As a first-time expeditioner to Casey station, I had read about the summer survival training but was a little uncertain what to expect.
Group 1 had returned a few days before, so during casual conversation, I asked for their thoughts. For the most part it was described as, “an enjoyable learning experience with a night sleeping outside in Antarctica — you’re going to relish it.” These accounts made my mind wander, and I was very excited to begin the training.
The official start time was Friday at 0800. The group of eight expeditioners, including myself, were given theory and practical lessons on map reading, use of map and compass, GPS and radio techniques, and the correct use of specialist outdoor equipment. Additionally, wildlife identification and safe approach distances were advised. All of this was to be applied in the field as a consolidation of the lessons. You could feel the excitement in everyone as we broke for lunch and were given our next timing of 1330 — departure into the field.
As we rambled past the operations building, the Station Leader stepped out from her office to wish us good luck and a safe return. A final radio check, which advised the radio operator that we were leaving Casey station, and the group was officially on their way.
The chilly wind blew into our backs as we walked away from Casey station. However, the Australian Antarctic Division supplied equipment was able to block out the extreme environments, and for the most part it was a comfortable walk down to the penguin rookery at Shirley Island. After “a lot” of photos, it was time to depart — our next destination was to be our sleeping location.
On route, the group did navigation checks with the maps, cross-referenced GPS coordinates, and made the required radio calls. By the time we had arrived at our night location, the wind had eased which allowed us to fire up the fuel stoves and make a well-deserved hot drink. We boiled more water which was added to our Army style dehydrated meal in a bag.
Re-energised from the break and the food, we set about our next task: digging our sleeping hole. It had been such a fun-filled day — but it was a survival course, and this was the serious part of making sure we would knew how to endure a night outside in Antarctica, in the unlikely event we were unable to return to station.
Firstly, we dug body-sized holes in the ground. The practical fact that if you are below the ground, for the most part, you are out of the wind. Next, was getting ready to sleep, which involved getting yourself and all your equipment inside a bivvy bag — which is best described as an oversized sleeping bag made of nylon material. We had some laughs as we all pushed, pulled, and spun around inside, until in the end we had made it home.
It was about 9 pm and the sun was still high in the sky. I pulled my beanie over my eyes and found myself falling asleep with a smile on my face.
The next day was an early start. We drank a brew, packed our equipment, and stepped off to return to station. Our training was complete and I certainly believed I had the skills to survive a night out of the station.
Now that I am back, I have people from summer survival groups 3 and 4 asking me what to expect — and I find myself flashing back to my training, and can best describe it to them as, “an enjoyable learning experience with a night sleeping outside in Antarctica — you’re going to relish it.”
Brad Machin, Casey Communications Operator