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Edinburgh-based adventurer Mollie Hughes becomes youngest woman to ski solo to the South Pole

© Hamish Frost/PA WireMollie Hughes
Mollie Hughes

A 29-year-old adventurer has battled through snow storms 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.

“It’s a surreal feeling, I can’t quite believe I’ve done it,” she said.

“I knew it would be hard but this has been an exceptionally tough experience, especially in the first two weeks when I was struggling through the whiteout for over a week and incredibly strong winds.

“That really tested my resilience, especially as I was all alone, but I managed to get through it and carry on.

“I feel really fortunate not to have experienced any major disasters knowing what can happen in these challenging conditions.”

The mountaineer, who grew up in Devon, said spending Christmas on her own was difficult.

“Christmas Day away from my girlfriend and family was hard, too, as was my Spotify (streaming music service) needing rebooted after 30 days, which obviously wasn’t possible,” she said.

“Now I’m looking forward to my first shower and proper food in almost two months before I head home to see everyone and share my story.”

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 discovered logistics company ALE had hidden secret gifts in her food stores, meaning she could feast on pad thai, chocolate cake, fresh bread rolls, grapes, kiwi and nectarine for Christmas dinner.

Her girlfriend Tegan sent not only Ms Hughes’s favourite sweets – Revels – but also her own top treat of chocolate-covered pretzels as well as a bar of honeycomb chocolate with a picture of Edinburgh on the front.

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.”