Every year 4 winterers are selected to make up a search and rescue (SAR) team to assist the field guides and in case of field emergencies. The winterers training weekend at the start of summer is used to select members with good technical and navigation skills. This year I was proud to have been among those to be selected and our training was among the Saturday morning sessions and continued throughout winter.
On the first morning we were shown some of the kit and we did a short treasure hunt on skidoos around the base getting used to the new GPS devices. I happened to spot two adelie penguins, which have now become a bit of an attraction as the nearest colony is at least 30 km away and we don’t otherwise get any wildlife here. Apparently they see the fuel drum lines which mark some of the more permanent routes out of Halley and mistake them for other penguins. They seem in good health though so they should make it back to the sea before starving.
On a Saturday in February the SAR team had to practise retrieving a wooden box “patient” using the off-base skidoos and linked travel techniques along with the GPS devices. The contrast was still low that morning and I became acutely aware of how isolated the base is looking back at it from a few km out, as well as how disorientating it could be not to be able to distinguish the ground and sky with no landmarks in sight.
And finally on the last Friday before the end of summer the SAR team was called out for an exercise to retrieve field guide Al and mannequin Fred the Dead (at this point supposedly not so dead yet). Team 1 headed out but ran into imaginary difficulties and requested backup, so team 2 (myself included) sped to their aid. 20 kts wind, bad contrast and lots of sastrugi made it an interesting journey, but you can’t feel the cold through a doo suit (full down overalls). We arrived at the coordinates and found that our “missing” field party was indeed lost, as Al had forgotten to update his coordinates for the exercise (since the ice shelf flows at about 1.5 m per day this can lead to a large offset if using old GPS coordinates). We spent the time setting up a pyramid tent in 15 kts wind and having a cup of tea while Al sorted out his whereabouts with Comms and finally joined us so that we could administer our help to Fred the now almost Dead. Wrapped up warm and strapped into the stretcher we drove him back to base and completed the exercise. We all felt the rush of adrenaline from being off base and in some rough weather, but happy to have made it back from our adventure and successfully completed our mission.