Saturday, 26 December 2015

Resupply and Postponing Christmas

The Aurora Australis
So we've been super busy lately with the Arrival of the Aurora Australis - the AAD's Icebreaker that has come to resupply us with a years supply of food, alcohol, construction materials, machinery and our "econ" with is our personal belongings we sent down because they wouldn't fit on the plane - woohoo!

My truck for resupply 
My job during the cargo part of resupply is driving what is possibly one of the coolest trucks in antarctica - an '82 R model Mack 6x6. This beast has ex-military written allover it. The haul is from the wharf to the station via a steep, slippery dirt track carved through snow with walls higher than the truck itself.

To top it off the ship also brings us almost a million litres of diesel which has to be transferred from the ship to our diesel tanks. This involves running a fuel hose out over the water to the Aurora anchored in Newcomb Bay to connect with Casey Station's two "fuel farms" for pumping. During the fuel transfer it's my job to monitor the upper fuel farm which involves dipping the 90,000 litre tanks as they fill to take the levels and changing the valves over so they don't overflow. My first shift started at midnight Christmas day and with the first full moon to fall on a christmas day in 38 years the sky show was amazing.
Dipping Fuel Tanks under the Christmas Moon

Anyway that's about it for now. Christmas has been postponed here so hopefully we get to have it early next week.



Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Survival Training

  Survival training took place a couple days after arrival on continent. This involves going out into the wilderness overnight on foot to learn basic survival skills to stay alive if things go pear shaped. Our group consisted of six newbies (me included) and a Field Training Officer (FTO)

Drilling Sea Ice
After a morning brief on mapping and compass/GPS navigation we kitted up and left Casey Station for Shirley Island. To access the island we had to cross the sea ice which needs to be drilled and measured for thickness to determine if its safe to travel on. It was about 1.4 metres thick - plenty as it only needs to be 30cm for pedestrian traffic. While we were drilling the odd curious penguin came up to see what we were doing.

Oi you lot! Get off my lawn!
Shirley island is host to several Adelie Penguin colonies. After a couple hours of ice rescue and crevasse location training we made it up a rocky hill to sit and eat smoko amongst the penguins. Adelie penguins are unique to Antarctica and are about 45 - 70cm tall. They also look like they are wearing tuxedos and are cute as hell! It was great to watch them as they carried on unafraid of us, finding shiny pebbles to take to females to win their affections and waddling around honking at each other.

Eating smoko amongst the Shirley Island Colonies
     After eating we left Shirley Island for camp with some more nav training on route. Once in camp we built our kitchen by cutting out a channel to create a table and ledge to sit around then used the ice bricks we cut out to build a wind break.
Sawing and digging out ice bricks 
 Inside the Mega-Bivvy
Once finished we boiled some snow on shellite stoves and got inside a Mega-Bivvy for cuppa soup. A mega-bivvy is basically a big nylon cover that can be used by many people to huddle under if your caught with your pants down in a sudden blizz. Once inside we also did the 5pm radio check in - basically a to-n-fro with station comms about our planned movements and the weather.

The finished ice kitchen
After the bivvy session we tramped up the northern side of the O'Brien Bay to arrive at a rocky vantage point looking out along what is affectionately known as Iceberg Alley - the long groups of icebergs that stretch along the coast here. This was hands down one of the most glorious views I've ever seen - photos and words just don't do it justice. The whole crew just sat on the rocks in silence for ages.
   Soon enough it was about 8pm - time to go cook dinner and set up our sleeping arrangements. Dinner was dehydrated ration packs that just needed hot water so more snow was boiled up in the "kitchen".

Ice Berg Alley

Happy Gilmore taking survival
training very seriously...

Nothing is left in the field haha
In our packs we carry bivvy bags which are basically a nylon sack with a yoga mat. When you sleep in your bivvy you take everything in with you so nothing freezes - this includes your water bottle and your pee bottle (yes we have a pee bottle, nothing is left behind in the field). Some of the group just got in their bivvys and racked out but a few of us got creative with the saw again and cut level sleeping pads out of the slope and used the residual ice bricks for windbreaks again.
  Being summer the sun didn't quite go under the horizon so thankfully the temp didn't get much below -12 degrees celsius.
Poor man's Igloo
The morning brought a lovely sunrise/sunset (something!) as we roused ourselves to break camp and make it back to Casey. Unfortunately I didn't sleep with my gloves in my sleeping bag so they did't dry out overnight. Within minutes of putting them on my hands were so frozen that it was like trying to pack my stuff wearing boxing gloves. I was glad to get everything stuffed in my pack and get on the trail to get warm, boot spikes biting in as we headed across the ice and snow for home.

Not a bad view to wake up to.
The Polar Pyramid tents are for the FTOs (done their time in bivvy bags apparently haha)

Just follow the penguin belly slide tracks home...
Anyway, that's it from me this time. Thanks for reading.
Don't hesitate to ask any questions you have about life down here.
Stay Safe