British army officer becomes first woman of colour to ski to South Pole unaccompanied

Preet Chandi took ice baths to acclimatize and practiced pulling a sled weighing 14 stone for 10 hours a day to prepare for the epic trip, reports Ian Woods

A British army officer has become the first woman of colour to ski to the South Pole on a solo expedition.

Preet Chandi, who is from Derby, announced on Monday she had completed the gruelling 700 mile trek after 40 days, having battled temperatures in Antarctica as low as -50c and wind speeds as high as 60mph.

The 32-year-old, who is Sikh, said she hoped her journey would motivate people to challenge cultural norms and inspire young people, women and those from ethnic backgrounds.

"No-matter where you are from or where your start line is, everybody starts somewhere," the army officer wrote in a blog post.

A picture taken on Day 35 of the army officer's expedition. In the post, she describes temperatures dropping. Credit: preetchandi/ Instagram

"I don't want to just break the glass ceiling, I want to smash it into a million pieces." Ms Chandi, currently based at a medical regiment in the North West of England, began the expedition on November 7, 2021, embarking from Antarctica's Hercules Inlet, some 700 miles from the South Pole.

She had spent two and a half years training for the epic journey, including trekking across Iceland's Langjökull Glacier, and nearly a month spent on the ice cap in Greenland, where she fought extreme weather.

The physical preparation would come in handy as the army officer had to haul a 90kg sleigh carrying 45 days worth of fuel, kit and food around in freezing conditions while skiing.

Even though she completed the expedition unaccompanied, Ms Chandi had a team who posted updates on her blog, which acted as a link between her and the outside world.

The blog posts described the treacherous conditions she encountered, including poor visibility, uphill slogs and icy terrain, as well as personal thoughts.

In one entry, she recounts having eggs thrown at her as a teenager because she "looked different".

At age 19, Ms Chandi joined the Army Reserves. Credit:

"I used to be embarrassed, having eggs thrown at me and people spit at me when I was a teenager because I 'looked different' certainly didn’t help," she wrote.

"It took me a while to appreciate my culture and my roots, so when I describe myself as a 'woman of colour' it is because I am finally proud of my skin colour, my roots, my culture."

"Having been told on many occasions that I don’t look like a polar explorer… lets change the image you expect to see."

Ms Chandi began her expedition on November 7, 2021, flying to Chile and then embarking from Antarctica's Hercules Inlet. Credit: polarpreet/ Instagram

Norway's Liv Arnesen was the first woman in the world to make a solo trip to the South Pole in 1994.

But Ms Chandi believes she is the first woman of colour to do it solo.

She listened to Will Smith's audiobook to keep her going through the tough moments as she grew up watching the Fresh Prince of Belair and drew strength from his advice.

Three of Ben Fogle’s audiobooks were also listened to throughout the expedition, which was undertaken as part of her active military service.

Ms Chandi is using half of the funds raised for her trip to pay towards an adventure grant for women conducting "unusual challenges", which she plans to launch this year.

Money from the funds will also go to Khalsa Aid, an international charity which provides humanitarian aid in disaster areas and conflict zones.

In 2018, Captain Lou Rudd, an army officer, became the first Briton to trek unaided across Antarctica after finishing a gruelling 925-mile journey after 56 days.