At more than half way to the South Pole, adventurer Mollie Hughes expects her Christmas dinner to be freeze-dried spaghetti bolognese – but she is in for a surprise.
The 29-year-old, who is attempting to become the youngest woman to ski alone to the South Pole, is unaware of treats sneaked in her food cache.
The Devon-born mountaineer, who lives in Edinburgh, told the PA news agency: "I will be between 86 degrees south and 87 degrees south on Christmas Day. I hope to cross my 400 nautical mile mark, two thirds of the way to the South Pole.
"I am going to pick out my fave freeze-dried meal for the day, probably spaghetti bolognese, while I will be dreaming of turkey and roast potatoes.
"I have a few cards to open from my family and a small present from my girlfriend. I told her it has to be edible, so fingers crossed for chocolate."
Message from Mollie: I am halfway to the South Pole! Today I crossed S85' my halfway point. I have so far skied for 300 nautical miles and I have 300 nautical miles to go! 5 degrees covered, 5 to go. That's the equivalent of skiing from Edinburgh to London in a straight line + another 15 miles! It is scary to think that I have to ski that same distance all over again. Over the next half of this expedition the temperature will drop and the air will thin as I gain altitude up to the Polar plateau, 2800m above sea level. The average wind speeds will increase as airmass flows down from the plateau and there will be increased sastrugi (snow wiped into huge wave shapes by the wind) to clamber over. It is kind of a bittersweet feeling to cross this point.... I am so proud of myself for how far I have travelled and how I have coped with some very tough conditions. But I am also feeling a lot of trepidation for what lies ahead... I know that all I can do is break this huge figure of another 300nm down. 5 more degrees to cross, I need to take it a day at a time and focus each 75-minute march. Small steps will quickly add up!! And hopefully I will make it to the Pole before Easter.... I've got this right? 😅🇦🇶 **Mollie is unable to send photos at this stage, so fellow South Pole explorer and friend Luke Robertson has kindly supplied these images from his 2016 expedition, when he became the first Scot and youngest Brit (then aged 30) to complete a solo, unassisted and unsupported trek to the South Pole. He is also the only person in the world to have reached the South Pole with an artificial pacemaker which he had fitted age 23 after suffering a complete heart block!**
A post shared by Mollie Hughes (@molliejhughes) on Dec 17, 2019 at 2:42am PST
However, unknown to Hughes, logistics company ALE hid secret gifts in her food stores, meaning she can feast on pad thai, chocolate cake, fresh bread rolls, grapes, kiwi and nectarine for Christmas dinner.
And her girlfriend Tegan has sent not only Ms Hughes' favourite sweets – Revels – but also her own top treat of chocolate covered pretzels as well as a bar of honeycomb chocolate with a picture of Edinburgh on the front.
Describing her Christmas plans, Hughes said: "I think I might give myself a small lie in on Christmas Day ... maybe start skiing a couple of hours later. Treat myself!
"I will spend it skiing and pulling my very heavy sled, which I have called Boudicca.
"I have a sat-phone so I will ring my family and my girlfriend on the day to wish them a Merry Christmas. I think that will be the highlight of my day."
Depending on windchill, she could face temperatures of as low as minus 45C.
She added: "On Christmas Day I will have been out here for 43 days and not seen another human (or living organism) since the start, but surprisingly I am feeling okay.
"The end is in sight. Physically I am still feeling good, tired, but nothing is wrong with me. Mentally I am turning my attention to the last third of this trip and thoughts of home in a few weeks often enter my mind."
Soft snow + steep hills made today v hard. Each night I try to press reset, forget the pain of the day and focus on the next, but it's getting harder 🇦🇶 Find me with inReach➜https://t.co/3aWj7eW3if
— Mollie Hughes (@MollieJHughes) December 19, 2019
Hughes, who became the youngest person to have successfully climbed both the north and south sides of Mount Everest in 2017, endured brutal conditions at the start of her latest challenge.
After leaving from Hercules Inlet in Western Antarctica for the 702-mile trek she entered complete whiteout conditions for eight days, which she described as "like being inside a ping pong ball".
With no visibility, she had to navigate by compass through 30 knot winds, which dropped temperatures to minus 40C.
Severe windstorms gusting up to 50 knots with minus 45C windchill left her confined for her tent for stretches, causing further delays, and requiring a food drop to be organised to ensure she does not run out of supplies.
This support means she can no longer attempt to claim the title of being the youngest person to ski solo and unsupported to the South Pole, but is still on track to claim the first half of the record and expects to reach her destination in early January.
Vilborg Gissuradottir, from Iceland, is thought to hold the current women's record for skiing solo to the South Pole with support, arriving in January 2013 aged 32.