Meet The Firefighters Trying To Become The First Women’s Team To Trek 1,180 Miles Across Antarctica
‘We don’t care what society says, when you put your mind to it you can do these things too,’ says Georgina Gilbert.
Six firefighters from the UK want to become the first ever group of women to trek a 1,180 mile (1900km) route across Antarctica, in an effort to raise awareness of mental health issues and teach young girls that “stereotypes about women being fragile are outdated”.
The team, who call themselves the Antarctic Fire Angels – made up of Nakita Ross, Georgina Gilbert, Beci Newton, Alison Kibblewhite, Rebecca Rowe and Nikki Upton – intend to use only muscle power as they ski from coast to coast across the southern continent.
The route has not been completed by a female team before and covers some of the most hostile environments on the planet, including the Titan Dome, which is 3,100 metres above sea level and exposed to some of the harshest weather conditions and snowstorms imaginable.
They estimate it will take 70 days to complete, each carrying 85kg supply sleds in 60mph winds, from the point where their Chilean chartered plane drops them off, via the South Pole, to the Ross ice shelf.
Gilbert, one of the organisers, tells The Independent the expedition requires so much training that they won’t be going until November 2023, after long preparatory trips to places including Norway, Canada and Greenland.
Nakita Ross (left) and Georgina Gilbert
“We have to be trained in so many different areas – particularly medical training and crevasse training. The landscape is covered in these crevasses [deep, open cracks in the glacier] where you can fall and injure yourself.
“The biggest risk we face is exposure. Although we will have satellite phones, the weather is so unpredictable. We can get ourselves physically fit, but the reality is nothing is certain and we can’t prepare so well for the mental exhaustion of it.”
The only certainty is that the team have to complete the trek within an 85-day window or else the short Antarctic summer will pass and the team will find themselves in long periods of darkness.
The team know it will be an endurance test, but are ready for it.
“The point of this trip is to inspire the next generation,” says Gilbert. “We want to smash stereotypical barriers for women and show girls they can be tough and strong, and do jobs like firefighters, the army, or the police force.
“We don’t care what society says, when you put your mind to it you can do these things too.”
The women – half of whom are from fire stations in Wales and half from London – were inspired to take up the challenge after listening to a talk from a female British army officer who had done a similar journey.
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As well as defying stereotypes, the group also want to raise awareness of mental health issues: particularly post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which two members of the group suffer from.
Two of the women were also present at the Grenfell fire, something which they say had an impact on their mental health.
“Mental health is very relevant to our group. Some of the others attended Grenfell and have seen how important this is, and how talking about our mental health will help us engage with future generations too,” says Gilbert.
In the next three years, while they are training, the group are looking for sponsorship to support them with equipment, nutrition, technology and the necessary specialist technical support.
But they will also be raising funds for three charities: The Firefighters Charity, PTSD999 (a group specialising in PTSD support) and the Fawcett Society, a charity campaigning for gender equality.
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