From snow storms to birthdays: Portsmouth ‘Ice Maiden’ tells all about South Pole epic

The Ice Maidens celebrate

DREAMING up plans for the perfect wedding while listening to Desert Island Discs helped an inspirational Drayton soldier to ski across the unforgiving terrain of the world’s coldest continent.

Major Nics Wetherill was in charge of leading the intrepid squad of five other female soldiers on the 1,056-mile trek across the South Pole – which set four world records in the process.

Braving freezing temperatures of -56C, the team spent 61 days in the Antarctic, trudging up to 28 miles a day, pulling sledges weighing 76kg – all while dodging deadly crevasse fields.

Having finally arrived back home on Sunday, Maj Wetherill – a GP at Drayton Surgery – has revealed what life on the ice was really like.

Speaking to The News at a press event at Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, the army officer said: ‘We had no idea that so many people would be following us. It has been incredible and humbling to see so many people inspired by us.’

The military medic said the trek was almost derailed at the start, with horrific weather forcing them to seek shelter in their tent for days at a time.

Life in the South Pole was ‘surreal’, she added, with constant daylight proving tough to acclimatise to.

They would ski for 10 hours in 75-minute stints, breaking only for eight minutes at a time.

Despite being thousands of miles away from home, that didn’t stop Maj Wetherill from planning her marriage to fiancé Jimmy Willcox, in September.

‘I had a lot of time to think about things,’ she said. ‘Certainly it helped me in planning my wedding. It meant I could come up with a lot of ideas.’

She even celebrated her 32nd birthday while taking on the trek.

‘Not many people can say they have had a birthday in Antarctic,’ she said. ‘It was pretty unique.’

The effort set four world records, including: the first all-female team to cross the Antarctic, the largest team to ski across the continent, the first team to cross the Antarctic without any previous polar experience and the first team to cross using muscle power alone.

It comes in the year the nation marks the inspirational efforts of the female suffragettes who fought to give women the right to vote in Britain 100 years ago.

‘People have said we were trailblazers like the suffragettes but I don’t see it like that,’ added Maj Wetherill.

‘They had an agenda for women’s rights which was absolutely incredible. But we weren’t doing this for women.

‘We are a team of ordinary women. We haven’t done this to prove a point other than the fact that anybody can achieve what they want to do if they do the right planning and training for it.’

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