Antarctic trek record-breaker offers lockdown isolation tips

Mollie Hughes was the youngest woman to ski solo to the South Pole.

Antarctic trek record-breaker offers lockdown isolation tips PA Images

A world record-breaking adventurer is using her skills at coping alone in Antarctica to help people deal with isolation during the coronavirus pandemic.

Mollie Hughes became the youngest woman to ski solo from the coast of Antarctica to the South Pole last January.

She achieved the world record on January 10 2020, aged 29, after spending almost two months in isolation skiing 702 miles.

Three years earlier she claimed her first world record when she became the youngest female to successfully climb both the north and south sides of Everest, the world’s highest mountain.

Returning home to Edinburgh from the South Pole, she spoke at a series of events, giving an insight into how she coped while facing challenges such as whiteouts and temperatures hitting minus 45C.

When the coronavirus pandemic first hit and the UK was placed into lockdown, Ms Hughes moved her inspirational talks online and began including tips on how to cope with mental health challenges posed by the virus restrictions.

She said: “It’s hard just now – it’s hard for everyone in so many different ways. For me I tried to as much as I could draw on the experience of isolation that I had before.

“One of the main things that got me through the Antarctic was breaking down my day into time segments – I’d ski for an hour-and-a-half and then stop for 10 minutes and ski for another hour-and-a-half, and that really helped.

“I’ve been talking to all sorts of different companies and schools – I tell my story about Everest and the Antarctic and also give tips about how I dealt with the challenges and how they can use them to get through this time in isolation and pressure we’re all feeling because of Covid.”

She addressed Standard Life’s workforce across Scotland – around 800 people – shortly before Christmas.

“It gives people a little bit of escapism,” Ms Hughes said.

“Lots of people are now working 9-5 in one room in their house and this allows them to take an hour out to hear a story that transports them to the slopes of Everest and also hear some tips about the current situation. It’s gone really well.”

One of the main insights she passes on from her Antarctic expedition is the importance of self-care.

She said: “My aim wasn’t to do it really fast or to break any records other than being the youngest woman. I really tried to look after myself physically and psychologically.”

Knowing an injury while on her own would end the record attempt, she paced herself and made sure she had energy in reserve at the end of each day.

Psychologically it was “a bit harder”, but she found including her feelings in daily journal entries and using her satellite phone to contact her girlfriend Tegan and family helped.

“It was also important to celebrate the small things – especially when you’ve got 700 miles in front of you and all you see is white,” she said.

“Every time I crossed a degree of latitude I’d celebrate with my favourite Lindt chocolate.”

In all she crossed 10 degrees of latitude, each about 60 nautical miles apart, before reaching her goal.

“This year has been so weird that reaching the South Pole feels like a lifetime ago but it also feels like it was just yesterday I was taking the last few steps,” she added.

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