Hannah: "When I first started doing this I spent most of my time looking inward, focused on my struggles and what the place was doing to my awareness. These days I spend my time focused outward, desperately trying to see the environment clearly, trying to understand the place where I am on a philosophical level." In the image, Hannah at the Geographic South Pole.
courtesy Hannah McKeand, SOURCE
ExWeb interview Hannah McKeand, “Focus on yourself as an animal”

Posted: Oct 30, 2012 09:13 pm EDT
(Correne Coetzer) She loves the way that these journeys on Antarctica remind us what simple animals we are when you break it down, says Hannah to ExplorersWeb.

In 2006 she bagged the record for the fastest solo man or woman skiing to the South Pole (90°S); as done on the classic 1130km Hercules Inlet route. Today Hannah McKeand still holds the record for the fastest women. Furthermore she holds the record for the most successful ski expeditions from the coast of Antarctica to the Pole; 5 times. Therefore, Hannah says to ExWeb, she knows this journey to the Pole so well now that it has become something she just enjoys doing; not forgetting it is still hard with immensely challenging days.

Since her speed record expedition in 2006, Hannah has been guiding for ANI; all her clients were men, and this season she will be leading another two men.

Skiing to the Pole is not all about records for Hannah. She shares with ExplorersWeb her passion for the ice and how she handles these extreme conditions. She also shares her Top 5 polar tips, and favorite gear items, as well as her future plans and new company.

ExplorersWeb: This season is your sixth coast to Pole expedition. What keep you going; give you energy when you have those endless horizons in front of you? Do you listen to books/music

Hannah: I know this journey so well now that it has become something I just enjoy doing. I remember the first time I did it, it felt like the toughest physical and mental challenge I could ever conceive of putting my mind and body through, but now I just do it.

It is still hard and there are still immensely challenging days, but when they come I’m just stoical, I think, I’ve been through a day like this before, I’ll go through a day like this again; today is just one of those days.

When I first started doing this I spent most of my time looking inward, focused on my struggles and what the place was doing to my awareness. These days I spend my time focused outward, desperately trying to see the environment clearly, trying to understand the place where I am on a philosophical level.

Somehow, no matter how many times I have crossed it, I still end up with the feeling that I haven’t seen it at all.

I listen exclusively to talking books these days; music just doesn’t cut it as a diversion any more. I try to load up on old classics like Dickens and Hardy and Tolstoy, all the things that I probably won’t take the time to pick up and read in the real world but that I wish I had read. They are always good; classics are classics for a reason.

ExplorersWeb: What are your Top 5 polar tips you give to your team?

Hannah: In polar places it’s the little things that really matter.

1. Take care of your feet above all else. If you get the tiniest hint of a hot spot, stop and fix it immediately, your feet are the beginning and the end of your journey.

2. Stay cool. Manage your temperature obsessively, don’t allow yourself to overheat and sweat at all. This is the single greatest error people make in the cold. The sweat goes into your clothing and freezes and then you never warm up again properly.

3. Remember to enjoy the place. Don’t count the days until the trip is over, don’t resent every boring mile, try to appreciate where you are and what you are doing. Love the emptiness, celebrate the unrelenting purity of the wilderness, you will almost certainly never be anywhere remotely like it again.

4. Focus on yourself as an animal; take care of your primary needs, sustenance, hydration, temperature, rest and avoiding danger and injury. These are the only things that we need to function effectively and I love the way that this journey reminds us what simple animals we are when you break it down.

5. Just get out there and travel every day, regardless of weather. With the food and clothing and knowledge that we have today, there should be nothing to stop you, so don’t let your own mental limitations be the thing that does.

ExplorersWeb: What are you five favorite gear items?

Hannah: 1. Down vest – This is a brilliant bit of kit that is perfect for throwing on and off for fast temperature adjustments.

2. iPhone – New iPhone’s are a great camera, an iPod, carry 300 books with you on iBooks and some movies all in one device. Plus, put it on aircraft mode and the battery lasts for almost 4 days, way better than any iPod.

3. Hand and foot kit – I have a little bag in the front of my pulk at all times containing, chemical hand warmers, Compeed, tape, a needle for draining blisters and moleskin padding. Everything I might need to fix up a hand or foot issue.

4. Kinetic/Kinesiology tape – This brilliant tape came on the market a few years ago, it is stretchy and soft, molding itself to any shape, its glue sticks to any surface at any temperature and is hypoallergenic. Gone are the days of duct tape and sports tape, I literally take nothing else now. This tape is perfect for preventative or restorative blister taping, for support taping, joint and muscular injury taping, and I even fixed a broken ski pole with it once. It is awesome.

5. Recon Instruments MOD Live goggles display – This brilliant device with its built in GPS inserts into your goggles and provides a ‘heads-up-display’ of your speed, altitude and my particular favorite a virtual compass. It has been designed primarily for use in ski resorts where it shows your position on a live map display. But for me the virtual compass is brilliant for comfortable navigation on white-out days.

ExplorersWeb: Next year you and 3 Norwegian girls plan a kite-ski expedition around Greenland. Tell us were the idea come from, who our teammates are and how did you team up.

Hannah: Every year after my Antarctic season I head over to Haugastøl in Norway for 3 months snowkiting. Haugastøl is situated on the Hardangervidda plateau and is without question the greatest snowkiting Mecca in the world. In our backyard there is 200 square miles of rolling snowy hills and frozen lakes and every day you can kite for miles and miles without even crossing your tracks if you choose.

I’ve been visiting the Vidda for years and have a close knit group of friends who gather there from all over the world every year. Four of us regular girls, myself, Liv Kaupang, Elisabeth Borgersen and Marie Solvoll Lyby, hatched the plan last year to kite right around Greenland. The full route has never been done, but the girls are all accomplished kiters and Liv and I both have experience on Greenland, so I think we have a fair shot at being successful. Will certainly be a lot of fun.

ExplorersWeb: You, Carl Alvey and Liv Kaupang are putting together a polar training course that you will run in Norway each Spring. Tell us more please.

Hannah: Carl and Liv and I have set up a new company in fact called Expeditions 365. The main objective was to create a platform from which to provide a really high quality Polar Training Course.

Our experience, mine on Antarctica and Carl’s particularly on Greenland, made us a really good combination for putting together a really comprehensive experience. And our location in Haugastøl uniquely places us for delivering very convincing polar conditions.

We are running an open two week course for individuals to join from February 2nd - 16th, 2013 and it is also possible to book full private courses for individual projects. In addition to the PTCs, Expeditions 365 is also offering great fun winter experiences on the Hardangervidda, snow-shoeing, cross-country skiing, snowkiting and dog-sledding. There really is no limit to the amount of fun there is to be had with us.

Place of residence: Living 50/50 between Haugastol and Salt Lake City, having a huge love affair with both Norway and Utah.

Hobbies: Snowkiting, skiing, knitting, cooking

Favorite music: 1930s-40s jazz

Favorite Food: Fish

Favo movie: Most recently, Cloud Atlas, a great adaptation of a novel I really love.

Best expedition yet: Still soloing to the South Pole, I don’t think anything will ever top that.

5 top accomplishments in your life: Soloing to the South Pole, helping 2 Tibetan friends reach a new home, my ability to knit socks, my treacle tart recipe, finally managing to do the Camel pose yesterday in Bikram yoga after months of failing.

Dream destination: North Pole alone

1-2 people who inspire you:
Fiona Lindsay, the most selfless and beautiful human being I have ever encountered.
Alan Lock, my severely partially sighted client who skied to the South Pole with me last year.

Quote that inspires you:
“Women are like teabags, they only realize how strong they are when they find themselves in hot water” – Eleanor Roosevelt

After earning a degree in Classics at Lampeter University and working as Marketing Manager and then Tourmanager for the Watermill Theatre in Newbury U.K. for seven years, at 28 Hannah McKeand decided to drop everything, mortgage the house and go exploring.

In 2001 she traveled across the Western Desert on the borders of Egypt, Libya and Sudan; the first of several trips to the Northern Africa desert areas. In 2004, she hiked across Afghanistan. Later that year she joined a team led by Denise Martin for the South Pole. The group arrived at the Geographic South Pole on Dec 29, 2004 and Hannah set herself a goal, ski to the South Pole, solo, unassisted and unsupported in a record time of 40 days.

Back from Antarctica in 2005, Hannah completed half the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race, sailing as watch leader on Glasgow Clipper from Liverpool, England to Portugal, Brazil, Durban, Fremantle, Singapore and the Philippines. She also sailed to the Magnetic South Pole.

To expand her skiing expeditions, Hannah has taken up kite-skiing and rock climbing.

Related links:

Best of ExplorersWeb 2007 Awards: The fastest trek – Hannah McKeand, South Pole

South Pole speed record special: Polar Express - leaving from where, exactly?

AdventureStats Special: What is Solo?

Polar Rules of Adventure

Antarctica 2012-13 wrap-up: Solo skier on stand-by; Union Glacier runway good for landing

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