‘Polar Preet’ Sets Out to Become the First Woman to Cross Antarctica Solo and Unsupported

After setting a record as the first woman of color to reach the South Pole unsupported last year, Preet Chandi is now tackling a 1,100-mile challenge

Preet smiles in front of mountains with a pack on her back
Preet Chandi trains in Chamonix before starting her journey across Antarctica. polarpreet via Instagram

This week, a woman from the United Kingdom set out on an expedition across Antarctica in an attempt to become the first female explorer to cross the continent solo and unsupported. 

Preet Chandi aims to cover more than 1,100 miles in a journey that will likely take 70 to 75 days. Pulling all her supplies on a sled called a pulk, which weighed more than 250 pounds at the start of her journey, the 33-year-old will battle temperatures of minus 58 degrees Fahrenheit and wind speeds up to 60 miles per hour.

“It’s pretty cold at the moment and very windy,” Chandi said in her audio blog on Tuesday. “I can really feel my 120-kilogram pulk. Going quite slow at the moment, but I'll gradually build up my mileage as my pulk gets lighter, too, and I just need to remember that I am doing this day after day, so I don't want to do too many hours too soon.”

Chandi—also called “Polar Preet”—set a record last year as the first woman of color to complete an unsupported expedition to the South Pole. She finished the journey in 40 days—just two days longer than it took Joanna Davidson of Sweden, who holds the female world record, writes Sonia Kataria for BBC News

“A lot of people tell me I don't look like a polar explorer,” Chandi told BBC News’ Sandish Shoker last year before the trek. “It's considered out of the norm for an Asian woman to do this—it's different. And that's part of the reason why I wanted to do this—for people who don't fit a certain image.”

Chandi grew up in an Indian Sikh community in England and joined the Army Reserve at age 19, per CBS News. In 2012, she graduated from college with a major in physiotherapy, becoming the first in her family to earn a degree. “It remains one of my greatest achievements,” she writes on her blog

After running her first half-marathon at 20 years old, Chandi’s “appetite for greater and greater challenges started to grow,” she writes. She has been on hiking and climbing trips across the world, including in Kenya, Morocco, Mexico, the Alps, Bolivia, Peru, Iceland and Nepal. Earlier this year, she completed the Marathon des Sables, a week-long, 156-mile ultramarathon in the Sahara Desert, per her blog. 

She currently serves as a physiotherapist in the British Army, organizing training and rehabilitation for injured soldiers and officers. 

“The British Army is extremely proud to have such a remarkable ambassador,” Deputy Chief of the General Staff Sharon Nesmith says in a statement. “Captain Chandi embodies the qualities we seek of all who serve—courage, commitment and the want to be the best we can be.”

Toward the end of her journey, Chandi will descend Reedy Glacier, requiring her to bring extra supplies, including ice screws, an ice axe, crevasse equipment and crampons, per the statement. 

“It’s a technical aspect that wasn’t part of the South Pole trek, getting down a glacier with my pulk,” she says in the statement. “I’ll also need to try to avoid the crevasses there or be very careful crossing them, as I’m on my own.”

Chandi writes that she hopes her journey will inspire others to push boundaries. 

“Nothing is impossible. I've always had this idea that I can achieve something great, something that allows me to be a role model,” she writes. “I want my 11-year-old niece to grow up without boundaries, knowing the possibilities of what you can achieve in life are endless.”

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