Skiing solo to the South Pole. A conversation with Jenny Davis

Jenny Davis set out last year to ski solo to the South Pole.

Ten days in, she got what was latter diagnosed as peritonism, which can lead to peritonitis, which killed Henry Worsley two years before on his own attempt to cross Antarctica.

When you are on the ice, in a small tent, by yourself, that manifests itself as painful, not the thing you can get up with in the morning, hitch yourself to 120 pound sled, and ski 20 miles. No matter how hard you may want to.

The Doctors went out and had a look.  “You are sick they said, very sick.” And home she went.

Richard Parks and Jenny Davis, heading north after last seasons respective solo sojourns to Antarctica. 


Explorers and athletes hate being sick, they train and plan and then rely on their bodies to take them where they want to go.

Jenny Davis isn’t accustomed to not making it. She has run the Marathon de Sables, 6 days of a marathon a day, except for one day when they allow you to stretch your legs and you do two marathons. It is the opposite of cold and not all that lonely.

In Antarctica, she had warmed up for her solo, by going on her honeymoon with her husband Matt, on a successful climb to the top of Antarctica, Mt Vinson.

Having to return home without reaching the South Pole wasn’t in the plan for last year. One gets the idea that not doing what she sets out to do is ever in the plan for Jenny. But it has made her admittedly, “partly grown up.”

The joy in adventure is always there though for those who treasure breaking records in the great outdoors.

Even back in Union Glacier after returning from her solo last year, her infectious laugh could be heard in the dining tent in Union Glacier. Not a place many would be too happy to be, particularly when you are alternating between that and the medical tent getting checked out and then being sent home ASAP.

Steve Jones, ALE Antarctic Specialist, Jenny, and Hannah – previous record holder of the fastest solo woman to the South Pole. 

Jenny isn’t just fit, she is frighteningly fit. And she likes it. With two coaches, she finds that after a day training she felt “too recovered,” and had to be cautioned to not do too much. This isn’t a problem most people have.

When I talk to Jenny, she is just back from her training – spending 6 hours on a 15% grade attached to a 90 kg weight strapped around her waist. Then she does 2 hours of weight training to round out the day.

In Antarctic parlance, this is tapering.

And why go back?

“I wanted to finish what I started. I wanted to finish that journey.”

It would be very easy as a professional ultra-endurance athlete to compete and participate in events that are:

  • not solo,
  • not so dangerous,
  • not so cold, and
  • don’t go on for a month or more.

Just about anything would be easier it seems.

Jenny has flashbacks to last year,

“Antarctica has become a love affair. I think of it everyday and it got under my skin.”

As much as it is a solo, the first things she mentions when asked about her return: “the people – the people you meet who work there, who go there, it is like nowhere else.”

And she knows she can’t get complacent, “a ski breaking, the stove not working.” It all has to be perfect. Even now, with Chile in turmoil, getting things through customs, getting what she needs to the southern tip of Chile is proving problematical.

Certainly time to be thankful for a long-running sponsorship with DHL it seems.

So what inspires her, what does she have as inspiration.

“Let routine take command of feelings.”

Is a Felicity Aston quote will adorn her tent wall, amongst others.

Jenny had been warned last year by polar veteran and Seven Summiteer Richard Parks about the emotional roller coaster, about the first 10 days. Of crying one morning and being euphoric the next. “I’m pretty chill, but Richard was right, it was all of that.”

Matt and Jenny heading south for their honeymoon climb of Mt Vinson.

The big fear?

“Failing again. The first time busted my self confidence.”

She certainly doesnt want that to happen again.

Coincidentally, there will be three women vying for the record this year, yet all skiing on their own – a race perhaps?

As Jenny says “there is more than enough room in Antarctica for all of us. We have our own WhatsApp group. We can be friends and we can be competitive. This is something to be celebrated.”

The goal these days is to complete the journey “unassisted” and “unsupported.” So no resupplies, and your sled is properly heavy.

And you don’t get to use one of those fun kites to speed you along. No. You start at the Geographical coast line, known as Hercules inlet, and you ski, as fast as you can, to the South Pole.

Having just watched Eluid Kipchoge’s phenomenal run, she sympathizes with his comment that the hardest part was waiting for the start of his marathon record breaking attempt.

Jenny is just waiting for the start.