Emma Kelty: South Pole speed ski and return attempt (Interview)

What I do know is that Antarctica is brutal and if the ‘competition’ overrides safety, then it won’t end well.”

This season, two ladies are attempting return journeys to the South Pole and back on the classic Hercules Inlet route, total distance 2260 km. We have talked to Johanna Davidsson, who will use kites and sails on her way back. Today we talk to Emma Kelty, who we’ve already met last season when she skied Hercules Inlet guided and with resupplies. This year she wants to do the route solo (no resupplies), and she has her eye on the female speed record to the South Pole.

This record was set by fellow Brit, Hannah McKeand, 10 years ago when she covered the 1130 km at 39 days, 10 hours and 33 min.

Two weeks ago Emma shipped her gear from England to Punta Arenas, “It was one of the big milestones,” she told Explorersweb. At the moment she feels “very excited with a healthy dose of nerves but also feeling very fat!” Emma has been able to add 5 stone (32 kg) in the past six months, to compensate for the weight loss during the expedition.

Being alone on expedition is not an issue for Emma. “The beauty of going solo is that it’s very much a personal journey and therefore it has been tailored accordingly, be it gloves, polar thigh prevention, or food. Time will tell if I have got it right or not.”

Explorersweb/Pythom: It is a big challenge you have set for yourself…

Emma: A big challenge is always just lots of small ones back to back so I can’t really appreciate the enormity at the moment.

What is your game plan?

Emma: I don’t have a game plan per se but my strategy on the ice has been and will continue to reflect the conditions at the time. My best and all, is all I can do, and with 1400 miles to complete I don’t want to burn out in the first 4 weeks. What I do know is that Antarctica is brutal and if the ‘competition’ overrides safety, then it won’t end well. My focus is very much on the end point.

Three things that you have learned last season that will be very helpful this season?

Emma: I learnt so much last time, to narrow it down to 3 things is hard but here goes. Firstly I learnt how my body responded to the conditions which was invaluable. Secondly, observing and learning from two experienced polar guides on how they equip themselves and work in Antarctica. Thirdly, the fact that I know that I can ski all the way to the South Pole, and that I love Antarctica (ohh is that four?) has help cut down the unknown fears.

Three things that you will do different this season?

Emma: Be more prepared for polar thigh and the cold weather cough, be prepared for cold hands, and I will change my ski routine.

Tell us about your year? Your training program?

Emma: I have had a great 8 months since returning back from Antarctica. Fitness training, kit research/ testing and packing has been my focus (as well as completing a full flat renovation). I have done a fair bit of cycling and hiking across the UK as well as increased my strength training dramatically. I have had a couple of trips to Norway testing out equipment too.

Hand in hand with this, I have actively sort to increase my weight over a period of 6 months and in part have used the food that I will be taking to Antarctica to achieve this. I am not an expert but what I have learnt and have observed are the foods that mean I put on weight and foods that have little impact.

I literally just have to look at a bagel and latte and the weight piles on whereas chocolate has little impact. When I started to change my diet I literally put on 1/2 stone within 2 weeks, since then as time has progressed I have had to change my exercise too in order to maintain the weight gain. For example over the last month or so, I stopped running (trying to save my knees) and took up boxing at Surbiton boxing club who have added to my exercise routines in a different way.

The upshot is that I have been able to add 5 stone over the year and saved my knees! This is needed as I am expecting to lose 1lb a day, for 80 days as well as needing the initial body weight to pull a full sled out of the steep Hercules exit. Therefore I am expecting that the return journey will amount to 80 lbs being lost. Thats a lot of weight loss and why I put weight gain as such a priority. My focus is very much on completing the return journey of 1400 miles and knowing how much I lost last time (which will be my half way point), I have put a lot of emphasis on it.

Often people will ask about the solo isolation and mental strength and how I have prepared for that. I have to say this is the least of my worries and that in the last 8 months I have done little. This is because it is something that has developed over time such as completing ultra runs, solo 2600 mile hike across the USA, solo hike/ cycles across the UK, walking the hills of Scotland and knowing and being contented with my own company. Of course I may get to day 60 or even day 5 and absolutely hate the isolation, but I really don’t think so.

Who helped you with advice and putting this year’s expedition together?

Emma: There are many people who I have spoken with over the last year both on and off the ice. Key people have been the two ALE guides from the last expedition, ALE’s guidelines, past skiers Newall Hunter and Luke Robertson, not to mention information on the web. Last year I very much kept my eyes and ears open and reflected on everything that I was doing, wearing and experiencing. When I skied all the way to the South Pole last year, I knew that I was going to return to complete a solo – so that really helped me to focus, reflect and I came back with a long list of things to research and test out. The beauty of going solo is that it’s very much a personal journey and therefore it has been tailored accordingly be it gloves, polar thigh prevention, or food. Time will tell if I have got it right or not.

In general, the ladies take much more care of their faces, and look much better than the men when they arrive at the South Pole after nearly two months battling against the cold and headwinds (even the men admit that). What face creams do you take with, and what other face protection do you have?

Emma: Suncream factor 50 and a full face mask is what I used last time (with a wet wipe to take the cream off at night). I carried Elizabeth Arden 8 hour lotion but used it once. Oh dear, does that put me in the male category?

Why are you so motivated to do this?

Emma: There are several reasons why I am so motivated to do this and will probably save a deeper explanation for the book that’s desperate to come out.

There are two charities that I am doing this challenge for – Cystic fibrosis and Teach Africa. Both of these charities are about prolonging and saving lives that are inherently limited beyond their control. Cystic fibrosis requires money for research and training specialists that can unlock the door to a needed cure for a growing number of young people and adults that have cystic fibrosis.

Teach Africa funds secondary places for girls who expect to only live until they are 25 years old. Through raised money, more places can be funded so that the girls can literally educate themselves out of poverty and crime that limits their life span to 25 years old.

Raising money for these charities is the biggest motivator that will keep me going until the end as knowing that every ski step that I make on the ice will help save a life will be the greatest reward. I have a website www.emmakelty.com that has links to the just giving site https://www.justgiving.com/Em-Tam-Kelty1 and Em-Tam-kelty2 and my public facebook page (emmatamsinkelty1) where I will be sending messages and pictures when I am on the ice. Otherwise supporting folks can text pole92 (cystic fibrosis) or pole91 (teach Africa) with a donation to 70700. Every £, $,€ in any currency will make a difference and truly appreciated.


Emma: I would be really happy to give a kit list after the expedition with a focus on what works well.

Scheduled start date (weather permitting)?

5th November (or as near to that date as possible).

Days to Pole?

As few as possible. I have my eye on the female speed record but that won’t be at the cost of my end goal of completing the return journey. Key will be pace, keeping safe and responding to the environmental conditions. I wonder after last years tonnes of snow, will this year be the year of wind? Only time will tell.

Days back?

Less than 40.


Only one at the South Pole.

Anything else?

Emma: I would like to say a big thank you to all who have supported this and previous adventures. Increasing numbers have linked in with my facebook and voiced their support and encouragement which really helps on challenging days. I have a very strong core group of friends who are 100% behind me on this epic journey but there are also many new friends who have actively engaged and supported this event even though our paths may have crossed just for a few minutes or hours. I really can’t thank them enough – these folks (more about them at a later date) have really restored my faith in humanity – something that seemed to have got lost a couple of years ago. So a huge thank you to all.

Daily updates on Emma’s blog stream live on pythom.com

Previous on Explorersweb/Pythom:

Exweb South Pole interview with Emma Kelty: Expectations, Henry’s death, and future strategy (March 2016)

Exweb South Pole Interview with Johanna Davidsson: kite return attempt (October 2016)

ALE and ALCI open Antarctica season

Michele Pontrandolfo to attempt solo Antarctic Traverse again

2016-17 Antarctica Ski Expedition List – updated

Antarctic Researcher died in the field (October 2016)

Antarctica Current: Polar How-To-Guide Heads-Up

Previous about records:

Hannah did it! South Pole has a new Speed Record (at that time, Hannah set the record for women and men) 2006-07 season

ExWeb interview Hannah McKeand, “Focus on yourself as an animal”

Breaking news: Christian Eide bags the South Pole solo speed ski world record

ExWeb interview with Lars Ebbesen: Christian Eide’s South Pole speed ski strategy

AdventureStats.com for Polar Statistics and Rules

#polar #thepoles #antarctica #southpole #emmakelty