day 1. I can’t believe I’m finally on the ice and I have started the expedition. The Twin Otter (plane) dropped me off around 4pm and I just did a few hours today. I weighed my Pulk (sled) just before leaving and its 87kg. Conditions were windy but visibility was good today.”

This was her post on December 5: “So tough day today, terrain was icy. I fell over a few times in just the first hour. The first time I fell I was frustrated and then the next few times I laughed it off and got up and kept going. Just taking one step in front of the other.”

En route she has faced 70mph winds, whiteouts and temperatures as low as minus 50 degrees Celsius. The Daily Telegraph has reported that “skiing for up to 11 hours a day, she has kept herself entertained along the way by listening to Bhangra music which reminds her of her Punjabi roots”.

The newspaper added: “But the trek has not been all plain sailing and she has also been forced to endure sickness and diarrhoea and has only been able to change her socks once a fortnight.”

As for her career, “She joined the Army Reserves aged 19 and signed up with the regular Army five years ago, operating as a Clinical Training Officer, helping to train military medics. To prepare for her trip to the South Pole, she undertook a 27-day expedition to the ice cap in Greenland.”

When Preet returned from Greenland, she had a mild case of frostbite on her nose.

“I remember somebody saying to me they’ve never seen an injury like that on somebody of my colour skin before,” she said. “I am an Asian woman, I’m not the image that people expect to see out there.”

She trained by dragging tyres around the streets of her hometown of Derby to prepare for pulling her sled — a two-metre-long pulk carrying all her food and equipment.

Just before leaving she got engaged to David Jarman, an army reservist with the Honourable Artillery Company. He is due to meet her in Chile after she returns from the South Pole.

Her last message was to her friends: “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. Sonia Chandi, Rachel Tucker-Norton, Kamal Dhamrait, Tig Bridge, Hannah Sawford (or Hannah Smith now) and Collette Davey. I love you all and would love you to be my bridesmaids.”

Her first blog was dedicated to her grandfather: “This one goes out to my Baba Ji (my Grandad), who lived an incredible long life up to the age of 99. He moved to the UK when I was born and raised me. He always made me feel just as important in a community where I sometimes felt as though I was less.

“I always used to think he looked like an Indian Santa Claus, he had crystal blue eyes, a white beard and the best heart. 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.”

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