The British Army’s ‘Ice Maiden’ Expedition has become the first all-female team to cross Antarctica using muscle power alone. After spending 62 days on the ice and covering 1700kms, the six soldiers led by Major Nics Wetherill and Major Nat Taylor crossed the finish line at the Hercules Inlet at the weekend (Saturday 20th January).
Over the last two months the team travelled up to 43 kilometers a day, navigating crevasse fields whilst pulling sledges weighing up to 80kg and battling temperatures as low as -40°C.
Speaking at the finish line Major Nics Wetherill said: “I’m just so incredibly proud of the team. I can’t believe how far we’ve come… This journey has had good times, bad times and great times for all concerned, and each of them, I know, has made us better people.
“I now know my five companions so well as to be able to almost tell just from the back of their heads whether they are smiling or crying, although determining this when facing them can be just as difficult with their faces obscured by hoods, goggles and masks!”
Major Nat Taylor said: “I have spent the last few days trying to imprint this beautiful landscape in my mind. We have called it home for close to two months now and I will, in a strange way, miss it a lot!
“The snow sparkles like there is a layer of pearls on the surface and everywhere you look there is beauty and stillness. The photos just don’t do it justice.”
When Major Taylor and Major Wetherill came up with the idea for the expedition they wanted to inspire women of all ages and abilities. The only conditions for applicants were that they were serving in the Army, Regular or Reserve, and female. 250 applicants were tested to the limit both in the UK and in freezing conditions in Norway with six making it through the final selection to take part in the biggest adventure of their lives.
Major Sandy Hennis said: “I’m very much looking forward to talking in schools about our journey and what you can achieve if you believe in yourself and are willing to try. I know crossing Antarctica won’t be at the top of many people’s lists but I hope we have encouraged someone to try something different.”
Lieutenant Jenni Stephenson said “I don’t think I fully appreciate what we’ve been up to yet. I hope that this is the beginning of more Jen adventures and that even if we have managed to encourage just one person through our exploits I will class this as a huge success.”
Starting on the edge of the Ross Ice Shelf on the 20th November 2017, the team climbed up the Transantarctic Mountains, via the Leverett Glacier, to reach the polar plateau.
Speaking about the moment the team reached the South Pole, Lance Sergeant Sophie Montagne said: “It was the middle of the night when we arrived and there was not a soul to be seen. This really added to the poignancy of the moment as the Pole was ours alone – cue a flood of tears from almost every team member! As we stepped forward and touched the famous silver globe, a lifelong dream of mine had just been realized. It’s not often you get to say that!”
After a re-supply at the South Pole the team turned north-west towards Hercules Inlet. Skiing 600km across uneven ground, spending Christmas Day on the ice before reaching their final re-supply point at the base of the Thiel Mountains. From there, they descended to the Hercules Inlet and the finish line.
Captain Zanna Baker said: “There is a small part of me that wishes I could just pause time and freeze the moment, so I can truly appreciate where I am and what I have been doing. I’m so grateful to everyone who’s supported me. I am actually quite excited to get back to work and see what could be around the corner!”