Training and preparation for Antarctic field work

View out of window at Scott Base, after a storm has blown through.

View out of window at Scott Base, after a storm has blown through.

Soon after arriving at Scott Base, we had dinner and were briefed about the base.

The next few days involved long (12-14 hour) days of Antarctic Field Training (AFT), as well as science and camp preparation.

This started with an 8.30 am meeting about our field plan with a number of science programme staff. Frustratingly, our plan had to be revised because of our delayed southbound flight from Christchurch.

Next up was AFT. For this we had Mike, a mountaineer/Antarctic field trainer who had been assigned to our event. His role was not only to train us, but to check that we were competent enough to look after ourselves camping over 200 km from base – far enough to be classed as ‘Deep Field’.

As part of this we underwent forms of basic survival, stove, generator, communications (e.g. high-frequency (HF) radio), snow/ice travel and helicopter training.

That afternoon we were required to travel over 10 km from base to camp out overnight. This is one of my favourite parts of an Antarctic field campaign, as it is the first time we get acquainted with the Antarctic environment, our clothing, tents and (double) sleeping bag, and members of the team, all with a beautiful view of McMurdo Sound, Mt Erebus volcano and the Transantarctic Mountains.

Training camp on Ross Island. In the picture are two Polar Pyramid tents (one with a vestibule), a mountain tent, and a Hagglund for transport.

Training camp on Ross Island. In the picture are two Polar Pyramid tents (one with a vestibule), a mountain tent, and a Hagglund for transport.

The following day we packed up camp, and were assessed on our ability to safely navigate semi-steep rocky terrain and snow slopes, characteristic of what we would likely be traversing on foot in the field. The day ended with a camp demob and review of our training.

The next day – and last day prior to scheduled deployment into the field – was long, event-filled and slightly stressful. Aside from further meetings, we had to accumulate, evaluate, check, double-check (and even triple-check) all equipment required in the field . This included items like our tents, stoves, communication devices, poo buckets and pee barrels, science gear, personal gear, food, etc.

Then, this all needed to be weighed and assigned to certain helicopter loads.

Three separate loads to our camp location will be necessary, which would take over 9 hours.

This leads us to now, when we should be deploying to the field. Instead, we again need to wait for a storm to clear. At least we now get a chance to rest, fatten up and write blog posts!

Tomorrow the weather forecast looks much better, and our helicopter pilot – who was recently awarded International Pilot of the Year for his rescue attempts in Nepal – is confident we’ll fly. 

All going well, I’ll report back in a couple of weeks when we return from the field.

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