Do you need survival training?

This month I am going to talk about the winter survival course that is run here at UNIS, and what I and my fellow over wintering students got up to over Christmas.

Due to the unique location the university runs a mandatory 6 day survival course. So there now follows a little summary of what I and the rest of the students have been training in:

First aid. In particular dealing with frostbite, hypothermia and trauma. The reason for this is that the emergency service response time when one is out in the field is measured in hours, and sometimes days, if the weather is bad.

Glacier rescue. Glaciers are sometimes crevassed these crevasses are covered with snow so you can’t tell whether you are on top of one until you fall into it! So you have to know how to get out of it.

Sea ice travel. This had to be the most exciting lesson on the course as I had to drop through the Ice on a frozen lake and then get myself out, this time without the luxury of survival suit, it’s a rather cold and wet experience to say the least.

There were other important lessons such as avalanche rescue and satellite communications. The final day of the course is test day, where the whole course assembles for a series of scenarios to test what has been learnt in the past 5 days. Once the tests are over there is a big party!

In the weeks over Christmas break we went out on several trips, including one over Christmas eve and Christmas day to the student cabin. It has to be said that this for me has been a Christmas to remember, eating reindeer by a warm coal fire, whilst the wind howls round the cabin, is something very special.

After Christmas, to work off the reindeer we went on a ski tour which turned out to be rather exciting for the wrong reasons. The plan was to ski out to a remote waterfall and then climb it, sadly this was not to be. Late on the first days skiing one of the party broke a ski binding causing us to stop and make camp for the night. During the night the temperature dropped to – 23oC, then halfway through the night another member of our party dislocated her knee whilst on polar bear watch.

This put an end to our trip and we spent the next day recovering ourselves and heading back to town. Once in range of the mobile phone transmitter we called for a snow scooter to come out and pick up the injured member of our party. A short and brutal trip but a good learning experience none the less!

By the time you read this the sun will have risen for the first time since late October this means to me, and the over wintering students, that our 110 or so days of night will be over. I admit that I have caught myself dreaming of sunlight on occasion!

Until next time, Alex.