A ONCE-in-a-lifetime Antarctic adventure beckons for a soldier from Ilkley who is training for a place on Exercise Ice Maiden, an expedition of six female British soldiers attempting to cross the Antarctic via the South Pole under their own steam.

As a hopeful for the first all-female British military team ever to attempt this feat in October 2017, Sergeant Sara Canning, 32, an Aircraft Comms Specialist and careers advisor with Yeovil-based 1 Army Air Corps, will potentially trek 1,700km in temperatures as low as -80 degrees Celsius and battle wind speeds of more than 60mph during the 75-day trek from Leverett Glacier to the South Pole to Hercules Inlet.

Mother-of-one Sara has made it to the final 12 having been one of 250 soldiers who applied to take part. On the challenging selection exercise in Snowdonia in September 50 became 22 and she has just returned from the next stage Ex Ice Bambi in Lakselv, Norway from March 1-8.

Ex Ice Bambi saw the 22 regular and reservist troops undertake eight days of the arduous Royal Marines’ Arctic Survival Course and learn basic ski touring with the Norwegian Army in one of the most challenging environments in the world, proving a real test of the soldiers’ stamina.

“I think I’ve done okay,” said former Ilkley Grammar School pupil Sara. “I’m quite physically fit. However, I’ve not really been in this extreme cold before. And, I’ve never Nordic skied before. I’ve mainly just done downhill.

“What attracted me to this challenge, as a woman, I think it means we can keep pushing the boundaries. We can keep going that little bit further every time.

“Being able to achieve this will say so much to every girl, and even the boys, just to help them realise that we are just as capable and just as motivated as anyone else. And if it can instil some inspiration into younger women, and older women, then that’s a job done really well.”

The course culminated in a two-day expedition putting into practice all that had been learnt throughout the week, with 12 candidates selected at the end of the exercise. A key element of the challenge was jumping in an ice hole, which had been cut out of a frozen lake. The women do this fully clothed with skis and a bergen (backpack). They have to get themselves out of the freezing water unaided.

"It is extreme, but I’m pretty extreme myself and I like a challenge," said Sara.

Sara will join the remaining 11 on Ex Ice Ready in Norway in November, where the training becomes more lengthy and challenging, and the 12 will be whittled down to eight. The freezing Norwegian climate is the nearest they will come to that of the South Pole.

Polar expeditions have been dominated by men ever since the early 1900s when Roald Amundsen and Robert Falcon Scott raced to the South Pole for the first time. Now the Ice Maidens aim to address the balance.

The team is being led by Army doctors Major Nat Taylor and Captain Nics Wetherill. The aim of this historic Antarctic expedition is to provide winter survival skills and qualifications to women throughout the training and selection process. It is hoped this will inspire them to lead their own expeditions.