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Exploring the Antarctic Peninsula

PLTOFF Sylvie Admore trekking across a glacier in Antarctica
PLTOFF Sylvie Admore trekking across a glacier in Antarctica

May 2017
By Pilot Officer Sylvie Admore

At 100m above sea level we were plunged into whiteness. The cloud blurred the line between snow and sky as we picked our way hesitantly across the glacier. We had been in Antarctica for less than 10hours and were already faced with monstrous crevasses and frustratingly low visibility. Our two rope teams struggled to find a path through a maze of ice and our goal of climbing Mt Scott seemed to fade as we became increasingly unsure of our exact location. I looked back on the months of preparation and excitement and hoped it wouldn’t culminate in the choking cumulus obscuring our route to the summit.

The New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust (NZAHT) funds an annual expedition to Antarctica as a means of inspiring Kiwis to get out and explore the physical world. It is primarily concerned with the preservation of historic huts in Antarctica, including Sir Edmond Hillary’s hut which is the original foundation of Scott Base.

It was recognised that continued preservation of such sites was going to require ongoing public interest and support for these resource-heavy projects: that’s where we came in.

Four young New Zealanders (up to age 35) were selected to join the NZAHT Expedition to act as ambassadors for the trust, as well as the environmental and cultural heritage which was so unique to the deep South.

In December last year, via a Skype interview towards the end of my Initial Officer Training Course, I was told that I had been selected to go to Antarctica.

While I had a reasonable amount of mountaineering experience, I believe that my selection for the Expedition was strongly influenced by my experiences in the RNZAF. Many of the skills and qualities sought by the trust had been directly emphasised during my training. These included team work, commitment, adaptability, resilience and communication skills. Selection for the expedition really impressed upon me the applicability of our RNZAF training to opportunities outside, as well as inside the NZDF.

Working with three others on a rope to navigate steep terrain and crevasses is not so different from operating in a military team. There is still the same satisfaction of achieving something collectively that would be impossible without the support and skills of those around you. The Mt Scott Expedition was no different.

After struggling for hours of through the cloud surrounding the mountain we finally climbed into the sunlight. The whole landscape was revealed in the space of a few metres. Massive expanses of ice ground to a halt at the foot of rocky peaks while our route up the glacier shone before us, mercifully free of crevasses. We reached the summit at 9pm, just as the Antarctic sun began its slow descent towards the horizon. The peaks around us glowed pink and curved towards the south in an unbroken of snow and ice. Our seasoned mountain guide, Kev, wiped a tear from his eye and declared the view from Mt Scott to be one of the most incredible things he’d seen in his life.

I looked round at the faces of the rest of our team, most of them speechless with eyes wide, taking in Antarctica. The shining euphoria at what we had achieved together, combined with absolute wonder at the environment around us is a feeling I will never forget.

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