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Ice Bambi selects soldiers for Antarctic trek

08 March 2016

As we celebrate International Women's Day today, a once-in-a-lifetime Antarctic adventure beckons for a group of female soldiers currently training for a place on Exercise Ice Maiden - an expedition of six female British soldiers attempting to cross the Antarctic under their own steam in October 2017.

As hopefuls for the first all-female British military team ever to attempt this feat, the soldiers will potentially trek 1,700km in temperatures as low as -80 degrees Celsius and battle wind speeds of more than 60mph during the 75-day trek from Leverett Glacier to the South Pole to Hercules Inlet.

Soldiers on Ice Bambi ski across a frozen lake. Photographer Cpl Jamie Dudding; Crown copyright.

Of the 250 soldiers who applied to take part, 50 were whittled down to 22 on the challenging selection exercise in Snowdonia last September. Now those hardy individuals are taking part in the next selection stage, Exercise Ice Bambi in Lakselv, Norway.

 

Exercise Ice Bambi

Ice Bambi sees the 22 Regular and Reservist troops undertake eight arduous days of the Royal Marines’ Arctic Survival Course and learn basic ski touring with the Norwegian Army in one of the most challenging environments in the world.

Ice Maiden hopefuls with women from the Norwegian Army pictured on Ice Bambi. Photographer Cpl Jamie Dudding; Crown copyright.

The course culminates in a two-day expedition putting into practice all that has been learnt throughout the week, with the 12 most suitable candidates selected at the end of the exercise.

Ex Ice Ready in Norway in November 16, will see 12 become eight as the tasks become more lengthy and challenging. The freezing Norwegian climate is the nearest they will come to that of the South Pole. It will be a real test of the soldiers’ stamina.

Polar expeditions have been dominated by men ever since the early 1900s when Roald Amundsen and Robert Falcon Scott raced to the South Pole for the first time. Now the Ice Maidens aim to address the balance.

The aim of this historic Antarctic expedition, as well as inspiring a new era of female expeditionary spirit within the military and outside, is to provide winter survival skills and qualifications to women throughout the training and selection process. It is hoped this will inspire them to lead their own expeditions.

 

Experienced team leaders

The team is being led by Army doctors, Major Nat Taylor and Captain Nics Wetherill. Nat is currently the Regimental Medical Officer for 1 Rifles in Chepstow. She won the 6633 Arctic Ultra Marathon in 2015 and has extensive Nordic skiing experience.

Team leader Captain Nics Wetherill enters the snow shelter through a small gap. Photographer Cpl Jamie Dudding; Crown copyright.

Team leader Captain Nics Wetherill enters the snow shelter through a small gap. Photographer Cpl Jamie Dudding; Crown copyright.

Team leader Maj Natalie Taylor, Royal Army Medical Corps and LSgt Sophie Montagne, Honourable Artillery Company, settle in their sleeping bags for the night. Photographer Cpl Jamie Dudding; Crown copyright.

Team leader Maj Natalie Taylor, Royal Army Medical Corps and LSgt Sophie Montagne, Honourable Artillery Company, settle in their sleeping bags for the night. Photographer Cpl Jamie Dudding; Crown copyright.

Nics is completing her General Practitioner training in Plymouth and at Headley Court. She completed an Ironman and competed with Nat in the 6633 Arctic Ultra Marathon. She is also an experienced skier having raced in both alpine and Nordic disciplines and represented the Army in the National Nordic Ski Championships.

The secondary aim is the collection of medical data by Nat and Nics on women undergoing endurance in extreme environments. The research is supported by the Army and the Defence Medical Academic Department.

The Ice Maiden team is being supported and advised by military and civilian experts throughout the training and expedition planning process to ensure they have the best possible chance of completing the challenge.

“Their planning, preparation and selection process is impressive and their commitment to this endeavour is outstanding,” said Col Chris Coats, Chief of Staff Adventurous Training Group.

“I am fully confident that the team will demonstrate the comprehensive personal and physical development benefits that result from challenging adventurous training.”

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