Hannah McKeand Gears Up

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After posting about Hannah McKeand’s solo, and unsupported, Antarctic expedition a few times recently, I received this press release over the weekend. It’s great background information on Hannah, her previous adventures, and her polar adventure ahead. Read on:

Hannah McKeand in pole position for record attempt

In the last weeks of 2006, 33-year old Hannah McKeand from Newbury, Berkshire, will be aiming to reach the Geographic South Pole. Traveling alone and without any form of external support or assistance, she is hoping to complete the 690-mile trek from the edge of Antarctica to the Pole in less than 42 days. If successful, she will become the fastest person ever to achieve this grueling feat.

Although such an endeavor may seem a far cry from her theatre marketing background, Hannah is no stranger to expedition life. She has already spent time in Antarctica and has reached the Pole once before. She has also traveled extensively throughout North Africa’s deserts, visited isolated villages in Afghanistan’s Hindu Kush mountain range, and competed in the 2005 Clipper Round the World Yacht Race.

Hannah’s urge to explore began in 2001 when she joined a Hungarian-led expedition to the Western Desert. Exploring the complex valley systems and sandstone plateaus that make up the borders of Egypt, Libya, and Sudan, she spent her days searching the area for prehistoric rock art. The trip was supposed to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but no sooner had she returned to the UK than she found herself yearning for more.

Since that initial foray into the desert, Hannah has been returning to this remote area twice a year. But with her insatiable wanderlust still remaining unquenched, she decided to drop everything, and in 2004 mortgaged her house and committed herself to full-time exploration.

The first 12 months saw her head back to the desert to catalog more rock art, before journeying up Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor and into the beautifully rugged mountains of the Hindu Kush, in search of the source of the River Oxus.

Few westerners have visited this area in the last few centuries, and this team was amongst the first Europeans to enter the region since George Curzon, who visited in 1896, shortly before becoming Viceroy of India. At first, using 4WD vehicles and then switching to horses, Hannah and the team spent time following narrow mountain trails, crossing 14,000-foot passes, and traveling between nomad encampments.

With the desert and mountains firmly behind her, Hannah decided to round off 2004 with Antarctica’s expedition. In November of that year, she set off from Hercules Inlet on Antarctica’s edge as part of a team of five. Plagued from the outset by bad weather, injury, frostbite, physical and mental exhaustion, white-out conditions, and some of the lowest temperatures on the planet, the team completed the South Pole journey in a very respectable 55 days.

Next on Hannah’s list was the 2005/2006 Clipper Round the World Yacht Race. Departing in September 2005 as a watch leader aboard Glasgow Clipper (one of ten 68-foot state-of-the-art racing yachts), she set sail in a race that would take her halfway around the globe.

Setting out from Liverpool, the crew headed over to Portugal, then on to Australia via Brazil and South Africa, before continuing on to Singapore and up to the Philippines. During the Singapore to China leg, many of the boats began to lose their keels, and the race was put on hold for two months. Hannah moved on to her next endeavor at this stage, but not before clocking up almost 20,000 miles worth of ocean racing experience.

Hannah’s return to Antarctica will be one of her most ambitious projects yet. Her decision to go unsupported this time means that she will have to carry everything she needs for a full 40-50 days. As such, her sled will weigh up to 220lb/100kgs. Dragging such a load uphill to the Pole whilst negotiating endless miles of sastrugi (frozen ridges of wind-blown snow and ice which have a similar appearance to a frozen, plowed field), Hannah will burn between 6,000 and 8,000 calories a day.

She has also decided to complete this journey solo, meaning that she will have no teammates to provide emotional or physical support in times of hardship. The psychological enormity of such a scenario is difficult to imagine. Hannah reflects, “I think it is going to be really hard. I’m naturally a gregarious and social person, and it will be fascinating managing my internal reaction to the isolation.

“I’ve been working quite hard at doing lots of positive visualization of how it’s going to be and how I’m going to feel. I have some on-the-spot relaxation techniques to keep myself calm if something makes me anxious. On the whole, I’m a pretty calm person anyway, so I think it will be OK.”

To combat loneliness and keep in contact with the outside world, Hannah will carry an array of technology. As well as an Argos beacon (which constantly transmits a wearer’s location via satellite, allowing Hannah’s base camp staff to plot her progress), she will also carry two satellite telephones.

These will allow her to speak to family, friends, and the media whilst she is on the ice and connect to her PDA computer, allowing her to send and receive regular emails and update her website.

In preparing for this latest endeavor, Hannah is quick to draw on her previous experience. She confides, “The biggest lesson I have learned so far is that with a little patience, you can get anywhere. If you just keep putting one foot in front of the other, then vast distances can be covered in time. I’ve also learned that pain is only pain and can be managed psychologically to surprisingly good effect.

“But most importantly of all, I have learned that in the wilderness, we are completely insignificant and that only with utter respect and the best preparation can you spend time there safely.”

For this particular expedition, Hannah will also have her designated charity’s needs to spur her on her way. Having recently lost one of her closest friends to breast cancer, Hannah will be visiting Antarctica as a homage to her dear friend, Jill Fraser.

In the process, she is hoping to raise money and awareness for Breakthrough Breast Cancer and encourage and inspire people to achieve their dreams.

As with many an adventurer, Hannah always has one eye on the future, often planning the next expedition whilst taking part in the current. This time is no exception. As soon as she returns from the Geographic South Pole, Hannah will sail from Tasmania to the South Magnetic Pole aboard her 20-meter, schooner-rigged sailing yacht Blizzard partner David Pryce (a master mariner and naval architect).

As part of their recently launched company, Blizzard Expeditions, Hannah and David focus on exploring the Southern Ocean regions by mounting expeditions to South Georgia, Antarctica, and South America.

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