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Ice Maidens to attempt record-breaking Antarctica crossing

Major Nicola Weatherill and the Ice Maidens trekking through the snow

This winter, Major Nicola Weatherill and the Ice Maidens will be trekking 1700km across Antarctica in -50°C in a bid to make history. The Locker finds out more.

Ordinary people can achieve extraordinary things.

In October, a female team of British soldiers will attempt to cross Antarctica coast-to-coast via the South Pole. Expedition Ice Maiden is the brainchild of Nicola Weatherill, who will co-lead the three-month trek with Natalie Taylor – both are Majors in the Royal Army Medical Corps.

It will be a first for an all-female group, and an attempt to prove that women have the mental strength and physical endurance to operate in the most hostile environment on earth. Weatherill, who is based in Portsmouth and works full-time as a trainee GP, says it wasn’t her intention to be ground-breaking just for its own sake.

Major Nicola Weatherill and the Ice Maidens

“We wanted to encourage women to do adventurous training,” she says, explaining that women are under represented on such courses. To support that ambition, there were just two conditions for applicants wanting to join them: “They had to be a woman and in the Army. That was it.”

Whittling 250 hopefuls down to the core team of seven (five will ultimately embark on the expedition) involved exercises in Wales and Norway. “We looked at people’s ability to get on with others and how they coped in stressful situations,” adds Weatherill, who has received guidance from polar explorer Felicity Aston who shot to fame with her own recordbreaking, solo Antarctic crossing in 2012.

The Ice Maidens’ route

The team’s route is approximately 1,700km. Covering 20-30km each day, they expect the expedition to take around 70 days in total. There are only two re-supply points on the route, meaning the Ice Maidens will have to carry everything they need for each 600km leg in order to survive on the planet’s most inhospitable continent.

Major Nicola Weatherill and the Ice Maidens

Endurance training has taken place back home, dragging a tyre along tarmac roads to replicate the weight of the 80kg sled. Weight is so crucial that their rations will only nourish them to the tune of 5,000 calories a day, though they expect to burn 6,500 on most days.

As departure approaches, Weatherill’s nervous excitement grows. “There’s always that element of trepidation,” she admits. Nonetheless, her training has instilled the determination needed to succeed: “We’ve all found that inner confidence and strength.”

Expedition Ice Maiden has resonated with the wider public but Weatherill is staying grounded. “It’s great if people are inspired but I’m a normal person. I’m not this crazy, active all the time, person. I just saw a challenge and set myself to it.”