Going out in an Antarctic blizz has now become second nature – it’s a hard experience to describe but I am going to try!
It all starts with getting dressed correctly. This can take a couple of goes if you forget to put on a layer – a common mistake made by newbies. Even without forgetting something, the process of getting dressed takes 10–15 minutes. The typical blizz outfit is one to 3 thermal and outer layers made up of socks, neck gaiter, balaclava, hat, wristlets, gloves, goggles, boots, pants and jacket with a hood. This is about 10 kilos of clothing on average. These are put on in a specific order for them to be effective and you need to cover all skin as frostbite is quick to get to any uncovered area. If you have ever experienced an ice-cream headache, you have an idea of what it feels like if you haven't covered your face properly – not fun!
Work and other obligations don't stop with blizz conditions. One of those important obligations is updating the birthday board, our equivalent of a birthday card, that can be viewed on the webcam feed on the AAD website. During our last blizz, my mate Brenden and I risked life and limb to get the board done, well maybe not but you get the idea. It wasn’t even visible on the webcam at the time, but like I said, obligations don’t stop for a blizz. Brenden was happy to capture the footage on his action cam while we attempted the task.
After opening the door for the cold porch, you force yourself out into 55 knots (100+ km/h) wind with blowing snow dropping visibility down to 3 or 4 metres. The sound is like loud white noise, but it is actually louder inside than when you are out in it. You place your feet on instinct, hoping they don’t get taken out from under you mid-stride. Wind travels around buildings and parked vehicles so that you feel assaulted from different angles along the way. Even though you are experiencing the full might of Mother Nature, getting buffeted sideways or backwards with every step, it is exhilarating and you find yourself laughing at yourself and your mates with every step. This full body workout has you leaning over at about 30 degrees to help with progress forwards – abs of steel would be built if it wasn’t for all the amazing food coming out of the kitchen. At other times the wind is at your back and you are being pushed to almost running.
We had one more hurdle to overcome, a small knoll, where a strong gust came along just as I stepped up. Keep in mind, we are also carrying the bright orange signboard letters during this arduous trek to our destination. I lost the letters for the sign, luckily grabbing two but just missed the letter ‘I’ as it was taken by the wind. Brenden quickly took off after it and managed to catch it 20 m away. After traversing the rocks, we made it to the sign, laughing at the near miss. Sliding the new letters in, we lost the letter ‘I’ again as it was sucked out of the track. I dived for it and managed to get it back into the sign after two attempts – that letter ‘I’ really didn't want to be on display!
After completing our mission and getting back indoors, it takes about the same amount of time to remove all the layers again – 20–30 minutes total dressing time for a 7 minute job! If the wind is too high then we are not allowed to even go outside so we’re lucky to get the job done safely.
Walking through a blizz, particularly this one, is a memory I’ll never forget!
– Steve Clibborn (Carpenter)