South Wales firefighters hope Antarctica trek empowers girls

Two firefighters aiming to ski to the South Pole unaided in 50 days say they want their example to help empower women and girls.

Georgina Gilbert, 49, and Rebecca Openshaw-Rowe, 42, hope to trek 777 miles (1,250 km) across Antarctica.

They will carry all their food and supplies in sledges while facing temperatures of up to minus 50C (58F).

If successful, they say they will be the first emergency services team to complete the trek.

Speaking from Chile ahead of flying out to the Antarctic, Ms Gilbert - a firefighter with South Wales Fire and Rescue Service for 25 years - said: "We're doing it for all future generations out there, and every young girl and woman that's ever been told they can't do something.

"We're just setting an example that gender isn't a barrier. It's our point to prove that."

Plans for the challenge began in 2019, but Covid meant it had to be delayed.

Ms Gilbert said training for the trek led to some bizarre sights, including learning to ski on sand and pulling weights across the Welsh countryside.

"We had car tyres basically attached to a bit of rope that's attached to us and we drive those around for hours and hours," she said.

"We spent a lot of time on Kenfig Nature Reserve down the sand hills and on Sker beach... running up and down hills with weighted backpacks on."

They also trained in Norway in -35C (-31F), still warm compared to Antarctic temperatures. Ms Openshaw-Rowe said they needed to learn to adapt.

"We need to stay alive in a cold environment but you know you can't get too hung up on the weather," she said. "It's always windy, and it's always cold in Antarctica."

All the provisions they need for the 50-day trip will need to be stored in sleds that need to be pulled throughout the trek.

"We've got 50 days worth of food in our sleds, along with the fuel needed to fuel the cooker to melt snow, which is how we get any water, which is we use and to rehydrate our food," Ms Openshaw-Rowe said.

"We will literally have everything, our houses in our tent, any spare things, any luxury items. Everything will be pulled behind us."

Ms Gilbert said they will need to cover about 16 miles (25km) a day, but plan to take half a day off to celebrate Christmas in the middle of the journey.

"We've got Christmas pudding, some little paper decorations to go up in the in the tent and maybe a little bit of Baileys," she said.

"We've got a tablet we're taking with us. So we'll have a couple of Christmas films."

They will also have brief conversations with friends and families at home via satellite telephone, but the pair admit they could get on each other's nerves at times.

"I think the big thing for us is to stay, to stay focused and stay in our routine," Ms Gilbert said.

"We have a very simple routine of getting up, eating, sorting our kit out, skiing for 10 hours, and then putting the tent back up, eating and making sure we get enough rest".

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