Field training is normally something that is completed in the warmth of summer under the guidance of a field training officer or FTO, however when you arrive on the last ship of the season and all the FTOs are heading home, you have to still carry out these necessary requirements to be able to go into the field. This task is now undertaken by someone whom the station leader and senior FTO deem to have the experience and qualities to be able to train and guide others. These tasks were given to me (David Brett) as this is my third winter and I’m old (ish).
So the story begins.
After trawling through countless files, documents and procedural related sites on the Davis server under FTO, I found enough documents to put fear into the hardiest mountaineer let alone one Greg Bird, Senior Communications Technical Officer, and his shipmate from V3 (voyage three), Alex Rogers, Bureau Of Meteorology tech. First test of their abilities was to meet on Sunday in the field store,a place of all things shiny and warm, to be fitted with the standard kit including sleeping bag, bivvy bag, compass, maps and so on, but most important of all was selecting an appetizing dehydrated meal they were going to take and prepare for the evening’s feast. Monday morning started with training on map, compass and navigation skills in the operations conference room, a place of warmth, with little wind or other elements inhibiting the abilities of Greg and Alex to take in the volumes of information presented to them. Preparation of food for the two days and what to wear, in the now −15°C temperature — not the balmy −5°C that the rest of the winter crew did their training in — were now the areas to concentrate on prior to morning tea, the best time to take in all the required protein and energy intake to last the next few days.
We started the walk in typical Davis conditions: bright sun, no wind and a cooling temp of −17°C. We were possibly a bit overdressed for the conditions as it wasn’t long before the two layers of gloves were reduced to one, the neck warmers was placed into jacket pockets and jacket zips started to be loosened from around our necks. Navigation and other relevant new skills were put to the test on route to our first point of call, a very calm Deep Lake, to carry out reading the water level, a job that should be done every month so detailed variations in the water levels can be monitored. This was followed by more navigation, more on what to do and how to do it prior to arriving at Brookes Hut for the night.
At the hut more was taught on what to do, when to do it, how to do it and what not to do, all before the evening meal of Teriyaki chicken, spaghetti bolognaise and rice. Apparently this was enough food for six people but was consumed with gusto by the three of us, followed by a desert of berry cobbler that could have used an extra hour to cook the cake mix into something that wasn’t the consistency of clag. (Thanks Greg.)
As night fell and the temperature plummeted it seemed a good idea to try the guys out on the art of bivvying under the stars/ snow clouds. (This means camping outside, in Antarctica. In a bag.) Alex rejoiced in the idea and settled in for the night like a pea in a pod. As for Greg, trying to fit someone 17’3” in to a bivvy bag was more of a challenge (it was like trying to fit an emu into a budgie cage — going with the bird theme here) but to his credit he stuck it out for a while before returning to the hut where I was still awake, diligently keeping the heaters going and hot water boiling, as part of my responsibilities for the guy’s safety and wellbeing.
All in all, we survived the night, the walk to the hut and the return trip home as well as the berry cobbler, so job done.