On 19th November eleven of us headed out to Norway for our second Arctic training expedition, Ex Ice Ready. The idea was to practise our march and camping routines, and get used to spending long days dragging our pulks across frozen lakes. But, there was one problem, the lakes hadn’t frozen! And, unusually for the time of year, there was very little snow which meant choosing ski routes and camp sites was a serious challenge.
We hit the ground running, leaving the warmth of the airport transfer to immediately start pitching tents and boiling water for our first dehydrated meal. We would not see a bed, a shower, a toilet or change of clothes for two weeks.
The length of our ski days gradually increased as we got used to having a pulk in tow, and we were plunged into crevasse rescue training, taking it in turns to ski off a cliff and be hauled up. This was essential safety training for the last section of our journey across Antarctica where we will need to ski roped up to each other.
After a few days of much-needed snow, we journeyed out into the wilderness, a line of pink jackets towing pulks packed with 30kg of food, kit and fuel across the Arctic landscape.
The route was hilly and the days were long – we started skiing at 8.30am and completed one hour legs, stopping for a 7min break every hour to eat and drink. This continued for 10 hours until we pitched tents around 6.30pm, boiled water for food and drink and were fast asleep by 9pm!
Our drills became pretty slick and we were able to pop the tent up in a fierce wind, conjure our stoves into life and have a warm meal inside us within an hour. This gave us time to patch up our blisters, repair holes in gloves and prepare our vital snack bags for the next day.
Food was a constant topic of conversation thanks to team dietician and team member Rin Cobb’s carefully prepared and delicious rations. We would like to thank all the lovely people at Real Foods, Munchy Seeds, Top Herd Snacks, Planters Nuts and Fruizion Flapjacks for keeping the Ice Maidens happy and fuelled throughout a gruelling 14 days.
After 13 nights on the ice and an epic journey across the tundra where we saw just one bird and two moose, we returned to civilisation, entering base camp just as the temperature depth charged to -25 degrees.
Filled with an enormous sense of achievement after what, for many of us, was the toughest two weeks of our lives, we completed the next stage of selection and five team members were invited to join Nat Taylor and Nics Wetherill in the build-up to Antarctica. They are Major Sandy Hennis, Lt Zanna Baker, Lt Jenni Stephenson, LSgt Sophie Montagne and Pte Rin Cobb. This squad of seven will train over the next 11 months, and the final team of 5 that will travel to Chile and then Antarctica will be announced in 2017.
The Ice Maidens would like to thank SSgt Will Brant, Capt Vibs Sefland, Maj Gill Neil and Lucy for their outstanding help and support throughout Exercise Ice Ready. Thank you!