Camping Out.

In Antarctica we will go on winter training trips. These getaways let us hone our skills and also provide a kind of holiday away from base. Short trips out into the wild let us go out and explore the areas  further away from base and will mean living in a tent for around a week, but it can often end up being a lot longer if the weather turns nasty. We’ll ride out on our skidoos and explore crevasses, do a spot of ice climbing or go say hello to the penguins.

Whilst out we use a lot of equipment that would be familiar to Scott and Shackleton, such as the Primus Stove.  There are more modern equivalents, and although they may look a bit archaic,  they really are hard to fault. Nothing too much to go wrong, easy to fix and use and great at what they were designed for. The Primus will keep us warm, cook our food and give us the water we need (by melting snow) whilst we’re out on the ice.

Primus Stove

A Primus Stove Restored by the Antarctic Heritage Trust

The stoves we use have not really changed in design from the one shown above that was used in the early polar expeditions.

Another piece of kit that has remained relatively unchanged is the Tilley Lamp. Used to light our tents, it also supplies quite a bit of heat in the Antarctic cold. As you can see below the tents look quite cosy with the Tilley Lamp burning away.

The tents we will stay in are bright red pyramid tents, and they themselves have been in use for many, many years. Simple to put up, strong enough to deal with the huge winds and big enough for a good nights sleep, and for any work and cooking we need to do whilst we shelter from the elements.

Again, the tents, the way they are set up and the sleeping arrangements inside would be recognisable to Scott or Shackleton. Although they have been updated, using modern breathable fabrics, and the poles are now aluminium instead of wood, the design remains pretty close to that of those used so many years ago.

Pyramid tent

Stuart the Plumber outside a pyramid tent in the Peak District

Pyramid tent

Pyramid Tents glowing with the light of a Tilley Lamp out on the ice.

Although some of the gear used might look a bit old-fashioned it is kit that is time-tested and reliable. Having your tent blow away or not being able to get yourself warm or have access to water when you’re out on the ice can be extremely serious.   With tried and tested designs like these you can be confident that you will not only survive the night in the nothingness that is Antarctica but you might actually spend it in comfort!

The food rations we eat whilst camping-out are referred to as “man-food” rations. This comes from the days when dogs were used in Antarctica and the rations would be labelled as man-food and dog-food.  Dogs are no longer allowed on the continent due to fears of spreading canine diseases to the seals but the man-food label is still used.

The rations are all cooked on the primus stove but with a little ingenuity you can bake, grill and even make ice-cream!

Fun in the Peak District

As well as running around with plastic buckets on our head we also went hiking on the moors, whilst learning how to use a map and compass correctly, and using the landscape around you to identify your own location, where you have been and where your destination is. To do this you need to work out the direction or bearing in which you are headed, the distance or time it will take you to get there and to take note of the features, both around you and on the map. We began quite easy and slowly built up to a 10km long trek over the moors, going from an area full of identifiable features to this:

Where am I?

Where am I?

Whilst the moors were pretty featureless I’d imagine the Brunt Ice Shelf will be a good bit worse!

Alan and Scot were great teachers once again and there were no missing persons, fatalities or injuries. Though we were a bit worn out at the end!

Then it was rope training. How to tie on to your harness, how to belay, abseil and how to jumar back up a rope. Finishing off with how to set up a 5 point pulley system for rescuing someone out of a crevasse. Whilst learning all this we also had chance to have a run around a high rope course full of obstacles.

Abseiling

Abseiling

Whilst everyone enjoyed the rope skills section of the course, and it was the thing I was most looking forward to, I learned a valuable lesson about having a correctly fitted harness and suffered a “gentleman’s injury” that took the shine off the whole thing!  Even that unfortunate incident couldnt spoil what was a great time in the peak district with my fellow Halley Winterers though.

halley 2014 winter staff

2014 Halley winter staff
minus 2

British Antractic Survey: The Ships

As well as posting about what I’m getting up to I’d also like to write about my employers the British Antarctic Survey or BAS, who they are and what they do. I’m going to try to write about them as much as I can before I head South because my updates will be a little bit more limited when I’m on the ice. The internet down there is a little slower than it is here in the UK and lots of it will be taken up by the science research that will going on, though hopefully there’ll be enough for me to post pictures of penguins!

The RSS Ernest Shackleton

When I travel South I’ll be flying from London Heathrow to Capetown in South Africa and from there I will take the  RSS Ernest Shackleton, one of BAS’s research ships. The Shack, as it is known, is named after the Famous polar explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton and was built in 1995, she was acquired by BAS in 1999.  As well as carrying out scientific research the Shack also takes supplies and people out to the Antarctic bases.

Sir Ernest Shackleton

Sir Ernest Shackleton

I will be traveling on the shack from Capetown and should arrive at the sea ice near Halley on Christmas eve this year. I am told that sea-sickness is almost a certainty for those on board for the first time!

The Shack sails some of the roughest seas in the world and is strengthened to deal with the ice on its journeys to and from Antarctica, I’ll be posting more about the ship when my long voyage starts, with some pictures and video of the ship breaking through the ice.

The Shack

My home for a short while on my journey to Antarctica

The RSS James Clark Ross

The other ship in the BAS fleet is the RSS James Clark Ross, The JCR was built in the UK and launched by H.M. the Queen in 1990 and is named after the explorer James Clark Ross.

Sir James Clark Ross

Sir James Clark Ross

Like the Ernest Shackleton the James Clark Ross is a reasearch vessel that also serves as a logistics ship. It can steam through ice 1 metre thick and is designed to make very little noise as it travels to limit interference with the sensitive acoustic equipment it deploys.

The JCR

The James Clark Ross at Rothera

You can find out more about the two ships by visiting the British Antarctic Survey website here

Training-Bucket Heads!

How do you train to locate teammates or a place of safety in a white-out? Well, you need some fairly complicated equipment and some great teachers.  Alan and Scot were the great teachers and the complicated bit of kit is below:

also known as a white bucket

White-out simulation device

It is vital to use the white-out simulator correctly to get best results. This involves turning the device 180 degrees and slowly lowering it down so the lip rests on ones shoulders. Put the bucket on your head!

Joking aside, trying to find your tent and your teammates when all you can see is your feet (and you can’t really hear anything in a blizzard) is actually very tricky! However, using ropes, a compass and logical thinking it can be done- which is good, because missing your tent when you can’t see anything and then wandering off could have serious consequences.

The Training Begins…

After a few days attending meetings, lectures and the odd (lots of!)  PowerPoint presentations about BAS- about which tonnes of information can be found here, we then began our emergency medical training. Think first aid but a bit more amped up!  When out in Antarctica your access to hospitals is a little limited and, in the words of our own Halley Doctor, for nine months of the year it’s easier to get someone off the International Space Station than it is to get them out of Halley! So we had to begin learning how to deal with medical emergencies- something we will continue to do throughout our stay, and indeed all the way down there whilst on the boat, with our weekly “Doc Schools”.

The course was very interesting and taught us the basics of dealing with the sort of nasty things that might occur such as burns, shock, carbon monoxide poisoning, hypothermia, head, back and body injuries, and frostbite. This included learning how to inject people, how to use the defibrillator (CLEAR!) and how to perform CPR amongst many other things. The course culminated in us dealing with a huge scene on the Girton lawn reminiscent of the TV show Casualty, with many screaming and made-up actors. Visiting one area after another we had to try not to kill, maim or leave paralysed for life a number of victims of fairly nasty accidents. All done under the watchful eye of the brilliant staff of the British Antarctic Survey Medical Unit (BASMU) who taught us. Overall the course was, by turns, fun, funny, interesting and downright scary.

One thing we will all take away from the course was A,B,C,D,E

Airway

Breathing

Circulation

Disability

Examine

A huge thanks to all those from BASMU who shared their skills with us.

The Beginning. Girton College.

So, the first part of my employment at BAS was to attend a week-long conference at Girton College Cambridge. Here I would meet my fellow winterers at Halley, learn a little more about BAS, its history and its aims and to begin training for what is a pretty intense job.

I arrived at Girton in the frame of mind a five-year old boy might have on Christmas eve. Just a tiny little bit excited! I must also say that at this point I was still not entirely convinced that this was all real, and that it was actually some sort of elaborate joke. You know the saying- if it sounds too good to be true then it probably is? Well, this feels a little like this- go live in one of the most beautiful places in the world, somewhere most people will only ever see on a screen, and get paid for it. All a bit unreal! It still feels a bit unreal even now as I’m typing but I am at least convinced I’m heading south.

Girton Ollege

Girton College

Once I signed in and picked up my bag- which was a BAS satchel full of goodies and information about the week ahead and a name badge- which I immediately took a picture of and sent to friends (again, I’m still like a kid about all this!) Then off to the dining hall to see the faces. Our badges were different colours depending on which base you were going to and I quickly began scanning for the blue badges of Halley VI.  Quick chat with some of the people I was to spend the next 18 months with and then off to a few meetings with some more formal introductions and a drink in the bar. Everyone was excited and everyone I met seemed to be really friendly. Which is nice!

Image

The picture of my badge that had me feeling well chuffed with myself.

Next post: Training begins!

I’ve got my dream job!

After seeing a position with British Antarctic Survey about five years ago I’ve always been a bit obsessed with getting out there and this year it has finally happened- I’m off to live and work at the new Halley VI base on the Brunt ice shelf in Antarctica!

So, that’s where I’m gonna go live for a while. Pretty cool huh?