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Exmouth Royal Marine to take on epic 1,664km ski journey to mark Corps' 350th anniversary

By Exeter Express and Echo  |  Posted: January 31, 2014

  • The Royal Marines 1664 Challenge ski team preparing for their epic 1,664km ski across Norway starting this February

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As if the Royal Marines would celebrate their 350th anniversary with a tea party.

Far from it. Instead, to mark the Corps’ landmark anniversary since its establishment in 1664, they’ve devised an epic, six month long expedition involving around 2,500 Commandos covering thousands of miles of some of Europe’s most inhospitable terrain.

The Corps is hoping to raise £500,000 for the Royal Marines Charitable Trust Fund through the astonishing feat which six Commandos are set to take on in its entirety.

The Royal Marines 1664 Challenge will push the mental and physical boundaries of our Forces fighting elite, encapsulating the Commando spirit and Corps values.

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The 4,136m journey, kicks off on Wednesday, February 5, and Exmouth Royal Marine, Warrant Officer 2, Billy Baxter from Exmouth, who is based at the Commando Training Centre at Lympstone is taking part.

As part of a team of 15, plus four support staff, the Company Sergeant Major will complete the first phase of the expedition, a 1,664km cross country ski across Norway’s frozen landscape in around 54 days.

After phase two – a 1,664m sail south to Cadiz in Spain – phase three will see the Commandos cycle 1,664km back up to the English Channel.

Phase four is a mammoth 193km canoe across the water back to Britain whereupon phase five, a 1,664km run around England, Scotland and Wales, will commence coming to an end in London this July.

A core team of six Royal Marines are taking on the entire feat.

On Wednesday, February 5, WO2 Baxter and his comrades will set off from Porsangermoen, 400km north of the Norweigian Arctic Circle, to Stavanger.

The men face gruelling eight hour days skiing around 30 miles a day, until April 1.

Speaking exclusively to the Echo from the expedition camp in Norway, the warrant officer, explained that the bulk of the training for phase one, started three weeks ago when they arrived in the Norwegian arctic.

But the 55-year-old father-of-two, is no stranger to this frigid environment having spent 11 winters in Norway with the Marines, who have been involved in cold weather deployments there since 1969.

However this is the first time the qualified Royal Marines Mountain Leader and Military Ski Teacher has been back to the Scandinavian country in 20 years.

“We aim to ski throughout the daylight hours, which will be slightly shorter when we begin in the far north,” he explained.

“This will involve starting around 8am and can mean skiing up to eight hours a day before putting up tents and remaining in position until moving off the following day for more of the same.”

The team will carry everything they need and intend on meeting up with the road-bound admin team every two to three days to re-supply rations and fuel.

“We will move as fast as is possible, slow enough possibly to be able to talk to each other and not become exhausted at any point throughout the whole ski,” WO2 Baxter continued.

“Every ski will be broken by a stop every hour for five minutes at a time – constant breaks such as these are far better than trying to break a day into a morning, break for lunch and afternoon.

“These ski march drills are well rehearsed and known by all.”

The 15-strong ski team is divided into three groups, the core team, the headquarters team, comprising four members, all of whom are Mountain Leaders (including one Royal Netherlands Marine Corps Mountain Leader ) which WO2 Baxter is part of. There are also medics on the team.

“Our responsibilities collectively are to plan, co-ordinate, navigate and lead the ski challenge,” he continued.

“Alongside us are five other competent skiers who are there with us to assist the core team by leading the way and breaking the track amongst other duties to help make the job of the cor team as smooth as possible.

“We are all there in the “domestique” role to make sure they reach their first destination, together, in good order and still fit and able to continue the challenge.”

The Warrant Officer explained that the team has planned for “every possible emergency situation”, from frostbite to avalanche searches, extreme cold weather routines and breaks in the ice as they traverse frozen lakes.

He added: “I fully expect each and every one of us to expect the worst but hope for the best. Our aim is to survive the weather and the distance and get the core team to the end in a fit state to continue to the next phase of their challenge.”

The venture will end on July 25, with a Royal Marines Corps celebration marathon around London to tie in with the Corps’ 350th birthday.

To support the cause or for more information visit, www.1664challenge.co.uk.

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