Season 3 Episode 4 | The Ice Maiden

Alok Jha talks to explorer and UKAHT Head of Operations Sophie Montagne, one of the British Army’s Ice Maiden Expedition, which in 2018, became the first all-female team to cross Antarctica using muscle power alone. 

Sophie Montagne trained in Arctic Norway with the Royal Marines and the Norwegian Army, learning how to survive, and be comfortable, in a frozen environment. She is now the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust’s very own Head of Operations, running  activities in Antarctica and managing the seasonal teams at the Port Lockroy base. 

Prior to joining the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust, Sophie was the Director of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Polar Regions, helping to improve politicians' understanding of the Arctic & Antarctic, and has spoken to over 30,000 young people across the UK about Antarctica and exploration. Sophie is an Army Reservist, a military ski instructor and always happiest in the mountains.

Season 3 of A Voyage to Antarctica is made possible with support from Hurtigruten Expeditions.


Episode 4 Transcript The Ice Maiden: Sophie Montagne


Alok Jha (00.00) Let me take you on a journey. To the coldest place on earth and its last and greatest wilderness. On a voyage to Antarctica.

Hello and welcome to A Voyage to Antarctica, brought to you by the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust. I'm your host, Alok Jha. Why do we explore? What makes someone go to the coldest, windiest, most inhospitable place on our planet, and once they've survived it, what makes them so keen to go back? 


This week, I'll try to answer this question with the explorer, Sophie Montagne. She's one of the British Army's Ice Maiden team. In 2018, the Ice Maidens skied 1,704 kilometres, battling temperatures as low as -56 degrees Celsius, and wind speeds in excess of 100 kilometres per hour to become the first all female team to cross Antarctica using muscle power alone. 


Sophie trained in Arctic Norway with the Royal Marines and the Norwegian Army, learning how to survive, and be comfortable, in a frozen environment. She is now UK Antarctic Heritage Trust’s very own Head of Operations, running  activities in Antarctica and managing the seasonal teams at the Port Lockroy base. 


Prior to joining the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust, Sophie was the Director of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Polar Regions, helping to improve politicians' understanding of the Arctic & Antarctic, and has spoken to over 30,000 young people across the UK about Antarctica and exploration. Sophie is an Army Reservist, a military ski instructor and always happiest in the mountains.


Sophie Montagne, welcome.

Alok Jha (2.05) Sophie. Now, I had a quick look at your website before we had this conversation, and the very first thing it says on the ‘About You’ page is it says, ”I am athletically very average.” 

Now, that sounds like a very odd thing to say to someone who's been across Antarctica and is possibly one of our great adventures at this point. So I'd like to sort of understand how someone who's athletically very average becomes a polar explorer. Can you help me understand this? Take me through the point at which you realised that going to Antarctica was something you wanted to do.


Sophie Montagne (2.37) Well this is kind of key really in that I really was entirely athletically average, and I'd never done anything like this before and had, you know, no aspirations to be an explorer.

I didn't think I was bold, brave, strong, any of those kind of adjectives that you tend to associate with explorers, particularly from days gone by. And so it wasn't really something that ever featured in my education and I really came to it relatively late in life. I was in my sort of mid thirties, and so suddenly got this opportunity to apply for something that I just thought sounded like the ultimate challenge, and to also be able to have a break from my sort of humdrum existence sitting at a desk in London in a career that I didn't enjoy.


And so I just thought, right, I have absolutely nothing to bring to this team. No experience, no kind of supreme level of fitness, and I'll just put my name in the hat and see what happens. 


Alok Jha (3.35) So what was it that you put your name in the hat for? I mean, it's a very brave thing to do for a start to think to yourself: I've got nothing to offer this team, but I'm gonna put my name in the hat anyway. And obviously we know it worked out. So what was it you went in for? 

Sophie Montagne (3.46) So what I was originally applying for was to be part of the first female team to ski across Antarctica using muscle power alone. And the expedition was put together by the British Army, and I was an army reservist, or it was still am.

So this sort of opportunity came up and because it was all women, I thought, oh, well, hang on. There aren't that many women in the army, so maybe that kind of improves my odds of selection. Bear in mind my complete absence of useful skills, and then I just thought, well, I'll just give it a try. If you don't put your name in the hat, then no one's gonna pull it out.


Alok Jha (4.19) Now, I mean, you say you had nothing relevant to offer, but of course you'd already been to Everest Base Camp at this point, so it's not nothing. 

Sophie Montagne (4.27) I mean it, it's not, but it was a two week holiday and that's some holiday. 

Alok Jha (4.30) Some holiday! Some people prefer, sort of, sunbathing, beaches…Everest Base Camp doesn't sound like a holiday to me.

Sophie Montagne (4.38) I mean, really that came about because my uncle, who probably won't mind me saying that he was not exactly fit at the time, decided that he wanted to go and trek to Everest Base Camp, having done nothing like that ever before. And so he got me and some of my cousins to go along with him, and so we supported him.

So it was never a thing about being fit and strong to go to base camp because my uncle was doing it who had no background in that kind of thing. So we just thought we'd go along for the ride and see what it was like. And that's the most arduous thing I'd done to date, I think. 


Alok Jha (5.08) Okay. So then you put your hat into the ring for the ice maidens adventure. Tell me what it was like going through the sort of selection process of that and when did you find out that you'd been successful in getting onto it? 

Sophie Montange (5.21) It was a two year training and selection process. So the whole purpose of the expedition, which I think is what was so special and unique about it, is that the aim was not to pick five, six people that they thought would be the perfect team to go and sort of pull off this feat, but to actually involve as many people as possible in the process to give them the skills and experience that they could then go and use in their own future expeditions, even if they didn't end up going to Antarctica.

So really it was a series of three different expeditions that were part of the selection and training. And we went out to Arctic Norway and trained with the Royal Marines and the women of the Norwegian army for two weeks. You know, that was the most incredible experience and I had an amazing time and I realised that I could actually survive for two weeks and kind of thrive. 


Alok Jha (6.10) So Sophie, what was it like to train with these soldiers in the Arctic? You talked about the Norwegian army, the Royal Marines. I mean, what did they teach you about being in the cold that you perhaps didn't realise you might need to try and survive and even thrive in these places? 

Sophie Montagne (6.27)  Well, I think that was – the kind of thriving was the really key bit. When anybody thinks about a really cold environment – and whether it's in the north or in the south, you just think, I've gotta find a way to survive. But actually, that was what the Royal Marines taught us. 

So it was taking people that had never been into that environment before and then teaching them all the basics for what to do in survival situations, how to find shelter, how to warm up if you get wet, how to prevent the cold injuries. And then actually the Norwegians, who – one of the amazing instructors who was looking after us, a lady called Vibs Sefland, actually sort of chooses to live in a tent in the Arctic. Like that's her home. And so she was just like, You don't need to survive, you just need to be comfortable there. And we were gonna be down south for such a long time that we needed to not be constantly fighting the elements, but really learning to live with them and to normalise that. And then it's kind of much more economical with your physical and mental energy really.


Alok Jha (7.26), I mean, choosing to live in a tent, I mean – I can't even fathom. But this is the kind of mindset you have to get into, I guess. Right? You, you trained for several years as part of this, as you said, and there's an excellent picture of you that I'd like to describe from your website where you are running across a field dragging a tire. And you're running past Buckingham Palace now. Can you just explain to the listeners what earth is going on in this picture? 

Sophie Montange (07.53) Well, it was just of many indignities throughout the whole of the expedition, was that I lived in Central London and I was still working in London and trying to train around my job. And so it was just a case of trying to fit in the relevant training around that.

And the only relevant training you can do without snow is to drag a tire that will simulate your sledge. So I used to take it on my commute in the morning, so it would be from South West London, past Buckingham Palace, you know, Covent Garden, Trafalgar Square, all the way to Farrington and you know, really literally just kind of get in people's way and try and fit in that training with every opportunity that I could get. So I got a lot of hilarious puns on “you must be really tired” 


Alok Jha (8.38), So you trained for many years, you went to all the ends of the earth. Tell me about the moment you found out that you were going to become one of the Ice Maidens?

Sophie Montagne (8.46), That was literally the most amazing thing because, by that stage, I mean we didn't find out until April 2017 and we were leaving in November and I'd applied in 2015.

So it had been a massively long process and having never really thought I would ever make the team, and by this stage it was a case of trying to keep going while doing all of these expeditions. So I'd had to quit my job because I couldn't take enough annual leave to do all the training we needed to do in Norway.


So I'd quit my job, moved in with my parents at the age of 34, about the last thing you ever want to do, and certainly the last thing your parents want, and had no job security whatsoever and no income, and had taken this huge gamble on making the team. And at that stage there were six of us and, at the time, just five places on the team.


So I was just completely convinced that I was gonna be the person that was gonna be the reserve. And so I didn't think I'd make it. So actually when the team was announced, it was the most incredible moment and it felt like the biggest achievement of my life. But then you, you sort of celebrate and go: oh, hang on, we've still got to go to Antarctica, like the actual hard bit is still yet to come.




Alok Jha (10.14) In the journey itself, in the expedition, you know, you travelled up to 43 kilometres every day, you navigated crevasses, pulled sledges that weighed, you know, around 80 kilos each. And, and of course temperatures were minus 40 degree Celsius, or  lower. I mean, what does it feel like doing that on a daily basis? Of course, we can look at it now and think, oh wow, what an amazing achievement. And it is. But in the moment where you put one foot in front of the other to get across the continent, what does it feel like in its highs and lows?

Sophie Montange (10.46) That's a really difficult one because to start with, it was, you know, you're just absolutely overwhelmed with the brightness and the light. I think that's what's really extraordinary. Just everything is white and sparkling, and there we were dropped on the far side of the continent, thousands of miles from a living soul. This was the most remote part of our journey, and so that is absolutely overwhelming. And then you suddenly find yourself dragging this massive sledge for 10 hours a day, which, you know, 10 hours is a really long time. So that hit early on. And the most extraordinary thing is I could literally feel my muscles growing. So like you could feel some abs and some sort of triceps and things just growing as we marched up through the glacier up to the polar plateau with this full sledge.

So that was really extraordinary. But then just feeling your body adapt and just kind of normalise it is also kind of really hard to fathom. You think it would be a struggle the whole way and it was. It was hard and it was uncomfortable and there was always something that hurt, but your body can adapt to absolutely anything, which is one of the great takeaways from it.


Alok Jha (11.50) It's a difficult thing to answer this because I'm sure that lots of the expedition was difficult, but is there one moment that stands out as – something that really you struggled to get over, that was incredibly hard to sort of deal with?

Sophie Montagne (12.06) I kind of thought there would be a lot more of those days, but we did have what we always say was most boring expedition ever because nothing really happened. But at the start we'd had this kind of two week delay where the weather was too bad to get us to our start point on the plane that had to go for kind of eight hour journey across Antarctica to get us there. So we actually started eventually and we had about 15 kilometres of skiing, and then the next day we woke up. And there was this awful storm that had rolled in and it meant that we were stuck in our tents for two days. We had wind speeds of up to a hundred kilometres per hour, far beyond what the tents had ever been tested in. We were pinned down. We had to sort of go out with the rope every couple of hours and dig the snow away from the tents to make sure we didn't get buried.

And you know, you're watching, lying there in your tent, just watching the tent poles bending and buckling above you and this massive sort of sound that overwhelms you, it's pretty deafening. And so that was pretty scary. And at that point we just knew we were so isolated and the weather was so bad that people wouldn't be able to come and get us forpotentially quite a while so – 


Alok Jha (13.11) You've got to question your mortality at those sorts of points, don’t you think, well, listen, this isn't Central London. Noones gonna come in an ambulance and rescue you, are they? 

Sophie Montagne (13.18) Absolutely. And you know it was –  especially because it was so early on, we just felt really rookie and here we were sort of, you know, completely on our own.

And that was when, you know, if that had been just me, I would've probably freaked out. But having your teammates around you, you just, you all kind of keep a calm head and that keeps each other calm. So you know, you really relied on your tent buddy to keep you motivated and positive and you know, feed you chocolate and make sure you got through it really. 


Alok Jha (13.43) Yeah. And on the flip side, the other question I'd like to ask is: what's the best bit of what happened in those few weeks and months of that expedition? Again, there must have been lots, but is there one that sort of really stands out for you? 

Sophie Montagne (13.54) Ooh, I think the best bit is so difficult to drill down because it was always the small things that are just really unremarkable to talk about. But it was, I think probably one of the coolest things was actually being there over Christmas. And a lot of people were concerned that, you know, we might really miss our families, or it'll be the time that you'll feel most alone, but actually, how often do you get to spend Christmas with five of your best friends at the bottom of the world having the whitest Christmas you could possibly imagine?

And we gave ourselves an hour off, so we had nine hours skiing that day. So it was pretty good. 


Alok Jha (14.27) Did you have anything to drink? Was there a sort of a brandy there in there? Did you bring it all with you? 

Sophie Montagne (14.31): This was not a dry expedition!

Alok Jha (14.34) Thank goodness! 

Sophie Montagne (14.35) We were very lucky that when we flew by – when we sort of trudged our way through the South Pole – some people took pity on us and sent us off with a couple of bottles. And whenever we got a resupply, we found that the team that had put a resupply had snuck in some more for us to drink. So we would celebrate any given opportunity, whether it was having crossed a line of latitude or covered a certain number of, I dunno, a thousand kilometres or something, have a quick nip of whatever we have left.

Alok Jha (15.02)  Fantastic. And much deserved. So Sophie, you've already told us about all the physical preparation you had to make to go on this expedition, you know, whether it's dragging tires across London or going to the Arctic to understand how to live in the cold. But you were also involved in various medical and health experiments before and during the expedition, weren't you? So tell us about those experiments.  I mean, in order to go down to Antarctica, was there anything surprising you had to do to prepare from a medical or health point of view? 

Sophie Montagne  (15.31) Yeah, so we had two doctors on our team, so there was no chance for us to go South and not be used as Guinea Pigs. So we took part in three different sort of medical spheres.

So one was remote medicine technology. So using things to monitor our vital statistics while we were down South. Second one was a psychological study, and the third one was probably the results were the most interesting ‘cause it was comparing, um, the physiology of the female body with a male team that had gone out and done a similar expedition to us the year before.


And really it was absolutely incredible sort of comparing the stats. So the amount of weight that we lost as a team and the muscle that we lost, it was completely different to the men. So they had lost all of their fat, their bodies were beginning to consume the muscle as well, and they really came back looking pretty horrendous.


And in contrast, the female body consumed the fat that we'd gained before we left, sort of deliberately. And then it didn't eat into the muscle at all. And they could just see from the sort of hormone profile that the body had gone into freefall for two weeks at the start, just like, ell, this is completely overwhelming – and then had just gone right, this is the new normal and everything continued as normal. Our hair grew, our nails grew, our menstrual cycles were just the same. It was completely unexpected and that definitely caught out the medics that were doing the research. 


Alok Jha (16.54) That's fascinating. I had no idea that these differences would exist like this. And how long after the expedition were you monitored for just to sort of understand the effects of these temperatures and conditions on your body? 

Sophie Montange (17.06) So for a lot of the med research, they did tests before we left and then did the same again when we got back. So I mean, we were home for a day I think, and then we were put straight into this kind of chamber where they – a metabolic chamber, where they measured everything that we ate and drank and excreted and our sleep and you know, minute kind of body mass measurements and stuff.

And then we had to do a Vo2 max test, which for anyone that's done one is basically having to run on a treadmill until you’re sick. And we did that at sea level and then again at altitude because we'd been at altitude. And so all of that was helping to compare sort of how our fitness had progressed and how our body had decayed and you know, the minute adjustments that had occurred during the expedition. And that was pretty much it.




Camilla Nichol (17.51) Hello, I'm Camilla Nichol, Chief Executive of the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust. We work to preserve and protect Antarctica's unique heritage: from the historic huts of early pioneers to the amazing discoveries in climate science. Our mission is to inspire current and future generations to discover, value and protect this precious wilderness.

Every year, our specialist conservation teams head south to Antarctica to conserve and protect our historic huts. With your generosity, we can preserve these amazing sites and bring to life the many fascinating stories they have to tell. Find out how you can help save Antarctica, protect our planet, and even adopt a penguin at or search for the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust.


Thank you. Enjoy the rest of the show. 


Joanna Lumley: Antarctica: the coldest, driest, and windiest place on earth where the penguins outnumber the people, there are only two seasons and no time zones. Discover this vast, breathtaking, frozen continent on a Hurtigruten Expeditions cruise. It's an adventure like no other. Explore the landscape. Get closer to nature and learn more than you'd expect with our knowledgeable Hurtigruten Expeditions team. Search ‘Follow your Curiosity’ to book now. 

Alok Jha (19.16), Now I'd like to understand why it is that people explore. Why do you think people want to push their own limits to go to places where people have never been before? Some of it, I guess, is about adventure and ego, but what drove you and your expedition mates to make this trip? 

Sophie Motange (19.34), I think –  so I definitely never call myself an explorer. I think I'd say I'm an adventurer, but not an explorer, and it's very difficult these days to really count somewhere as true exploration. I think there were possibly moments on our trip where we were standing where people had never, ever stood before and we knew that the six of us were the sort of 20th person to go across the route that we did, but it didn't mean that other people hadn't been in the area on sections of our route. So I think it's quite egotistical to kind of call yourself an explorer, but certainly there's no space in Antarctica for egos at all, and it's such a humbling place that you've just got to be really kind of respectful of the environment and your place within it.

For me, the real purpose was a sort of challenge for myself. So it was finding out what I was capable of. So the exploration was personal and was about finding out if someone that has. you know, an average job in London and sits at a desk for eight hours a day and does the occasional run, can go and do something kind of extraordinary that they never, ever expected they were capable of in an environment that they naturally feel that they can't survive in, you know, hating the cold. So I was kind of looking for a challenge that would break every boundary that I'd set upon myself, and that's for me, what exploration is about, about pushing your limits to develop not only new skills, but also this incredible confidence that means you then feel afterwards that you can take on any challenge.


Alok Jha (21.00) So exploring your own limits as well as exploring some physical geography. That's part of it, I suppose, isn't it, from what you're saying? You must have spoken to your colleagues there a lot in that time. What were some of their motivations? Why did they want to do this? 

Sophie Montagne (12.14).  Well, it was a real range on our team and obviously Nics, who's our exhibition leader, had put the exhibition together and her purpose was to try and involve as many people or certainly women in adventurous activities as possible. So to try and inspire them to give it a try and, and to push their boundaries. 

For Sandy, she worked a lot with young people and she wanted to inspire a lot of the people that she had done expeditions with in, in places like South America or perhaps here in the UK, and people who just didn't feel that they were capable, and she wanted to show them that what an ordinary person is capable of.


And then for Zanna Baker. She had done an expedition on her year out between school and university with the British Exploring Society, and she'd gone to South Georgia and when she was there, she said one day, I want to stand at the South Pole. And then that was when she was 18 and then 10 years later that was exactly what she went and did.


And I think that's kind of what these sort of exploring opportunities when you're young are all about. For setting future goals and understanding what you're capable of. 


Alok Jha (22.20) Do you think there's a difference between going to Antarctica by yourself versus going as a very close-knit team in the way you did? I imagine that the experience would've been very different, but do you think there's something different in the psychology of the kind of people who go, or the expedition, that is different in, in those two scenarios? 

Sophie Montagne (22.41) I think it's a completely different thing. And although there are some amazing people who have done both, particularly Felicity Aston to mind, who led many team expeditions in Antarctica, and then did this extraordinary solo along the route that we did actually, and I know that she found it really hard and I've read her book and she found it incredibly hard to enjoy it because it was such a struggle and there was no one there, and the loneliness was the kind of biggest thing. And I have to say, I would never, ever take on a solo expedition because for me, the enjoyment was being part of the team. And in any environment, no matter where we'd been or however awful it would've been, it still would've always been such a kind of, joy and such an achievement to be part of such a close-knit team and working together for such a difficult goal.

And that's really, for me, what it's all about is, is, you know, if you go on holiday and you sort of want show everyone your photos and everyone's only really half in the room because it's never the same unless you're there. 


Alok Jha (23.39) there must have still been times, even as a group when you're there to support each other – there must have been still times when one or two members perhaps got concerned or were a bit more worried than the others. I mean, what, were there things that you did as a group or for each other that sort of tried to mitigate some of the potentially damaging psychological effects of exploring such remote areas? I mean, you talked about loneliness if you are there by yourself, but of course you did have others. Were there strategies, or were there tricks you had to make sure that each one of you had the support you needed? 

Sophie Montagne (24.10) Yeah, we looked into what we planned ahead with coping strategies about how we would cope with the kind of isolation and,what many people don't understand is that if you're doing a man hauling, as they call it, expedition, where you're pulling a sledge, you have to ski one behind the other in a line. One person at the front will break the trail and everybody follows behind. And also to be a bit safer in crevasse zones. 

So actually for 80% of the day, maybe 90% of the day, you can't actually talk to anybody. So whether you're on your own or you're in a team, you've still got to kind of motivate yourself and stay within your own head for 10 hours a day. And that's actually really hard. And although we took a little ipod with us so we could listen to music and podcasts and audiobooks, you couldn't always charge it and battery would run out or you couldn't use it and you had to have other ways to keep your mind occupied. When you are in an environment that's completely devoid of any sort of sensory stimulus. 


So unlike, you know, our base at Port Lockroy is by the sea. There's wildlife, there's constantly changing seascape. We had just this massive empty white space and you know, it was a bit like being stuck inside a ping pong ball, and you've gotta try and entertain yourself. 


Alok Jha (25.22) Yeah, I can't imagine how you put together a playlist for however many hundreds of hours you had to sort of be by yourself – 

Sophie Montagne (25.31): Oh, they definitely all got very repetitive and then we had to swap each other's iPods and then we went through everything over and over and over again. And it was, it was extraordinary. 

Alok Jha (25.39): You know, you did this expedition, you had this remarkable experience, as you say, trying to keep your brain engaged in this very sensory deprived world, you had bonding experience with your expedition mates. Of course you achieved something amazing. What was it like to come back to your normal life after the expedition? 

Sophie Montange (25.58) Oh, that's was the hardest part, isn't it? When you've kind of put everything on hold and then, then you come back to reality. 

Probably, I mean, in terms of, the short term stuff was that we'd been without a phone and out of comms completely for about two and a half months by that stage. So we got back into Chile, which was where our plane landed from Antarctica, and one thing was, there was darkness. So that was, that was absolutely mind blowing, seeing the stars. We'd been in 24 hours of daylight. 


And then smells that we, you know, we didn't smell anything apart from the revolting odour of our own bodies for the whole time we were down there. So, you know, smelling petrol fumes or grass, just really overwhelming. But mostly it was having communication with the outside world and not only, you know, the usual communications that you'd have with your family that you weren't used to having, but also people had seen it on the news and you know, someone that you hadn't heard of since you were at primary school has gone in touch and – “I just saw you on the news!” – so we were just completely, completely overwhelmed with that and just had to for a while, just put our phone aside and say I can't handle this.


The freedom in Antarctica of not having a phone was one of the massive, massive highlights and just saying, putting on your out of office and saying, I'll be away for three months and not expecting to have any communication with everyone was the most incredibly freeing headspace. It was kind of, it made something that should have been really arduous mentally, really relaxing because you're just focusing on the job that we had to do each day.


Alok Jha (27.25), Does, coming back to normal life – you've been back obviously from Antarctica for several years now. Have you continued looking for the next big expedition or, in normal life, do you find yourself just doing things on the edge of risky and exploratory just because that's where your brain is now, or have you gone back to normal? 

Sophie Montange (27.42) Uh oh. It's a difficult one, isn't it? I think a lot of the team’s since we got back have realised that if we want to have a family, it's gotta be now. So that kind of adjusted things just as we got home. But certainly my teammate, Sandy and I decided that we'd go and climb Mont Blanc when we got back. So we went and did that with our other halves, which was really awesome.

Alok Jha (28.01) So you did chase adventure. 

Sophie Montagne (28.03) Yes, for as long as we could and it's definitely –  you know, we've got kids now, but it's definitely something we talk a lot about. I think we've now got four icicles between us, four mini ice maidens, and so when they're a little more self-sufficient, we'd love to get the team back together and go and do something together.

Alok Jha (28.20) So you are telling me, you're gonna put them in sledges and drag them across Antarctica at some point as well? 

Sophie Montagne (28.25) I mean, I think we'll take a break and leave them with their dads . 

Alok Jha (28.29) Alright, fair enough. Either way. So these guys have got no chance, they're definitely becoming explorers as well, aren't they? Going back to, you know, day jobs, you said that you sort of quit your job to go on the Ice Maidens adventure and it was something, you know, that changed your life – and it really has changed your life because now you work for the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust and your link to Antarctica is forged forever.

But I just wonder, what does your day to day work look like now. And will you yourself go back to Antarctica at some point?


Sophie Montagne (28.28) Well, the job now is just so cool. I think when, before I worked in marketing and I never found anything I was really passionate about, and so this expedition has completely changed my life. It's set me in a different direction, and Antarctica really does get under your skin, and then it's something that you just care about so deeply that it's allowed me to sort of forge my career since with that as a theme. So taking on this job has been an absolutely amazing opportunity to do something really exciting where every single day is different and you are sort of responsible for all the parts of incredibly complex sort of logistics of trying to get this team of individuals down to Antarctica, and then also the team that are conserving the huts.

So I think the bit that I've enjoyed most is being able to give people who, like me, have no experience of Antarctica before, who had just plucked off the street with no previous experience and just decided to apply to be our, you know, be a general assistant at Port Lockroy. Giving them the opportunity to have that life-changing experience that I've had is so satisfying and it's worth all the hard work.


Alok Jha (30.03) I wonder, what do you tell people who've never been to Antarctica or never been to these sorts of extreme places? What do you tell them before they go about how to prepare themselves physically and mentally, and they're not gonna be dragging sledges and all of that, so it's not gonna be that kind of expedition, but what, what do they need to know in your book? 

Sophie Montagne (30.19)  I think they need to be prepared for the isolation and at Port Lockroy, it is isolated, but also their job is to meet the visiting public and, and yes it's becoming increasingly popular, we have about 18,000 visitors every year. But actually in those moments when there's no one there, just to think how incredible it is to feel that peace, that kind of natural beauty, and to be able to soak that up in a world that is now so fast paced and there's so much quick communication, that you never have a chance to actually reflect and look around you. And I think their five months down in Port Lockroy is an opportunity for life to press pause for a while and to be able to soak up the beauty of such an extraordinary place and such an unique opportunity.

Alok Jha (31.01), Yeah. Just a final few questions then, which we've asked all of our guests. Next time you go, if you could take only one thing with you to Antarctica, what would it be?

Sophie Montagne (31.10): Oh, this is a difficult one. Uh, I think it would have to be, I mean, it's a bit unoriginal, but I would have to take a camera because so few people get the chance to go, that you have to share your experience with other people.

So if it were a visit to Port Lockroy, I would take a camera. If it were another expedition in the middle of nowhere like we did, I would take a very small amount of soap just to make you feel that you could smell a little bit better, without being in that shower for two months.  .


Alok Jha (31.39) Final question. Why does Antarctica matter?

Sophie Montagne (31.44) I think Antarctica matters because it's always been a place where the impossible has become possible. So whether that's in feats of endurance and exploration or scientific discoveries, or even the fact that we've been able to have humans sort of overwintering in Antarctica, human habitation of the continent, I think Antarctica makes the impossible possible and it shows that we can apply the same logic and the same tenacity to tackling climate change.

Alok Jha (32.12) Okay, Sophie, thank you so much for your time. 

Sophie Montagne (32.14) Thank you. Thanks very much for having me.

Alok Jha (32.2) Thank you very much for listening. A Voyage to Antarctica is brought to you by the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust, and made possible by support from Hurtigruten Expeditions. To find out more about our guests and how you can support the trust, please head to our website,, or to our Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages.


If you enjoyed this episode, please don't forget to follow and rate us wherever you get your podcasts. It makes a huge difference. 


Please join us next time when I'll be talking to Dr. Tamsin Edwards about how her pioneering work in understanding the impact of ice sheet and glacier melt on rising sea levels is predicting the future of the planet.


This podcast is part of the Trust’s Antarctica In Sight Programme, supported by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, and charitable gifts and donations. 


A Voyage to Antarctica was presented by me, Alok Jha. Music is by Alec Hewes, and editing by James Stickland. The show is produced by Jessica Norman.


See you next time.