Following in the footsteps of Felicity Aston, inspired by her book ‘Alone in Antarctica‘, Major Nic Wetherill joined forces with Major Nat Taylor to construct an Antarctic expedition like no other. A three-month voyage; spanning 1700km, enduring wind speeds of 60km per hour and temperatures of -50 degrees Celsius. With only two planned resupply points the team of six female British Army personnel would pull enough kit and supplies on pulks (a Nordic toboggan) to last them for up to 600km at a time.
The long road to Antarctica
Planning had taken two years, required raising £400,000 and included selecting the final Antarctic Expedition team of 6. The initial 250 army applicants were taken through a series of training camps in Scandinavia simulating Antarctic conditions and testing the limits of female physical capabilities. Practising Crevasse rescue in Swiss glaciers, polar navigation skills and conditioning the body to cope with cold water immersion were just some of the activities undertaken alongside the Norwegian army’s elite. The training to pull your body weight against resistance is rigorous and team members would train pulling tyres along concrete in order to emulate the conditions they would face in the brutal environment. Only the best were to be taken through to the final stages of training.
EXICEMAIDEN is born!
One of the finest applicants was Rin Cobb, who would later become the team’s dietician. She carefully plans rations to fuel the girl’s estimated 10000 kilocalories expenditure per day. To date, little is known about how the female body copes with extreme polar environments; some speculate about an advantage due to the combination of lower overall calorie requirement and an increased ability to both store fat and utilise it as an energy source. This Antarctic expedition will help conduct pioneering medical research into this exciting developing field by monitoring and analysing the team’s physiological parameters throughout the anticipated 75 days.
Motivational skills are paramount to survive the long tent-bound days where moral is low. Accepting the need to surrender to the elements until the conditions calmed on some days was a necessity for eventual success. Social and communication skills are as important as fitness training, this becoming apparent fairly early on in their voyage.
Ice Maiden Antarctic Expedition Begins
The girls commenced the trip by carb-loading at union glacier, with tensions running high after continuous high-winds prevented departure. After a tedious few days they were finally off on the short flight to the Thiel mountains and subsequently the Leverett glacier where they got off to a flying start completing 16km in their first day. This luck was to quickly come to an end. They quickly became tent bound in conditions akin to standing blindfolded, in front of a heavy duty fan. The winter survival skills learnt in Norway prevent their Hilleberg Tent from being buried or blown to shreds.
“By the end of the day the zips of our jackets have frozen into a solid lump of ice right at the top so it can take a good few minutes of thawing in the tent before we can be released from this icy prison.” – Nic Wetherill
The variable weather was to characterise the next few weeks. When tent bound, the team would write about fearing the few minutes where they have to brave the outdoors. Sometimes they have to dig their tent out of the mounds of powdered snow or rebury the skirt to prevent the wind blowing underneath it. In stark contrast, calm days brought lifted spirits, elation and wonder at the magnificent surroundings. On average they are managing to ski for 9 hours a day with only a five minute break every sixty minutes. The team are a testament to the power of the female body and are inspiring many young females throughout the UK and the rest of the world.
You can follow the girls journey, now well into week four, at EXICEMAIDEN
Feeling inspired? You can join their team of ICEWALKERS in walking 1.7km / day for the duration of their expedition.
Challenge yourself by planning your own expedition, why not check out one of our Tough Mountain Challenges