I didn’t know whether to be excited or nervous about training. Sure, I’ve slept in a tent before, I’ve hiked, cooked outside. In fact, all these things were a part of my last job. So, what’s the problem? Well, as you might have guessed, Antarctica is substantially colder than temperatures I’ve ever experienced before and if you know me, you know I feel the cold. I wasn’t quite sure how I would handle being out for that long, with no safety of the base to run back to. For once, I was on the other side of the fence, instead of being the instructor I was being instructed, the one stepping into unfamiliar territory. But as I’ve told my students before (as an Outdoor Educator), the World begins at the end of your comfort zone, and as cheesy as it sounds, it’s true. With this realization, I began to look forward to training.
Friday the 6th was the day. The weather up until then had been pretty average, making us a little nervous. Okay, that’s an understatement, we had been in a category one storm since the start of the week (weather has three categories, one being the most severe). However, the weather finally came right on Thursday and by Friday it was looking really good. We began our day in the classroom with a quick introduction to what we would be doing. The introduction was followed by going over our survival kits, which come with us whenever we go for long trips off base. We got to have a bit of fun playing with the gas cookers and tents, learning how to use them in case the need ever arose. After all of this, it was time to put our sleeping kits together and get ready for our night out.
Straight after lunch we were due to move out. Last minute bathroom stops and preparations were hurriedly made. We were briefly held up as some weather rolled in. The perfect looking morning was starting to look less inviting. However, after half an hour or so we were loading up the haglunds and on our way to our campsite for the night. It took us about twenty minutes to reach our destination. The journey was relatively comfortable. It was a novelty traveling this way. Although, this novelty is likely to quickly wear off, the haglands are relatively noisy and bumpy. Also, the windows in the back of the haglands ice up pretty quickly, leaving you with no idea of your surroundings. Once at our camp site, the first priority was to set up our tents. The wind started to pick up at this point making our field instructors job slightly difficult as they demonstrated how to put up the tents. Lucky for us, the wind died down by the time we got to pitching our own. The tents themselves are pretty cool. Most of them were what we call polar tents and are of a heavy canvas material. Four metal poles are spread out to form a Teepee like structure. They are pretty straight forward to set up but the weight of them adds a little bit of challenge.
After the tents were up we headed to what they call the square frame. The square frame is about the size of a shipping container, has a small ‘kitchen’ area, a couch that looks out the sliding door and a bedroom containing a double and single bed if I remember rightly. A place that is sure to get some use over the summer as an escape from the busy base. At the square frame, we made hot drinks and snacks before cracking in to building our snow kitchen. The point of a snow kitchen is to provide somewhere we can sit that is sheltered from the wind. It was a pretty impressive structure and kept us entertained for the next few hours as we dug the trench for our feet and cut blocks for the wall.
The last activity of the evening was heading up Castle rock. When you see the mighty rock perched on top of the hill, the name sort of explains itself. We could drive the haglands almost to the base of the rock and then it was just a short walk the rest of the way. The views from here were stunning. In the distance, we could just make out the ocean where the sea ice had already broken away. There were various other land marks pointed out to us but to be honest I was busy taking photos, absorbing the beautiful scenery around us as the sun set in the distance. We were so incredibly lucky with the weather. It was calm and relatively warm, some might even call it tropical at -12 degrees Celsius (a world away from the -50 temperatures we were experiencing when we first arrived). We could sit and enjoy the view from Castle Rock without freezing our extremities off. After perhaps an hour of enjoying the views and taking photos we headed back to camp. I can’t think of a better way to have concluded our day.
Bedtime seemed to roll around quickly, but getting in bed is such a mission. We had two people per tent and there isn’t exactly much space within the tents. If you were smart, you would work it so that one person climbs into bed before the other attempts to do the same. Once it’s your turn, you first have to fight with your ECW (extreme cold weather) boots that have more notches for the laces than I care to count. Seriously, it’s a five-minute exercise to put the things on. Then there is the massive ECW jacket. Once you’ve managed to escape that layer there’s overalls, another jacket and finally you are at your polar fleece and thermal layers. Now you have managed to strip your layers down you still have to wriggle into the thermal polar fleece liner that is incased in two sleeping bags with an outer that keeps it all together. But it doesn’t stop here. Of course, anything you leave out will most likely freeze, so any clothing you would to wear in the morning (all that clothing you just stripped off) now needs to be pulled into one of the sleeping bag layers. Then in comes the camera, so that might still work in the morning. Finally, you are ready. Though it was 11pm and still light outside, I fell asleep quickly only stirring once in the night when the wind picked up. The morning consisted of, get up, have breakfast (instant oats) and pull-down camp. We were then on our way back to base. We had not only made it through the night cozy, safe and warm but had an amazing field camp experience. It is one of my favorite experiences so far and something I would happily partake in again.