Adventurer becomes youngest woman to ski solo to the South Pole

Mollie Hughes from Edinburgh skied eastwards for 702 miles, enduring whiteouts and freezing conditions.

Press Association
Last updated: 10 January 2020 - 4.20pm

A 29-year-old adventurer has battled through snowstorms and temperatures of minus 45C to become the youngest woman to ski solo to the South Pole.

Mollie Hughes from Edinburgh started her world record attempt on November 13, departing from Hercules Inlet in Western Antarctica.

She skied eastwards for 702 miles and arrived at the South Pole on Friday at 8.50am local time.

Mollie Hughes
Mollie Hughes said her adventure had been ‘an exceptionally tough experience’ (Hamish Frost/PA)

Speaking to the PA news agency from the South Pole, Ms Hughes said she was very proud of her achievement.

“Getting here was super surreal but absolutely amazing,” she said.

Ms Hughes’ introduction to Antarctica was a whiteout of snow and high winds.

“On day six or seven I really pushed and pushed all day long up horrible icy slopes and I couldn’t see anything and when I pitched my tent after seven and a half hours I looked at my GPS and I realised I’d only done three and a half miles,” she said.

“You think of all the things you take for granted like a bed and taking a shower.”

She said she got through the experience by taking one day at a time and focusing on home.

Ms Hughes said she found the isolation hardest to cope with, seeing only two other skiers during her trek.

“You don’t really believe it’s a real person because all you see is white and then in the distance you see this person and you have a brief chat and then go separate ways,” she said.

“The biggest challenge of the whole trip was being alone. Not physically – I can ski on my own – but being on your own emotionally is so weird.

“I think on day 30 I realised I hadn’t laughed for 30 days. That was quite a depressing realisation – not having anyone there to say ‘chin up’ or give you a hug.”

Having completed her journey, the mountaineer, who grew up in Devon, managed to reach camp at the South Pole for breakfast.

“It was my first proper food in two months – fried eggs, sausages, toast and fresh food,” she said.

Ms Hughes, who in 2017 became the youngest person to have successfully climbed both the north and south sides of Mount Everest, endured brutal conditions at the start of her latest challenge.

At one point she entered complete whiteout conditions for eight days, which she described as “like being inside a ping-pong ball”.

With no visibility, she had to navigate by compass through 30-knot winds, which took temperatures down to minus 40C.

Having initially hoped to reach the South Pole by New Year’s Day, her quest was almost derailed by severe weather in the first two weeks, with Ms Hughes facing headwinds of more than 55 knots, temperatures of minus 45C and a whiteout for eight days in a row.

During the expedition, she pulled a 105kg sled – which she named Boudicca – and skied alone for between 10 and 12 hours a day.

Conditions become so severe she was confined to her tent for stretches, meaning she could not complete her original goal of becoming the youngest person to ski solo and unsupported to the South Pole.

The adventurer was given some surprise respite on Christmas Day when she opened gifts in her food stores, including her favourite sweets from her girlfriend Tegan.

She said Christmas day was one of the highlight of the trip, though she will be having a proper celebration when she returns.

“I’m seeing family down south and we are going to do Christmas Day and going to have a full on Christmas dinner – I made them promise to have all the trimmings,” she said.

View this post on Instagram

Message from Mollie – The First Degree A few days ago, I passed through my first degree! During my expedition I have 10 degrees to ski through, all being 60 nautical miles in length. I knew the first degree would be the hardest, it is steep uphill, my sled was going to be its heaviest at 105kg and it was the beginning of the trip. But I could have never imagined that it would be that hard. I had horrendous weather conditions to deal with, incredibly strong winds, so strong that for two days I couldn’t even leave the tent. If you have never been in a whiteout, imagine being inside a ping pong ball! You can’t see more than a meter in front of your eyes, you can’t judge the surface you are travelling on and it takes all of your concentration to navigate. Temperatures as low as -45c with windchill. And worst of all, whiteout for 8 days in a row. Minute after minute, hour after hour, day after day. When the sun finally came out on day 8 all I could do was cry. I am very pleased to say that my 2nd degree has been a lot better! The sun has been out every day and I am making much better progress. I still have a huge distance still to ski, but I am feeling even more determined with every step. (photo taken by Mike Wilkinson during Mollie’s expedition training at Seacliff beach in North Berwick)

A post shared by Mollie Hughes (@molliejhughes) on

Ms Hughes is now recuperating at a camp at the South Pole before flying on to Punta Arenas in southern Chile.

After a few days’ rest there, she is expected to arrive back in her home city of Edinburgh on January 22.

She funded her expedition by raising £75,000 from sponsors and crowdfunding, and used the trek as a way to raise money for Cancer Research UK.

Michelle Mitchell, chief executive of the charity, said she was in awe of the adventurer’s “determination and resilience”.

She added: “I’d also like to thank Mollie for using the trek as an opportunity to raise vital funds to beat cancer, a disease that affects so many.

“We receive no government funding and it’s thanks to people like Mollie that we’re able to continue to fund world leading research.

“We hope others will feel inspired by Mollie’s effort and support our lifesaving work.”

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