We arrived at Marine Plain Apples with only minutes to spare before our nightly ‘skeds’ with the comms operator. While out in the field we have a 7pm scheduled radio call where we provide the comms operator with a standard set of information such as the health of our party, our location, the weather and our plans for the next 24hrs. After we completed our radio conversation we were given instruction on how to put together and light the MSR XGK stoves we had brought in our survival gear. We used the stoves to boil up some water for our dehydrated army ration-type meals and learnt the valuable skill of cooking and eating food in the bag it came in. While we were doing this one of the others in our group manned the stove in the Apple and cooked up many cups of tea and hot milo to warm everyone up.
With our dinner ready we sat inside the main Apple at Marine Plain and sheltered from the cold and chatted about how to use our bivvy bag, which we were going to sleep in that night. There’s nothing glamourous about sleeping in a bivvy bag. Its been likened to a giant chip packet as it is a relatively thin waterproof bag that contains a foam sleeping mat and can make quite a racket if you happen to be in it when the wind is 20 knots or higher. We were told that the way to get into a bivvy bag was to throw our pack inside then get in ourselves, close up the entrance and begin setting up our bed and other things inside it. You need to carry a bivvy bag with your survival gear just in case you need to ‘go to ground’, which could be due to bad weather or an injured party member or numerous other reasons that Antarctica may throw at you. After we had finished our discussion we went out and found a nice spot on the ground to put our teaching into practice. Fortunately for me it didn’t take too long for me to get warm and relatively comfortable and I slept fairly well throughout the night. The most unusual part of sleeping in a bivvy bag is that in the morning when I woke up I was covered in a thin layer of snow that had developed inside my bivvy bag from condensation created by my warm breath and the temperature staying below -5°C overnight.
We had planned an early start for us to continue walking down the sea ice on Ellis Fjord until we were directly south of Davis and then we would walk north through the hills until we arrived home. Unfortunately, the wind that was basically non-existent the night before had risen to around 20 knots in the morning. It was blowing on our back as we walked down the fjord but made us cold as soon as we stopped. Despite that, we still had things to learn so we stopped in a sheltered spot on the sea ice and learnt how to rescue someone who had fallen through the ice with a throw bag. We tried not to take too long as lying on the ice was rather uncomfortable and very very cold. By the time we had reached the spot where we decided to get off the ice and head into the hills most of us were pretty tired from such a long walk the previous day through hills, deep snow and hard sea ice. We stuck our heads down into the 20 knot head wind and headed for home.
Part way through our push for home one of our party members looked around and realised that our FTO wasn’t with us anymore, prompting us to stop and discuss our method of action to find him again. Fortunately, by the time we had agreed on a plan he appeared over the ridge we had just come over and taught us an important lesson about keeping an eye on everyone in our party and how easy it was to lose someone when we were all tired and aching to be home. With sore feet and a tired body we arrived back at Davis, still in one piece but definitely deserving of a hot shower and a long lie down. Before we could do that we had to notify comms that we were back on station, return our equipment to its various homes and unpack our gear. Having not had much experience hiking in such cold and snowy conditions it was definitely a tough walk. We hiked a total of around 20km in the two days over very different terrains but we did learn a lot of important things about travelling around in Antarctica and once the training was complete we were signed off to be able to go out in the field.
* To see more photos of this trip have a look at my Facebook album: Survival Training