Antarctic Field Training
November 29, 2013

November 29th, 2013

On Thursday I was up at 7am ready for my first day. After breakfast the engineering team always have a daily meeting at 8am in which they discuss health and safety issues and other important news. After this I was shown where I would be working (in the old engineeringsupervisors room for now) and before I knew it, morning tea was served and then I was off to start off my Antarctic Field Skills (AFS) training.

AFS is where you get taught the basics on how to survive in Antarctica if you are caught out away from base. Whenever you go out on a trip you are required to take your full ECW kit and a survival bag. The survival bag has the essentials such as a tent, sleeping bag and food and over the 2 days we learnt how to use all the items in the bag. Skills such as how to make a snow wall for wind protection, putting up polar tents, how to use the cookers and more.

We left after lunch for a trip with two of the science techs, Isaac and Kate, to service some science equipment in the field and it was a good chance to get out and learn about what it’s like to work out there. We headed to Turtle rock, about an hour away in the Haggland, where the scientists are monitoring a seal colony on the ice. It was an amazing spot with views all across McMurdo Sound to the dry valleys and around to Erebus.

Once we arrived back we went almost straight back out to the AFS camping area only about a 20min Haggland ride away. Here we put all our learning into practice, spending a night out on the ice. The winds picked up and we were grateful for the snow walls we built to block the wind. In the evening we visited the ‘Square frame’. It is a kiwi bach which the base puts out for people to stay and relax, taking some time out from the confines of Scott Base. There is a heater which is on 24/7 so was very toasty in there and we quickly took off all our outdoor gear. With the sun streaming in the window, sitting on an old couch with my longjohns and polyprops rolled up it almost felt like a New Zealand summer, almost.

There are some pretty unique things about camping in Antarctica. For one you can’t go anywhere you like, everyone is issued with pee bottles and what’s more you have to sleep with it inside your sleeping bag to ensure it doesn’t freeze and expand! Just have to make sure the lid is screwed on tight! Other items recommended in the sleeping bag include boot liners, water bottle and camera, so it get’s pretty full in there. The environmental regulations are also extremely tight in Antarctica and the saying ‘Leave only footprints, take only photographs’ really does ring true here. All food scraps need to be collected and if you spill something on the ice you have to scrap up the snow underneath and put it in with the food scraps bag!

After packing up camp the next morning we packed up camp and headed back to the comforts of Scott base. But not for long! The training conculded with a spectacular walk amongst the pressure ridges in front of the base. This is where the sea ice gets pushed up against the land and forms crazy ice sculptures which tower above you. What’s more, the area is populated with resident Weddell seals! They lounge around with heads far too small for their bodies and occasionally lift a flipper to give you a wave.

Now that the training is completed we can go on trips out of base so looking forward to that!


Hamish Laing

Hamish Laing

BLAKE Antarctic Ambassador 2013