Cold and alone at South Pole, Briton breaks trek record

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After 42 days, dragging a sled twice her weight in temperatures as low as minus 50C, Fiona Thornewill celebrated her record-breaking South Pole trek with champagne yesterday.

The 37-year-old recruitment consultant not only reached her goal in less than two-thirds of the time she originally anticipated but she broke the previous 44-day record for trekking unaided to the pole.

Thornewill, the first British woman to achieve the solo feat, was overcome as she came to the end of her 700-mile trip on Saturday night. "When I arrived at the pole I actually had tears in my eyes. I couldn't believe I was there," she said. "It was overpowering. I know that people were willing me on, so that inspired me."

She set off from the Hercules Inlet at the edge of Antarctica at the same time as Rosie Stancer, 43, from London, but the two women insisted they were not in a race. Stancer is believed to have completed about half the trip.

Before she left, Thornewill said: "It's the greatest challenge I'll ever undertake for sure, but I'd be a liar to say I wasn't nervous about it.

"Sometimes the thought of walking 700 miles through Antarctica really excites me and other times I wake up at night and it daunts me. But I realise you need some fear because it makes you careful and keeps you safe."

Facing winds of up to 70mph, Thornewill covered more than 16 miles a day, towing a 285lb sledge loaded with food, fuel and equipment. To keep up her energy, she consumed 5,000 calories a day with dehydrated meals, nuts and chocolate.

Thornewill's husband Mike, a police officer, is also heading to the South Pole, via Sir Ernest Shackleton's original 1907 route with a team of six novices, The couple have not been in contact for the past month because her solar-powered satellite phone would not charge. Her back-up team has been able to monitor her progress via a tracking beacon.

Thornewill, who lives in Thurgarton, Nottinghamshire, hopes to raise a six-figure sum for the NSPCC and Macmillan Cancer Relief. Her trip was sponsored by the East Midlands Development Agency,

Only one woman - Liv Arnesen from Norway, in 1994 - has achieved the same solo unaided feat. Thornewill had not expected to reach the pole until mid-February but, as an experienced polar adventurer, she is no stranger to breaking records.

She made her first trip to the South Pole after agreeing over a curry to help her husband achieve a life-long dream to make the crossing. In 2001 they became the first married couple to walk to the North and South Poles, renewing their wedding vows at the latter.