Shane, one of our plumbers and a seasoned veteran of Antarctica shares a close shave

We all need an Antarctic buddy.

I have a pretty cool job down here but there are hidden dangers.

I think it’s safe to talk about one of those dangers now as enough time has passed and things look like they’ll be okay.

A couple of months ago I was out during the day doing sea ice drilling. We were out for about 3 hours and drilled about 20 holes. Drilling sea ice involves driving out onto the frozen ocean and using a long 50mm drill bit in a cordless drill and recording the thickness of the ice. On this occasion it was generally about 1.6m thick. The days were quite short at that time of year, but it was a beautiful sunny day and around minus 35 degrees with hardly any wind. There were three of us and we would drive about 500m and drill a hole, measure the ice thickness, get back in and drive on. We would only be out of the warm vehicle for less than a minute each time.

On the last hole, the battery went flat so I grabbed another one and swapped it out just as the wind picked up for a moment and the wind chill probably went above minus 50 degrees. It was then that one of my co-workers noticed that the end and base of my nose had gone white. It was frozen solid, and I had no feeling in it. It didn’t even feel cold to me as it had passed that stage and the blood had stopped flowing to it.

I jumped in the vehicle and started warming it up straight away. Back on station the doctor gave me some tablets and I gently rubbed a moisturising cream on it but had several anxious days waiting to see if it would blister. Fortunately, I can now say that I must have discovered and warmed it quick enough to not cause any long-term problems.

We have training and gear suitable for working in those conditions but being my third winter in Antarctica I had let a little bit of complacency slip in. The cumulative effect of getting out in the cold multiple times, an exceptionally cold day, a sudden breeze, and me not wearing my buff correctly had almost led to me losing the end of my nose to frostbite.

I have to thank my friend for spotting it when she did, and it backs up the reason why we always have to travel with at least one other person whenever we leave station. I wear two buffs now and am constantly fiddling with my nose, but it seems normal. Maybe a little bit purple, but some Broome sunshine should sort that out when I get home in a couple of months.

Hiding my nose under a buff down here is normal but it would have been horrible to have to wear one at home so that people didn’t mistake me for Voldemort.

And that hairy caterpillar thing under my nose. Thankfully I’ll be leaving that down here.