Exercise ICE MAIDEN, the first all-female military transantarctic crossing planned for November 2017, is the vision of expedition leaders Major Nicola Wetherill and Major Natalie Taylor. The two adventurous Army doctors hope that the expedition will inspire others, particularly women, to seek adventure and to engage in arduous outdoor activity. In addition, regardless of who achieves a place on the final team in 2017, the leaders hope that the selection and training process which the women will have been exposed to by that point will have equipped them to plan and lead their own expeditions in the future. Lastly, the Exercise ICE MAIDEN team members will be closely monitored and tracked during the expedition. It is envisaged that the data collected and medical research will provide a unique insight into the effects which fatigue, extreme cold and prolonged periods of arduous exercise have on the female body.
Exercise ICE DIAMOND was the third and final training expedition for the team of seven Ice Maidens, three of which are serving in the Army Reserves. As with any progressive training, Exercise Ice Diamond aimed to enable the team to consolidate everything they’ve learnt from the previous two polar training exercises and all the UK based training they’ve completed in between. This expedition was used as a simulation for Antarctica to allow the team to become accustomed to the daily routine that goes with polar travel and to further practice the Antarctic routine of Nordic skiing with a weighted pulk for ten hours a day with only five minute rest stops every hour.
Exercise ICE DIAMOND certainly achieved what it set out to do with the team covering 463kms, 6700m ascent over a continuous 21 days and varying terrain. Although the temperatures ranging from 0 to -10 degrees C were not quite what the team had hoped for in terms of being able to truly test their clothing and equipment, there were plenty of days of zero visibility where it was impossible for the team to tell whether they were skiing up or downhill. Strong winds also enabled the team to practice putting up and taking down tents under similar conditions to Antarctica.
One aspect of training the team needed to perfect, which may come as a surprise to some, was eating. Fuelling ten hours of weight bearing skiing is a challenge in its own right and rather than the usual practice of eating for health or enjoyment, food becomes fuel and so, consuming the daily 5000kcals was no mean feat. I feel very fortunate to have been able to use my civilian job as a dietitian to help guide and support the expedition, particularly as a sports dietitian specialising in endurance nutrition. Planning and then trialing different rations to make them fit for purpose, not to mention the logistics of packing them, has been a fantastic opportunity for me to practice what I preach. As the team dietitian, my next challenge will be to advise and support each member as they embark on Operation Foie Gras, an essential element of preparation prior to the team’s departure to Antarctica later this year.
Army Reservists Major Sandy Hennis, LSgt Sophie Montagne and I, LCpl Rin Cobb, would like to thank the Ulysses Trust on behalf of the entire team for their generous ongoing support of EXERCISE ICE MAIDEN.