Wednesday 1 February 2023

Go Polar

Going to school in England gave me a particular view of polar exploration. I've retained rather too much information about Bowers, Evans, Oates, Scott & Wilson who arrived at the South Pole, pretty much done in, a months after the Norwegian expedition. Scott's people all died on the way back. I doubt one Brit in 1,000 (incl. me) could name more than one person in the successful Norwegian team: Amundsen, Bjaaland, Hanssen, Hassel, and Wisting. Amundsen's party, with better logistical decisions and the willingness to kill and eat their sled-dogs took 99 days on the 3,440 km round trip. In 2006 Hannah McKeand arrived at the South Pole after completing a solo trek of 1,100 km in 39.4 days. Ten years later Joanna Davidsson shaved 9½ hours of the record. No dogs were harmed, let alone eaten, in either of these ventures.

About a month ago another very fit young person cruised into the Scott-Amundsen Polar Base, after 40.3 days of solo sled-pulling, paused briefly and set off back to the coast. This is Preet Kaur Chandi [R] from Derby, England. Polar Preet, as her handle has it, served 10 years in the UK Army, largely in the Medical Corps. This is not her first trekky adventure but it is certain sure the coldest. It is amazing what technology has thrown at the problem of keeping warm and dry in adverse conditions: Gortex beats a Shetland sweater; freeze-dried rations are better that pemmican; reindeer-skin sleeping bags are frightening heavy for their TOG score.. Modern nutritional calculations show that, apart from the scurvy, Scott's logisticians were 3,000 calories a day short of the team's fabulous energy requirements. Carbon-fibre and Kevlar sleds beat fir and steel. What Chandi, McKeand, Davidsson and other solo-sloggers have realised is that expeditions acquire their own momentum: caching food, fuel and spare clothing requires multiple return trips which must be sustained by food and fuel. After multiple National Expeditions to Everest, involving dozens of climbers and scores of sherpas, Reinhold Messner reached the summit on his own in 1978. Solo Polistas are like that.

Polar Preet is consciously doing this to provide a positive role model for young women - personified by her 11 y.o. niece. "No boundary or barrier is too small and I want to continue to smash that glass ceiling. Rory "Afgho" Stewart [prev] mentioned, on a recent The Rest Is Politics podcast, that he'd met Captain Chandi at the South Pole! Bet he didn't walk there, though.

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