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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.
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