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Antarctica and the Midnight Sun - Mollie Hughes

Written by George Fisher

Mollie Hughes is a Mountaineer, Adventurer and Motivational Speaker. She is currently on her biggest expedition to date. Skiing from the coast of Antarctica all the way to the South Pole; solo and unsupported. When she reaches the South Pole, she will become the youngest woman in history to achieve this. We caught up with Mollie before she left and she has shared her account of climbing Everest, visiting the alps and testing out GORE-TEX kit in harsh conditions all in the lead up to Antarctica.  

It was close to 4am on the 16th May 2017. I was standing on top of the 3rd step on the north-east ridge of Mount Everest. I stopped and looked around me. I had been so focused on the climb that I hadn’t noticed that it was starting to get light. It wasn’t yet sunrise, but those first few moments of dawn where the darkness begins to evaporate around you and your vision starts to clear. I could finally make out the sides of the ridge I was climbing on, looking down I could see the whole of the Himalayas sprawled out beneath me, mountains as far as my eyes could see. Up ahead I could make out the summit, it still looked so far.

Exhaustion was beginning to paw at my body, each small step took everything I had and then again, so did the next step. I pushed on and within the hour found myself on the final summit ridge, looking to my left the huge orange sun was beginning to rise, engulfing me in warm light and pushing me on towards the top of the world.

On the 16th of May 2017 I stood on the summit of Mount Everest, I had spent 6 weeks on the mountain, five days climbing up from basecamp and over 12 hours in the death zone. This was my first successful summit from the northern route via Tibet but my second time standing on top of the world. Back in 2012, as a fresh faced 21-year-old, I managed to reach the summit via Nepal and the southern route.

I often get asked what drew me back to Everest after my first expedition and there are a million different reasons. But when I close my eyes and really think about it, I know I just wanted to see the sunrise over the Himalayas from the highest point on earth one more time.

I can divide my life into several life-affirming sunrises in the mountains. I clearly remember my first, on the slopes of Mount Kenya as a teenager, as the sun broke across Africa and I knew this was something I wanted to experience again and again.

At 19 I took my first climbing trip to the Alps. This of course included my first Alpine start. Forcing down breakfast at 2am in the hut, pushing out onto the glacier in the cold and darkness; the nerves, the anxiety, the fear. But as soon as the sun broke through, illuminating the vast peaks that surrounded us, these emotions evaporated. I remember grinning to myself under my buff. This moment, this exact point in time, I had never felt more alive.

However, not every mountain trip will give you this kind of experience, sometimes the weather just doesn’t align. Earlier this year I headed out to the Alps with a small team to test some new season GORE-TEX clothing. We were lucky to be joined by award-winning mountain sports photographer Hamish Frost to photograph the kit. Our first objective was the Aiguilles Marbrees Traverse. As we approached our route across the glacier clouds swirled above our heads periodically shrouding the entire mountain. We quickly gained the ridge and enjoyed some fantastic climbing along our South – North traverse. Within an hour of climbing we were completely engulfed in thick cloud, cloud that wouldn’t let up for the next 48 hours.

Photo by Hamish Frost 

Our second day in the Alps took on a distinctly Scottish feel. We prised ourselves out of our warm beds at the Torino hut, out of the door and straight into strong winds, near constant whiteout and rocks covered in rime ice. Not the most pleasant way to wake up at 4am and definitely no life-affirming sunrise on this day!  But I guess we knew it would be the ideal scenario to test the rest of our GORE-TEX clothing.

For days like this, whether you are in Scotland, the Alps or further afield you need to be able to pull your hood up and feel invincible inside of your jacket. The Arc’teryx Beta AR jacket which Jon tested and the Arc’teryx Beta SV jacket which I tested on day two were just the jackets for the job. I really think these rugged GORE-TEX Pro shell will have your back in just about any conditions!

The sun is such a powerful motivator, those 48 hours without it in the Alps were challenging! One of my favourite moments on any trip is waking up as the sun hits your tent in the morning, if its camping at home in Scotland or on the side of a mountain in the Himalayas.

In five weeks’ time I am heading off on the biggest expedition of my life. One where I won’t experience a single sunrise or sunset! I am heading south, as far south as you can go! I am planning to ski from the coast of Antarctica all the way to the South Pole, solo and unsupported. If I am successful (sometime around new year) I will be the youngest woman in the world to achieve this. 

There will be no morning wake up call when the sun hits my tent, no epic sunrises to fill me with awe and wonder; there will just be light, 24 hours of light. It is going to play havoc with my circadian rhythm. I really can’t wait to step foot on Antarctica, to see it with my own eyes and test how I can cope without my main motivator, the sunrise.

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You can follow along with Mollies expedition on social media 

Instagram - @molliejhughes

Twitter- @molliejhughes

Facebook - @molliehugheseverest