Preet Chandi | 700 miles and 40 days solo in Antarctica
On the 3rd January, Preet Chandi made history by becoming the first woman of colour to complete a solo expedition in Antartica. Travelling 700 miles, pulling a pulk, battling temperatures of up to -50c and wind speeds of up to 60mph. She completed the 700 miles in only 40 days.
View kit list.
You’ve done plenty of other tough physical challenges before your South Pole expedition – the infamous Marathon des Sables for one – but how does the Antarctica trip compare?
For the other races I’ve done, I think the biggest difference personally was the amount of preparation. I would do a lot of challenges without much preparation and I definitely couldn’t do that with Antarctica.
When I did MdS, I bought all of my kit and equipment the week before. The event was also well organised, there were checkpoints along the route where I was given water and medical support if needed. I carried my kit and equipment with me but did not have to carry a tent. I entered the event alone but never felt alone, I was put in a great tent, people that I am still friends with until this day. I really enjoyed the event and it was challenging at times, it was very hot but I personally found that Antarctica was on a different scale.
The Antarctic expedition was a different ball game, I have never prepared for any other event this much. It started as an idea, I wanted to go to Antarctica. At the time, I didn’t know what kind of expedition I could even do. I started researching on google. I created the name Polar Preet, my partner made my website and I followed anyone with any polar experience on social media. It took me 2.5 years to even make it to Antarctica and it was hard work to get there. I was emailing 10-15 companies every night to try and get funding, I didn’t get my first sponsor on board until 11 months before I was going. I spent my life saving on training trips, it took me months to pay them off, I still haven’t paid off everything for the expedition. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever trained for and that was just to get to the start line.
On your blog entries you made a real point of thanking the team around you and you often referred to ‘we’ or ‘our’ when describing your progress. 40 days is a long time to be on your own, but did you really feel alone when out on the icecap?
I felt most lonely when I was having tough days. On those days, I would break everything down and sometimes just concentrate on taking one step at a time. I had Dory in my head from Finding Nemo saying ‘just keep swimming,’ I changed it slight to ‘just keep going.’
On the tough days, I would listen to voice notes that I had downloaded on my phone from those closest to me. I had written messages on my food bags and on the inside of my tent. It made me feel like I had people with me, this journey was always about so much more than me and I wanted to bring as many people as possible on this journey with me.
Did you ever feel like giving up? Did you feel it was possible to if you had to?
I knew I wouldn’t give up. Getting to the start line (getting to Antarctica) was really hard and I often thought to myself if I could do that, then I could definitely do this expedition. For a long time, I was finding it difficult to get support and funding for the expedition. The 2.5 years it took me to get to the start line was a huge part of the journey.
I didn’t know anything about Antarctica when I decided I wanted to go 3 years ago. So I started on google, I created PolarPreet, my partner created my website, I found polar training courses to go on. I used all of my annual leave to train, I used my life savings on the trips, I didn’t fully pay of one of the training trips (Greenland) for a year and a half. It took me over 1.5 years before getting my first sponsor on board. I got through it, while studying for my MSc, vaccinating with the COVID effort, working and training. There was no way I was giving up when I actually made it to Antarctica, that was the final leg of the journey.
If I wanted to give up, it would have been possible. I was supported by Antarctic Logistics and Expeditions (ALE) for the expedition. The expedition would not have been possible without them. They supported me from a logistics perspective, gave me plenty of advice and would have supported me from a medical perspective if needed too.
You are the first woman of colour to reach the South Pole solo, and some people have questioned whether your ethnicity or gender is significant or not in an achievement like this. What do you think?
I don’t think I have always realised how important representation is. I think I have seen the importance more and more as I’ve grown, I didn’t have any role models growing up.
I have seen comments that say ‘we are all equal’ and ‘your colour is not important’ but to me being equal does not mean that we are all the same, why not embrace our differences. After all, nobody questions when my nationality (British) is mentioned or my job role (Army Officer/physiotherapist) is mentioned, are they also not things that make me different?
The colour of my skin, my culture and heritage is a huge part of me and it took me a while to be proud of my background. When I first had this idea, I remember being told that I don’t look like a polar explorer. I wanted to change the image we expect to see. I wanted to show others that they can achieve whatever they want no matter where they are from, regardless of their sex and gender.
Seeing somebody that looks like you or somebody that is different from the image you expect is powerful.
A lot of people will say the outdoors is for everyone and it is, but it’s actually quite difficult to go and do something when you don’t see anybody that looks like you doing it or if you come from a community where that is not the norm.
You said that “you create your own normal… normal can be whatever you want it to be” and that people should be free to challenge themselves. Do you think that the naysayers and comments like ‘you don’t look like a polar explorer’ give you extra motivation to prove them wrong?
To be honest I have come across naysayers for as long as I can remember and for a long time, I did what I wanted and it did motivate me to prove them wrong. But this expedition wasn’t about them, it was about pushing boundaries and inspiring people. I just thought that so much good could come from this and I wanted to share my experiences.
We are generally not alone in how we feel. If I had been told that I don’t look like a polar explorer, imagine all the people that have been told that they don’t look like they could do a certain role, job, adventure, anything.. I wanted to show that there is no expected image, that we are capable wherever we are from.
In terms of kit, what were you wearing and using, why did you choose that kit, and is there anything you would do differently next time?
I used the Mountain Equipment polar expedition suit which was great. I had previously used the jacket (borrowed from my expedition manager – Louis Rudd) when I was training in Greenland so I know that I liked the jacket. I don’t think I would change much about the kit.
Which part of the trip did you enjoy most, and which part did you enjoy the least?
There were some sections that had huge sastrugi and I kept falling over, it was incredibly windy and I just remember thinking how tough I was finding it. And even though they were my least favourite sections, I’m still glad I had them because I got through them and it shows that even when we are finding things difficult, we can still push forward.
There were about 2 days in total where there was minimal wind and I could just pause to look around me and I thought wow, I’m in Antarctica, a place I never thought I would go to. There were some really incredible moments and to not see anybody else in sight was really amazing too.
The British Army have a strong association with the South Pole. In the last few years alone there’s been the Spear17 expedition, Nics Wetherill’s Ice Maidens, and now yourself. How does a military background help with this sort of expedition?
When I decided I wanted to go to Antarctica it was because I didn’t know much about it, I had never read about polar expeditions or followed any Antarctic Expeditions. I learnt about them when I started to plan for my expedition. Louis Rudd from Spear 17 and Nics Wetherill from Ice Maidens and many others have been so helpful with any questions I have asked.
I do think my military background has helped with this expedition. When I did my first polar training course in Feb 2020, I didn’t know anything about winter expeditions but I soon realised I had skills that could crossover. I knew how to use a compass and navigate, I knew how to put up a tent, I had decent admin skills, I knew how to work as a team and I think all of these helped. Even though I was on my own on the ice, it took a lot of teamwork to get me to the start line.
Preet's Kit List
Polar Expedition Jacket
The finest Polar jacket available for the longest and most serious expeditions.
Polar Expedition Salopette
Complementing the Polar Expedition Jacket, these salopettes are designed with unsupported Antarctic crossings in mind.
An exceptionally warm and protective expedition down jacket that remains ultra-light, proven on the longest Polar journeys and hardest routes at altitude.
Our warmest sleeping bag. Suitable for the very coldest conditions encountered during Polar expeditions.
Our warmest mitt suitable for expeditions above 7000m and to the coldest corners of the globe.
Hispar Women's Jacket
A very warm yet incredibly packable hi-loft fleece for cold weather mountaineering, ski-touring, and polar expeditions.