Survival and travel training
The first week at Davis was resupply. For anyone who’s been down before, you’ll know it’s pandemonium. It’s all organised chaos, but the amount of cargo that was moved off of, and then back on to, the Aurora Australis while she was parked in the ~2 metre thick sea ice was impressive. But that happened at the same time as refuelling operations, handover tasks, and all of the usual kitchen duties. Suffice to say that there was next to no time to take photos or make blog posts. I’ll be sure to take more photos of the process when the ship arrives back next year. For now, I’ll give you a look at some of the most unique training I’ve ever done.
The first bit of training that must be undertaken before you’re allowed to travel anywhere beyond the station limits is survival training. In essence, it’s a 24 hour session that includes one night spent in an Antarctic bivvy bag. The training makes sure everyone is well acquainted with their survival kit (which must be carried at all times outside of the station, with specific exemptions), how it is used and why it is important.
The day started with being flown out to a hut a reasonable walking distance away from the station. This is Watts Hut, which is a bit over 10km away from the station in a direct line. The walking path is much longer, of course.
From here, we organised our gear and began navigational exercises in the local hills. We continued with these for most of the morning. Then we stopped for lunch and headed on to the sea ice. We all wore micro-crampons, which work to great effect. After drilling the sea ice (by hand) to ensure it was still nice and thick, we continued down Ellis Fjord towards out camp for the night.
Unfortunately, I didn’t take many photos of this as I was trying to get the most out of the training. What we did for our evening’s accommodation was use a snow saw to cut out blocks of hard snow. We then proceeded to make terraced sleeping spaces, with the walls being around 60cm high. With one of us to a sleeping space, we proceeded to pull out our giant bivvy bag.
Once inside the bivvy bag you simply organise your sleeping gear (ground mat, sleeping back, something to use as a pillow), pull your pack inside and go to sleep. It’s not the most comfortable way to camp, but it’s an effective way to keep warm. The purpose of the bivvy, which must be carried at all times as part of the survival kit, is to be able to keep warm and safe if a blizzard sneaks up on you.
After a couple of days back on station and doing regular work, it was time for sea ice travel training. We are fortunate to have quad bikes for sea ice travel as they’re capable of dealing with a wide variety of surface and terrain types with a reasonable payload. They’re also quite easy to recover from being bogged once you’ve been taught all of the techniques (most of which are self-rescue and don’t require ropes).
Our first port of call was Brookes Hut. As with the previous training, we spent most of the journey stopping for navigational exercises, so it took a few hours for us to get to the hut. After the proper procedures for entering a hut were demonstrated (including ventilating the building as it were a confined space, opening the vents, etc), we went in and boiled up some water to have hot drinks with lunch.
That night we staying at Platcha. You can see that the huts are quite compact, but they’re cosy. Most of the huts around the Vestfold Hills are around this size. It’s surprising how a couple of hours of chewing the far and drinking tea or hot chocolate can make the space feel a lot bigger and more welcoming.
After another full day of riding and practicing navigation, this time using commonly traveled GPS waypoint routes, we made it to our campsite for the evening. This time it was a tiny peninsula near Bandits Hut. Having already slept in a bivvy bag and a hut, our last essential experience was camping in a polar pyramid. This time-honoured design has been sheltering people in the Antarctic for longer than I’ve been alive. After having had a good night’s sleep in one, I can see why.
As you can see, it’s quite a view. For the duration of these training exercises, I was continually amazed and enthralled by the landscape surrounding us. I don’t want to give it all way too early, but I’ll try to capture all of the common features around here that are simply awesome. Next time, however, I’ll show you the basics of what it’s like to live, eat, sleep and work at Davis station.