Winter training weekend

Our first weekend away off base as a team was the winter training weekend at Creek 3. We left on Friday afternoon and arrived after a 2h drive in the snocats. The weather was beautiful and we spent our breaks on the roof enjoying the sun. Also two of the winter team used this drive to practise linked travel on the skidoos with the field GAs. Next we were shown how to set up a classic pyramid tent, which are big heavy ventile tents with thick wooden poles. So we all picked our partners and dug out the base. I was with the ladies in a larger 3 person tent. Next we set up the sleeping systems and cooking area inside. You sleep on a wooden board with thermarests and finally a lamp skin. The sleeping bag was down and I added my silk liner. Also my sleeping bag was labelled 1999 so the liner probably provided some hygiene benefit too, as you can end up living in your sleeping bag for weeks without washing if the weather is bad. The cooking system consists of 3 manfood boxes on a wooden board with another smaller board clamped between two boxes on which the primus stove sits. These stoves were developed in the late 19th century by a Swedish inventor and are still the best burners nowadays in Antarctica. The whole setup takes you back in time to the early days of Antarctic exploration. That evening we cooked some manfood and investigated the food situation in the group manfood boxes. Turns out it can be quite hit and miss with the neighbouring tent offering delicious tinned cheese on biscuit browns, whereas ours had clearly gone off and was distinctly fishy in flavour.

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The next day we had some muesli and warm nido (powdered milk) for breakfast before being shown how to dig a snow hole for emergency shelter. We piled all our bags and shovelled snow on top. While the others shovelled for England a few of us were instructed on how to use the HF radios, which seems to be more an art than a science. Once the rucksacks for the snow hole were completely covered an entrance was dug out and the bags removed. At this point the snow above was compacted enough to walk on. Next we quickly practised setting up a normal tent that the aircraft carry in case they get beset by bad weather. After lunch we got kitted out with our climbing gear and split into two groups. We ventured down Creek 3 and 4 to practise anchoring techniques and fall arrest. For the first time since arriving on station I felt truly at home. The sun was warm, the wind had died down and the faint clinking of metal echoed across the bay as we moved around our little cove between the ice cliffs. After some rigorous testing of anchors and catching people’s falls (or not as I went crashing to the ground when I jumped off a small ledge) we headed back for some lunch, in my case consisting of writing words in peanut butter on biscuit browns.

The afternoon we spent practising crevasse rescue and setting up various pulleys. My previous experience put me on the spot to demonstrate a rescue of a heavy deadweight while on solid blue ice. My knees didn’t like the hard surface, but with my crampons firmly gripping the ice I managed to set up the pulley system and haul my casualty to safety. In return I thoroughly enjoyed aiding gravity during my rescue by making myself as heavy as possible while lying on the slope towards the sea ice. Once everyone had a go we were allowed a quiet wander onto the sea ice before heading back to camp feeling like real Antarctic heroes.

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For dinner we had a BBQ with our steaks served on wooden planks. Whilst waiting for the coals to get hot we spotted a fantastic mirage of the station looming above the horizon. Later on we wandered down to the creek again for some ice climbing on the cliff. Until now I had never been ice climbing on steep, solid ice. The first route was great, whereas I needed two tries for the second more overhanging route. I managed to climb it eventually, but chipped my tooth when pulling out the hammer after it got a bit stuck. I’m sure it will make a great story to tell folks back at home. Whilst everyone had a go at the routes the rest of us enjoyed the scenery over the bay. Finally we headed back for some wine slushy before going to bed. I had a lovely warm night, this time sleeping in the newly dug snow hole.

The next day we packed up and set off on the back of the sledge with the gear, lying on the sleeping rolls. At halfway I swapped onto the skidoo. It was warm, but the contrast was low. Regardless I loved flying along on the snow. We made it back to the station a good 30 min before the snocats and started to prepare for their return.This whole weekend was probably one of the best experiences of my life. I simply loved being out and climbing, learning new things to add to my repertoire of climbing knowledge and just feeling at home in this frozen landscape.


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