Interview: Johanna Davidsson, Record Solo Female skier and Return Journey on Antarctica

Before I arrived at the South Pole I wondered if I was too tired to feel happy, but as soon I saw Hannah and Ricky, my tiredness was long gone!”

On January 24, 2016, the Swedish lady set a new record for fastest solo skiing to the South Pole by a woman, 38 days, 23 hours and 5 minutes, calculated on the classic 1130 km Hercules Inlet route. With this time, Johanna even beat the previous (2008) male record.

Not intending to attempt a speed record, early in her expedition she was surprised with the daily miles she covered. With 57 km left to reach the South Pole, Johanna reported, “It’s been tough the last few days. Harder, slower, higher, colder, whiter. But I’m very stubborn and maybe even take a World Record for the ladies if I ski to the South Pole before the 25th December.”

At the Pole, Johanna picked up food, fuel, kites, a new sled, and kited back to Hercules Inlet, to complete her Return Journey in 57 days. She became the first lady to cover the distance from the Pole to the Coast alone.

We caught up with Johanna at home in Sweden, where life is in the fast lane after her achievement.

Explorersweb/Pythom: Tell us about your arrival at the South Pole, please.

Johanna: My arrival at the South Pole was fantastic. Hannah and the chef, Ricky, were waiting for me. Ricky cooked a fantastic meal after I’ve been to the Geographic Pole. Before I arrived I wondered if I was too tired to feel happy, but as soon I saw Hannah and Ricky, my tiredness was long gone! I was smiling and so happy the rest of the day. The champagne tasted so good. And also the chocolate fondue!

Explorersweb/Pythom: Getting up and going in the mornings can take up to three hours, but I found that record-skiers get it down to one hour. How did your daily routine look like skiing towards the Pole? Start time in the mornings? How long sessions did you ski? Evening routine? How many hours did you sleep?

Johanna: I got up early and in about 1 hour and 10-20 min I was ready to ski. I always just want to get going in the morning. And because it was light and warm in the tent it was easy to get out of the sleeping bag.

I skied first about 55min, then 60min and in the end of the trip the sessions where 65 min with 5 min break and a longer lunch break of 20 min. I skied first for about 8 hours and slowly skied longer days until I skied for about 11 hours in the end.

My evening routine where getting the stove going, melting snow, write in my dairy, call in my position, eat, maybe write something on my blog, read or listen to audio book or music. At the start, I had many hours to sleep, maybe 9 hours. That got less towards the end. Down to 6-7 hours.

In the record-breaking Vendée Globe sailing, they said, “The one who comes out on top will be the one who makes the fewest mistakes.” You said you were effective on the ice. Could you tell a bit more, please? Is there anything that you would do different, looking back?

Johanna: I found myself doing several things at the same time. I’m not sure that is a good thing, but I guess that sometimes made me fast. If I would do anything different, I would bring fewer clothes, I had so many clothes that I did not use. I’m sure there are several ways of doing things. Not only one way, but my way seems to work for me.

Any cold-weather injuries?

Johanna: I did get polar thighs. It was not too bad, but the skin broke at a couple of places and worried me a bit. It got better at the South Pole and also got better during the kiting back to the coast. In my face, between the buff and the goggles, I had cold skin a few times. It was harder to keep my fingers and feet warm when I kited back, but I never got frostbites. Apart from that, I was fine.

You were wearing a skirt skiing to the Pole. Did you also wear it on the way back? How did your clothes differ when kiting?

Johanna: I was wearing the skirt pretty much every day going into the Pole. Going back I just used the skirt a few times at the start when the temperature was colder. Generally, I was wearing more clothes when I was kiting as I was standing more still. My feet and fingers were sometimes cold. Kiting back I used hot pads in my mittens to keep my fingers warm.

What type of kites/sails did you use? And how long were your lines?

Johanna: I had one 13 m2 Ozone Frenzy kite that I used most of the time. I also had a 7 m2 Frenzy kite. I had two ski-sails, 10 m2 and 6 m2. I used the 10 m2 a few times. For the kites, I almost only used 50-meter lines.

How did you navigate when kiting? Did you change your day and night to have the sun at your back to hep with the navigation? Or did you just go when there was wind?

Johanna: My first plan was to have the sun in the back. So I tried to turn the day rhythm but end up starting late in the day and finishing late, so the sun was in my face at the start of the day. Sometimes I had to wait for wind, so therefore it was difficult to have the same day rhythm every day. I mostly navigated by the sun and checked my GPS every now and then.

How did your knees hold up with the kiting?

Johanna: My knees were sometimes suffering. In the end of the day they were sore!

What was most challenging for you during this 2260 km?

Johanna: The two last degrees going into the South Pole was most challenging. I did not expect the air to be that thin or the snow to be that “sandy” and that soft snow. In my head I was going to do the longest distance in the two last degrees, but that did not happen and it was hard for both the body and the head. The body was probably tired after skiing many days in a row as well.

Three tips you would give someone who wants to ski to the Pole, or even return.

Johanna: Listen to all advice that you get but only take the ones that you think will work for you. There are so many different advice. The more people you ask or the more you read in advance the more prepared you would be for different things that can happen. Go for it! You often regret things you don’t do, not the things you did.

You are a nurse, what patients do you work with? Do you work in Tromso? Did your medical background help you on the ice? What do you take from Antarctica to your patients?

Johanna: Yes, I work as a nurse in a medical center in Tromso. I really like it and it’s very wide, not like a specialist in the hospitals. I meet all different kinds of people and it is nice to help others. Especially when I have spent a lot of time just focusing on my own trip that is kind of an egoistic thing really. I also hope to inspire others who are thinking about being a nurse to try this profession. It suits me as I can combine my job with my passion for the outdoor.

An Australian lady started sailing around Antarctica on the 22nd, you have a sailing background as well. Tell us about that, please. How did the sailing and polar skiing/sailing compare?

Johanna: Yes, I did a long sailing trip from eastern Indonesia to Cape Town in 2011. I wanted to experience a big ocean in a smaller sailing boat. So I joined a Norwegian couple who was sailing around the world and I joined the boat for the part across the Indian Ocean. It was a great experience to sail for many days without seeing land. It was also cool to visit Islands like Cocos Keeling and Christmas Island. The challenge was to be limited in exercise. You can’t move too much in a sailing boat.

It was similar to polar trip that you have a horizon that is flat. At sea I could watch beautiful sunsets and sunrises. Not many of those in Antarctica, haha. It was also a bit similar that the surface always changed, at the sea you have the waves and in Antarctica there where


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