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Training in the Antarctic

(L-R) A/SGT Amy Hatcher (Scott Base Cargo Handler), Nikki Galpin (Scott Base Logistics Support)
(L-R) A/SGT Amy Hatcher (Scott Base Cargo Handler), Nikki Galpin (Scott Base Logistics Support)

November 2017
By CPL Nikki Galpin

Everyone who stays for a long time on Scott Base attends a two-day field survival course that teaches how to stay alive, should we get stuck out in the harsh environment of Antarctica. 
It begins with standard briefings about gear, survival bags, how to use them, how to stay warm, how to do field cooking and, of course, because we cannot disturb the environment, how to do deal with everything coming out of our bodies – and, ladies, how to do number 1s fully clothed and into a bottle.

The trip started with a drive in an all-terrain Hagglund vehicle to our camp on the Ross Ice Shelf.  We had perfect conditions, with a light wind and a warm day of -15C, which was a vast improvement on the -50C when we arrived 14 days ago.  We set up our field camp of Antarctic tepees and built our kitchen/dining area out of snow blocks to fit all 20 of us.

Our day was packed with walks, talks and tips on Antarctic survival. We learnt what to do if we got lost and what happened if it all went very wrong.  Although we hadn’t physically done much, everyone was ravenous and fatigued from just being out in the cold.  This was not a place to forget to take snacks!

We discussed the best way to get out of the four layers of extreme cold weather gear and boots and into the three-layer sleeping bag without freezing body parts.  Also, we had to work out which layers of sleeping bag to store wet clothing in that you didn’t want to freeze overnight, as well as drink bottle, pee bottle, camera and extreme cold weather boots.  Basically, if you don’t have it close enough for body heat it will freeze.
Even in our rather mild night I was glad to have filled my drink bottle with hot water, but it still took me two hours to regulate my body heat to stay warm.  Morning brought the dread of getting out of our cocoons to reverse the process and see what had failed to stay defrosted overnight. However, that thought lasted only as long as it took to get outside and see the beautiful world of Antarctica. 

We have been here 17 days and every second I am thankful to be here.  It might be counted as one of the most hostile environments in the world, but it is spectacular to say the least.  During our 17 days here we have had a blizzard, sun dogs, diamond dust, sunrises and sunsets like you can’t explain and even a faint aurora. Bring on the next 17 weeks of last sunrise, seal pups, and the melting of the sea ice.

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