Monday 5 October 2015

BAS Training

 A group of us went punting one morning. Here Ali Rose (a fellow field assistant), takes a shot of being chief punter, and is concentrating hard on keeping us going and not falling in (which is harder said than done). 
Back in August, fittingly when I was pottering around on the snowpatches of Ben Nevis, I got a phone call from the the British Antarctic Survey (BAS). They offered me a summer contract working as a field assistant in Antarctica. The role of a field assistant is essentially to look after scientists and help with logistics in the deep field. This is a job that I had been interested in for a long time, so I jumped at the chance.

My training for this job started on Sunday the 13th of September, and lasted for about two and a half weeks. The first week was based at Girton college in Cambridge. Everybody who is going South for the first time has to attend this. There was about 100 people with a wide variety of backgrounds; scientist, mountaineers, carpenters, vehicle mechanics, divers, doctors, radio operators etc. The training started with a general introduction to BAS, and to life in Antarctica. It then proceeded to more specific courses depending on peoples roles and responsibilities. Here I met the other three field assistants who were also going South for the first time, and who I would likely be working with. This part of the training concluded with a three day first aid course, but with a slant to Antarctic conditions.
For the first week of training we were based at Girton college in Cambridge. It was very nice, but did have a bit of a Hogwarts feel about it. 

It was then up to the peak district for a four day field course. Various more experienced field assistants turned up, and helped us teach skills such as navigation, ropework and campcraft to the overwintering staff. Although I wont be overwintering, I was still involved as a field assistant. It was also a good opportunity to get to know others who I would I am likely to be working with over the season. Various staff who had summered before, who were returning to overwinter were there. There was probably as much learning hearing their stories in the bar in the evening, as had occurred through the day.
 A search technique during the field training. Although it might look like a group of people with buckets in their heads, they are in fact wearing white out simulations devices, and are searching for a lost comrade (the man crouching on the right). 

After the field course I had a few days off, so I popped over to North Wales to see some friends and get a few routes done. The route of this mini trip was The Skull up on Cyrn Las. It was a route which I had fallen off about 15 years ago, and to be honest nearly fell off again.  It would appear that Cambridge does not do your climbing a world of good.

The fire fighter course. A group of us putting out a simulated aircraft fire.  

After Wales it was back down to Cambridge for a fire training course. This was very much a crash course, with about 6 months of normal training being squeezed into 3 days. However, it was quite good fun crawling around smokey rooms wearing breathing apparatus looking for dummies and spraying fires with lots of water. The gist of it was that is a plane crashes down there with thousands of liters of aviation fuel, and it goes on fire, there is not much we are going to be able to do about it.

Am now back in Scotland for a few days before heading South on the 12th of October. I should be back around the 20th of February. Although internet access is pretty slow in Antarctica, I will try and keep my blog updated while on base.

BAS's finest fire crew. After 3 days training, what could possibly go wrong?

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