The Polar Diaries of Hannah McKeand

The Polar Diaries of Hannah McKeand

is a British polar explorer who set a new world record
in 2006 for the fastest journey from the coast of Antarctica all
the way to the South Pole. She managed to complete the 600
nautical-mile journey in only 39 days, nine hours and 33 minutes.
Through a series of retrospective diary entries, Hannah, 42, has
documented her experiences at both the North and South Pole for
SUITCASE, offering an insight into what inspires and drives her in
the field.

20 March, 2008 – The Arctic Ocean, 100 miles off the
Canadian coast

I’m on my hands and knees and I’m bleeding, I can’t breathe. The
crack I slipped into was completely concealed by drifted snow and I
didn’t know it was there until it was too late. I’ve landed hard on
my back and I’m winded. It’s going to pass, I know, any moment now.
And there it is – I’m able to draw my first breath. I’m okay, I’m
okay, I think. But there are drops of blood falling onto the ice
between my hands. I’m okay, I’m okay.

I roll into a seated position, breathing hard from the
adrenaline. Beneath the sharpness of the pain in my mouth, I feel a
much deeper pain emanating from my left shoulder and an aching in
my hip. I remember the horrible twist that happened as my body
became suspended on my left ski across the crack, but what’s
happening with my arm? The fingers and hand move and my elbow seems
functional, but I can’t lift or move my arm at the shoulder at all.
My middle and ring fingers and the pads on my palm are numb and I
feel a wave of nausea flooding through my nose and throat.

I try to calm down. As I start to feel the cold I know I need to
get my tent up quickly and decide what to do. The hole I am trapped
in is essentially a triangle – it has two sides of sheer smooth ice
a little higher than my head, and a third side, which is a steep
wedge sloping down into the trap at about chest height. I try to
clamber up the slope but everything hurts, and after trying in vain
for half an hour I’m no closer to freedom.

I sit in the bottom of the hole and cradle my throbbing arm, my
mind racing. I feel angry with myself for being so stupid. I almost
always wear a small day-pack containing my satellite phone, a
shovel, a stove and some fuel, a jacket and snack food – everything
I would need to survive for a couple of days in the event of losing
my sledge. But recently my back has been sore and I took the pack
of for a few hours to see if it would help.

I look around again at what I have with me. My left ski popped
of when I fell, but I still have my right ski and my poles. I look
at the ski binding and suddenly my ski starts to look like a
ladder. I hobble to my feet and take up the ski in my good hand. I
move to the corner of the hole and start chopping at the snowy
upper lip of the crack until it is down to about my eye level. I
lean the ski against the wall and struggle to lift my left foot up
onto the binding. As I try to push up, I put my full weight on my
good shoulder, but pain shoots up through my injured hip as the
bottom of the ski skitters out from under me and sends me sprawling
once more onto the slippery ice floor. I swear and I scream.

For the next agonising ten minutes, I try to perfect a technique
that will get me out of the prison, but the ski slips or I slip,
and even though I get close, I can never quite manage to get up and
over the edge.

To read the next diary entry, order Volume 13, The
Boundaries Issue.