Explorer uses snow to prepare for Arctic expedition

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Most people looking out of the window yesterday morning would have dreaded the thought of embarking on their usual commute to the office. But not Christine Franco. She made her way to work yesterday morning on skis.

Dragging a heavy sleigh from her home in Notting Hill to central London the 42-year-old Italian-born explorer took the opportunity to fine tune her skis for an upcoming bid to become the first woman to trek solo to the North Pole, one of the final uncompleted Arctic challenges.

Later this month Miss Franco will fly to Ward Hunt Island, Canada, to begin a 60-day, 800km trek which will take her to the very top of the world. Unlike the magnetic north pole, which continually shifts its position and is usually closer to travel to, the geographic pole is the point at the very top of the earth and is considered a much harder place to reach.

Only five men have ever made solo treks there and no woman has been able to conquer it on her own. Two expeditions by British solo women explorers in the past two years have had to be abandoned.

As she made her way down Oxford Street yesterday, with bemused shoppers stopping to take pictures on their camera phones, Miss Franco explained why she was willing to put up with two months of solitude in a place where temperatures will drop as low as -50C.

“There are very few pure records left to break and this is one of the last ones remaining so obviously that is a huge draw,” she said. “Trekking to the geographic pole is something that has inspired my imagination for so long that I got to the point where I almost felt obligated to do it.”

The first two weeks of her self-funded solo trip will be the most dangerous, taking her past giant ice boulder fields, formed when plates of ice crash into each other. She expects to travel at little more than five kilometres a day over the ice fields and will be armed with a Heckler and Koch 9mm pistol to protect herself from polar bears. Once she clears the ice fields she will then have to pick up her speed in order to cover an average speed of 16 kilometres a day to make it to the pole in time to be collected.

The glamorous explorer, who has lived in the UK for 17 years, has been desperately trying to put on weight and has been consuming more than 5,000 calories a day.

"I'm trying to gain 15 kilos before leaving," she said. "It's weird to put on clothes and not fit into them and to have to wear things that look like tents instead. My chest is bigger though, so low-cut dresses are a great success for me now.”

She hopes to raise more than £120,000 for four charities including Save the Rhino and the Motor Neurone Disease Association.