This post was written in January but I've only got around to posting it now, stay tuned for more posts...
The Wintering team at Halley needs to build the skills required to live, work, and play in the Antarctic over the winter months. The main skills developed are for traveling safety while in the field to carry out experiments or for recreation.
The training weekend brings the winter team together for two nights camping 20km from the station, at creek 3. As life on station is so busy, it was the first time the winter team had spent any signification time together in Antarctica, so it's also a good opportunity to get to know your fellow winterers.
We set out on Friday afternoon in the blazing sunshine which was forecast to continue for the weekend. Trundling along, the SnoCat pulled all our gear on a sledge which some of us decided to lay on given the weather was so good. Relaxing in the sun, songs blasting from the bluetooth speaker, and gazing over the vast ice sheet was the start of a great weekend.
Once at creek 3 we turned our attention to setting up camp. We started by putting up our pyramid tents. A similar design to what Scott used the tents are well built and very sturdy, providing protection from the harsh Antarctic winds and in our case the power UV rays from the sun. Next the tents were fitted out with our sleeping system including two sleeping mats, a sheepskin rug, and expedition sleeping bag. Needless to say we weren't going to get cold in the relatively warm -8 degrees outside. Finally we kitted out the tents with Primus stoves, pot, pans, and food to keep us going for the weekend.
The first night was a chance to learn some campcraft and we started by making food in our tents. While melting snow, we rummaged through our food supplies. I had an army rationed chilli con carne circa 2004 while Greig my tent mate went for the chill circa 2013. It was a close call but I think my 2004 chilli tasted better than his.
We woke on Saturday to a clear and windless day. A quick cup of tea and breakfast gave way to our first task, building a snow shelter. Rather than dig in to the hard compacted snow and ice, we laid out all our rucksacks on the snow then cut blocks of softer snow on the surface and piled them on top of our bags. The team made short work of the covering the bags; we next tunneled through to the bags, removed them and then excavated the cover to make a large bed and a cold sink for the cold air to collect.
Next up was learning how to travel safely in the field. Once roped up we set off to explore the edge of the ice shelf and decent safely on to the sea ice. To get down on to the sea ice we set up an anchor point and belayed our partner down, making sure we hold a fall if they came across a crevasse. The whole day consisted of rope work, placing anchors, abseiling off those anchors and finally testing anchors to destruction to see just how robust they are.
After a long day of fresh air we were treated to a BBQ. Last thing I expected to be doing in the Antarctic was gathered around a roaring BBQ at -12 eating sirloin stake of a plank of wood and a pen knife.
As the evening winded down, I decided to make use of our snow hole we dug. After ensuring it was safe I dragged out my various layers of sleeping mats and huge sleeping bag into the snow hole and bedded down for the night. The light filtering through the snow was a beautiful deep blue, difficult to photograph but engrained in my memory. The snow hole served well as a warm shelter and good end to a great weekend.