Friday, November 23, 2007

Antarctic Field Training.... going camping in the snow

On arrival in Antarctica we were greeted and escorted to an awaiting truck by Yvonne Boesterling, the Coordinator of Scott Base. I tossed my bags in the back and crawled into the heated cab to escape from the frigid air outside. As we drove off I caught my first glimpse of the United States McMurdo Station and the little green huts of Scott Base off in the distance.

The truck left the sea-ice and drove up to McMurdo Station. The station was enormous, with an occupancy of up to 3000 people and resembling an Alaskan mining town with little aesthetic appeal. As we continued over the hill Scott Base came into view. In contrast Scott Base’s little green huts, all of which are interconnected, were quite pleasant. Compared to McMurdo Station Scott Base only holds 80 people during peak periods.

Inside Scott Base there was a frenzy of activity. I snuck into a corner and stripped off my cold weather gear, the temperature inside was a tropical 20 degree Celsius and a damned sight warmer than the average Dunedin student flat. I was shown to the mess hall and enjoyed a wonderful meal, complete with desert and coffee. After dinner I was given a tour of the base and a safety briefing before being shown to my room. Exhausted from the day’s travel, I collapsed in my bed and slept like a log until morning.

The next day Neil Gilbert, Roman Turk and I met with our instructor, Jason Whatson, for our Antarctic Field Training (AFT). This involves learning Antarctic survival and safety skills, along with Scott Base specific field protocols. The best part about the course is that we would get to go outside and camp in the snow.

The day began with a seminar about equipment and safety. In the afternoon we loaded up a Haglund tracked vehicle and departed for the AFT camp about 8km to the north on the Ross ice-shelf in the shadow of Mt Erebus. Here I learnt to pitch the mighty polar tents (a first for me) and dug an emergency snow shelter. In the evening, after a hot meal of the dehydrated form, I sat outside under the midnight sun and sipped at a cup of tea.

My attention was suddenly drawn to the south, along the route that Scott, Shackleton and Hillary must have embarked on all those years ago in pursuit of the South Pole. I imagined myself venturing off into that unending whiteness on a sledge, or in Hillary’s case a Massey Ferguson tractor!

That night my dreams were filled with images of the polar explorers and when I awoke in the morning I was certain I had traveled to The Pole and back in my sleep.

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