One of the planet’s last great untouched wildernesses, the South Pole has long been the crowning jewel of polar exploration. Since Scott, Shackleton and Amundsen first attempted to find a route to the southernmost point on earth, its haunting landscapes and serene beauty have been a constant challenge to man’s unquenchable quest for adventure. It has now become the adventure of a lifetime for Georgina Gilbert and Rebecca Openshaw – Rowe, starting 10th November 2023.
George (as she likes to be called) has always been the adventurous type, wanting to push the boundaries where possible in traditionally male environments. Having been dissuaded from joining both the Navy and Army she became a fire fighter in 2000 and has served 23 years based with the South Wales Fire & Rescue Service. Her adventurous side has already seen her climb Mt. Kilimanjaro (5,895m / Tanzania) and Mt. Elbrus (5,642m / Russia) and represent Great Britain as a triathlete. She is an ambassador for gender equality and has an ambition to see more women striving to do whatever job they want to do in life; always ensuring she is visible as a role model for young women wanting to embark on a career that doesn’t fit society’s stereotypes.
Bex too has enjoyed success in a typically male dominated environment, rowing for Great Britain and playing rugby for Wales at the World Cup and Six Nations. This stellar career was sadly cut short by injury to her knee ligament, forcing her to retire in 2017. She has also won several world championships in ‘Surf life saving,’ before joining the Fire Service aged 37.
THE ANTARCTIC FIRE ANGELS
Many of us have dreams and aspirations, but have you fulfilled them?
In 2019 Sophie Montagne gave a key note speech to the Fire Services about her experiences on the Ice Maiden Expedition, where she was part of the first female team to cross the Antarctic covering 1,704km in 62 days. Her words ignited a flame and by the end of 2019 ‘The Antarctic Fire Angels’ (AFA) had been formed, consisting of like-minded women within the firefighting service.
The team was originally five, sadly through their training, fund raising and injuries this has reduced the group to two. The others will now be acting as ground support for George and Bex on their expedition.
The North pole sits in the middle of an imperfectly frozen ocean, constantly in motion, this makes it much harder to travel across and impractical to construct any form of a permanent station. The nearest land is Kaffeklubben Island, off the northern coast of Greenland about 700 km (430 mi) away. Thinning ice is one the greatest dangers resulting in fewer Artic expeditions. Rescue operations have seen two aircraft lost to these ice flows.
The South Pole, located in Antarctica is sat on a landmass twice the size of Australia. This means the ice sheets are static, you can ski without fear of falling through the ice into the icy water. While crevasses can present a danger in off-route Antarctica, the paths that many skiers take to the South Pole are well-known and safe, and evacuation can be relatively straightforward. The catch is that Antarctica, is much windier, sastrugi, or hard snow waves carved by the wind, can be much bigger in Antarctica, occasionally with troughs a metre deep, making it harder to pull supply sleds (pulks).
HOW DO YOU DECIDE YOUR ROUTE?
For adventure tourists, a private camp opens at Union Glacier every year between November and February, which is the Antarctic summer. There are a variety of starting points for expeditions, some of which begin on the sea ice, some from the continent’s edge. All require logistical support from Antarctic Logistics and Expeditions (ALE). Based on the skiers’ experience, ALE decides which routes an expedition may follow.
Novice or relatively new travellers must follow well-worn paths from, for example, Hercules Inlet to the South Pole. Veteran polar travellers may choose their own way, contending with crevasses and often more difficult scenarios in emergencies. Most Antarctic expeditions follow the standard routes.
Ice Trek have a series of maps that allow you to see all the seasonal expeditions and how they have been completed, on foot, skiing, kite or by bike.
George and Becks have had to overcome a lot of challenges whilst fundraising. This is an expensive and cash intensive expedition. This is due to the rigorous training they require for the Antarctic and their specialist equipment, a Blacks tent whilst good for Glastonbury will not survive Antarctic conditions.
The expedition will cost £400,000 and if they fail to reach this target, they will have to alter their route. The original plan is to trek from Berkner Island making their way to the South Pole, then down towards the Queen Maud Mountains and onto the Ross Ice Shelf.
They will travel up to 25kms per day taking between 8 – 12 hours, pending on the conditions, which can be between -4c and -30c. This could easily become -50c with the wind chill factor and the storms that can sweep in. It is an environment that will constantly be testing their endurance, strength and aerobic fitness as they pull their supply sleds which weigh 90 Kgs.
They aim to be the first Emergency Services team to travel from the Coast (Union Glacier Camp) to the South Pole.
Their expedition will push them to their limits, there is no easy way. They will need to climb ice ridges, push their sledges over countless obstacles whilst battling constant head winds. It requires preternatural reserves of fortitude, determination, and resourcefulness. George Mallory was asked why he wanted to climb Mount Everest in 1924, his response was “because it’s there.” His may be the closest explanation for the desire that compels people to climb, dive, or cross nature’s greatest extremes. Their actions will surely influence both women and those at school, in their words ‘being strong, fierce, dedicated and badass is feminine!’
I couldn’t think of better role models for my nieces to look up to.
2024-01-13 - They have done it.
Whilst all of us were celebrating Christmas and New Year, two ladies still continued their arduous trek towards the South Pole. Thank you to everyone who has supported them on this mammoth feat and they completed their expedition reaching the South Pole on Friday 12th January after 52 days, 10 hours, 30 min.