Ilkley soldier Sara braves big chill for Antarctic voyage

Photographer: Cpl Jamie Dudding RLC  Pictured here, Capt Sandy Hennis, Royal Signals and Sgt Sara Canning, Army Air Corps settled into their sleeping bags.
Photographer: Cpl Jamie Dudding RLC Pictured here, Capt Sandy Hennis, Royal Signals and Sgt Sara Canning, Army Air Corps settled into their sleeping bags.
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A Yorkshire soldier is close to earning a place in the first all-female British military team to cross the Antarctic via the South Pole under their own steam.

Sergeant Sara Canning, 32, from Ilkley, an aircraft communications specialist and careers advisor, will potentially trek 1,700km in temperatures as low as -80C if she makes it onto the six-woman team.

Sergeant Sara Canning of Ilkley

Sergeant Sara Canning of Ilkley

Winds of more than 60mph are expected during the 75-day trek from Leverett Glacier to the South Pole to Hercules Inlet as part of Exercise Ice Maiden.

The mother-of-one has made it to the final 12 after being one of 250 soldiers who applied to take part. During a selection exercise in Snowdonia in September, 50 competitors were whittled down to 22.

And Sgt Canning has just returned from survival and ski touring training with the Norwegian Army as part of the preparation for the event.

“I think I’ve done okay,” the ex-Ilkley Grammar School pupil said. “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.”

Sgt Canning will join the remaining 11 contenders in Norway in November, where the training becomes more lengthy and challenging and the 12 will be whittled down to eight.

A key element of the challenge during the trip to Norway is jumping in an ice hole which has been cut out of a frozen lake. The women do this fully clothed with skis and a backpack and have to get themselves out of the freezing water unaided.