Saturday, 4 February 2017

Part 2. Coloured Lego Block Buildings, an Orange Roughy and Yellow Chip Packets in a White Winter Wonderland – the Colourful World of Casey.

Well here I am again on my computer typing away, I try and sit in a different spot each evening as my room in the West Wing is dark with no natural light as it has no windows (great for sleeping), is small and keeps houses my peanut butter stash! Tonight (when I wrote this line a while ago) I’m in the wallow, the common room/lounge area of Casey which has a floor to ceiling window which looks out towards the bay and the icebergs. Ferret, one of the plumbers down her for the summer, kindly told me to stop typing so loudly the other the day and then suggested that my blog is work. Ahhh he does not know the true Wisey who is known for her dedication to her work including, Greg Hince close your eyes, visits to the lab to deal with the Gas Chromatograph otherwise known as MOFO.
Two Docs out on field on survival training, Doc Elise on the left.
(Photo courtsey of Dr Elise Roberts)
So let’s get back to Part 2 of Coloured Lego Block Buildings, an Orange Roughy and Yellow Chip Packets in a White Winter Wonderland – the Colourful World of Casey and we’re definitely up to the next part of the story, Yellow Chip Packets! For those that have ventured south to an Australian Antarctic Station you know exactly what I’m talking about – it’s survival training time. For the lucky readers out there that received my newsletters home last time I was down at Casey you’re probably thinking – why are you doing survival training again. Your training only remains current for 3 years and so mine was just out of date meaning that it was time to do a refresher, it’s a good way to get off station and meet other expeditioners not in your own team. Our group of Lucas, Wei, Lenneke, Felicity (All ICECAP), Linda, Georgia (Inventory Program), Dr Elise and myself would be heading off with FTO Paula and we would be doing this while the ship was still carrying out resupply. Linda, Georgia and Elise had recently arrived from the ship where they had been residing during resupply and had only just settled into their rooms before they were “whisked” away for survival training.

Getting gear for our packs ready in the Field Store to head
off, all ready to survive!
In order to go out into the field you have to be survival trained and you need to take certain things with you. Not all of these items you will find in your issued AAD kit, some is in your survival bag, but the extra bits and pieces you need are found in the Field Store, off we traipsed down to the Field Store to get extra bits and pieces. One of the first things you need for survival training, well it makes life a lot easier, is a pack. This year I had bought my own pack down with me, the division does supply very good quality One Planet packs however, I know that mine fits me perfectly. Next on the list is a pack liner (dead dog bag), sleeping bag, liner, mat and a yellow chip packet (otherwise known as a bivvy). The challenge is to then roll up the mat inside the bivvy and keep it small enough and neat enough, no extra bits and pieces to flap in the wind. This then gets attached to the outside of your pack and it kind of helps to do this first before putting things onto your pack. Next goes your sleeping bag and liner. Other items obtained from the field store include microspikes (chains with spikes which go over your boots to give you better grip), pee bottle (different colour to you water bottle), maps of the area, a compass with a whistle attached (so no light to attract attention) and last but not least an ice axe. Inside your pack along with the sleeping bag and liner (well again I always bring my own down) a spare pair of thermals and socks, extra gloves, goggles, balaclava and my synthetic puffer jacket.

Before we could leave the Field Training store we got a lesson on some map and compass work, it’s always good to have a refresher on this and remind yourself how to find a bearing and how to give a grid reference. It was then time to head downstairs but before we could head off into the big bad outside we had to pick up tonight’s dinner – ration packs. These ration packs are dehydrated meals in a sealed bag that you add hot water to in order to get a delicious meal ... I had been warned my first season at Casey not to get the pack with  tuna which I remembered so I got a Veal Italienne, a tomato based meal. Also on offer were some muesli bars, packets of milo and the all important chocolate. We also picked up some tea and tim tams from the mess for “dessert” after dinner. We then had time to ditch any unwanted items we had back in out rooms before meeting in the wallow where we would be leaving from. Upon meeting in the mess we learnt the etiquette of leaving station. In order to leave station there are a few things to do before you can actually depart which I’ll list here:

  • Pick up a first aid kit from the Docs.
  • In the mess turn your tag from white (meaning you’re on station) to red and write what your intentions are on the board along with when you are expected back and what radio channel can be contacted on.
  • Go to comms in the Operations building and collect a hand held GPS with spare batteries, radio and spare battery, EPIRB and in some cases a sat phone.
  • Write your intentions on the board at comms including who is in the field party, where you are heading to and  the time which you will sked in with them in the evening (a bit like a check up call).
  • And finally as you leave the station limits you radio into comms letting them know you are about to leave station – the call sign for Casey is “VNJ Casey”.
Snow Petrels putting on an aerial display at Reeve Hill

So with everything that we needed collected we radioed into Comms and we were on our way making our way along the cane line. Our first destination would be down towards the sea ice which connects the Bailey Peninsular, where Casey is, to Shirley Island, home to a rowdy group of Adelié penguins. But first Paula got us to use our maps to make sure we were going in the correct direction by looking at the landmarks around us. One prominent feature at Casey is Reeve Hill which bears a cross in memory of Geoffrey Reeve who passed away at Casey 1979 of exposure after he became lost in a blizzard at Robinson Ridge some 10 km away from the station (thanks Goldie for this information). The hill and the cross are clearly marked on the station maps and can be easily identified when you are walking around the station.

Little Tuxedoed visitors from
Shirley Island
With our bearings we made our way forward, I admit I hung at the back as I could clearly remember how to get to the edge of Shirley Island from the last time I was here at Casey. We headed along straight before we took a right and headed down towards the entrance to the sea ice towards Shirley Island. It was here that stopped and put our microspikes on to ensure there were no unwanted slips and slides or falls on the way down. At Casey you have to be careful and keep a good distance from the edge as there are many overhanging cliff faces that could give way. We actually stopped half way down as coming towards us up the slope were a group of curious Adeliés. Now there are set distances that you can approach the animals down here and these can increase if say penguins are sitting on eggs or the animal has young, you can read about these distances here. If you are too close or within the comfort zone of the animal there are very clear signals and displays they may exhibit to let you know that you need to step back! However some of the critters down here are just as curious about us as we are about them.

A curious Adelié
We sat down very quietly and sat still watching out little black and white tuxedoed friends make their way toward us. They’d often stretch their necks out as if to be saying I’m interested but I’m still not so sure about you! Now the colony from where these little guys came is across the sea ice on Shirley Island. However the sea ice starts to deteriorate in late spring and then into summer at Casey the sea ice is notoriously unstable and a big blow is sometimes enough for the sea ice to disappear. For this reason the sea ice is closely monitored and is shut for travel at the hint of any deterioration or rot by the Field Training Officers who are responsible for checking things like this and the state of the vehicle travel tracks. Due to these reasons the sea ice to Shirley Island had been closed and we were unable to make the trip across.  That and the Adelié eggs were either very close to hatching or had
indeed hatched and there were now chicks, hopefully I might get to see the fluffy little ones if I get out on an iceberg cruise in the coming weeks from a distance.

With our penguin experience over it was now time to do a little bit more navigation this time it would be compass vs GPS. So half of us used the good old method of GPS and map and the other half pulled out their GPS, just like the ones you use Mum and Dad for geocaching (link to geocaching). We then headed off to the receiver hut in the antennae farm using our trusty implements. It’s always interesting to compare the two and while we got there by both methods it highlights that in order to get your GPS to correctly point in the right direction you need to be moving. So after arriving there we had a quick discussion before going to the campsite way point in the GPS and heading off in the direction towards where we would be staying the night. While it wasn’t freezing cold and the sun was
Successful navigation!
out it didn’t mean that we didn’t have to be careful where we walked. There were areas melting out which could result in very wet feet if we didn’t watch where we put them and patches of blue ice under a very thin veil of snow. Blue ice is very, very slippery and I’m very nervous walking on slippery surface post the rupturing and repair of my PCL. So in order not to come a cropper you walk on the patches which are not light blue instead you walk on the snow and little shuffle steps much like a penguin.

MSR stove lighting 101 in our ice kitchen
Down we went passing what looked like a small melt lake on the right before heading up and then down to where the survival camp was. It was obvious where the camp is as it still had the remnants of previous survival camps in the form of the ice breaks you make to lie your bivvy in to protect you from the wind. The first thing to do after taking our packs off was to go and grab the bags that Paula and I had dropped off the day before. These bags contained the MSR stoves, tent (for Paula to sleep in), shovels and various other bits and pieces. So task number 1 was to learn how to light the MSR stoves. Compact and light these Shellac fuelled stoves are an excellent way to make water. Make water I hear you say – well we melt snow to get liquid water but note you MUST have a some water in the bottom of the pot with the snow otherwise the pots don’t like it very much. So those who had never put together and lit one of the MSR stoves took it in turns, it’s always good to do a refresher as well. So without snow melted and water boiled it was time for a cup of milo or tea.

Survival camp site already for "sleep".
After this it was time to put up Paula’s sleeping quarters for the night, the dome/tunnel tent. While we wouldn’t be sleeping in this tonight it was important that we knew how to piece it together, especially the ICECAP guys as this type of tent is carried in the planes as part of the emergency/survival kits. Once this had been erected it was time to put together the sitrep for our sked which would was scheduled for 1900. There is a set formula for the sitreps that you follow. Now before I start for those that have been to Macca where the nightly skeds have a relaxed format the ones here on the continent are quite formal and follow a very set format. So without further a due here we go:

  • Alpha – Position information. Can be a lat/long, grid reference or feature or hut name.
  • Bravo – Health of party: number, health and fitness of party.
  • Charlie – Condition of vehicles, in our case not applicable.
  • Delta – Intentions: what are going to be doing in the next 24 hours.
  • Echo – Weather, cloud cover which is reported in octas and if you know your clouds what type they are, wind direction, horizon definition.
  • Foxtrot – State of track, is it firm, melting, thin ice etc …
  • Golf – Other information or requests, stand by for the next blog to see what request we put in on a trip out in the field J

Waiting patiently for food to rehydrate.
While some of us prepared the nightly sked the others started finding areas and digging into the snowy ground to create a nice little area to sleep in within the bivvy. 1900 rolled around and Dr Elise gave our sitrep to the comms operator - the smooth sultry tones over the airways this season are operators Robyne Chawner, Andy Merlot and Nigel Corey (funny story here Nigel knows my cousin Mark from their jobs in the RAAF in air traffic control, rumour has it they worked together too). Sitrep given it was time to eat dinner: first thing first melt snow and boil water, next make cut towards very top of ration pack, take out paper bag containing meal, place dehydrated meal in bag, add one cup of hot water, stir before folding down the top and sealing, keep like this for 12-15 minutes then unseal and eat. Now there are a few tricks you need to make sure the cut across the top is as close to the top as possible otherwise it becomes very, very difficult to seal! The next kind of important thing will ensure that you don’t have a meal that is crunchy – you have to be patient and wait the full time given on the packet. So my cut may have been a little not as close as it need to be to the top and there was a little leakage but that’s okay. With it sealed I waited my 15 minutes, well close enough, before tucking into my tasty little meal and yes that is it there in the picture and yes it was actually tasty. We then washed up out cutlery and mugs – all you do is wipe out the utensil and mug and then rinse with hot water.
Dehydrated goodness ready to eat!

Pee Bottle - orange in
colour so not to mix up with
your water bottle.
The tim tams then came out for dessert before we set about finishing our sleeping abodes for the night and putting out our chip packets. But first I can hear you ask umm what about visiting the toilet before sleeping. Let me introduce to the pee bottle, this one is orange but some white, they are basically a very different colour to the water bottles we are issued which are transparent blue. And yes you pee into the bottle as you are only permitted to pee into a tide crack, into your pee bottle or the pee drum when out in the field. A little different to Macca where you go down to the beach. Number 2’s go into a double lined bag which you throw talc in with. All this goes back to station where no 1 if in pee bottle can go down the toilet or if it is a pee drum down to the Water Treat Facility, fondly known as the WTF, No 2 go to Warren for incineration, yes the incinerator has a name in fact all the incinerators at the Australian stations are known as Warren. As a side piece Warren does not like aerosol cans.

Packed in like a sardine in my chip packet ready for a
"restful" night ...
Okay so with that taken care of it’s time to jump into bed, well I still had to put mine out which I did so in the kitchen area. Now everything fits inside your chip packet and I mean everything: sleeping mat with bag on to, pack, spare clothes, boots, water, pee bottle (one of the party did use theirs in the bivvy it is possible) and of course yourself. You then pull the draw string close however you leave a small hole which is propped up and open with your ice axe, this also ensures the bivvy is not directly on your face either. That night, a night of 24 hrs of light with a weird twilight period, I fell asleep to the snow falling on the outside of my bivvy and the sound of some gentle snoring from one of the nearby chip packets. This time around I got more sleep than the first time I did survival training, I think I got about 5 hours which is more than what I normally get at home.

Time to pack up and head back to the Red Shed.
We all woke around 6 ish to a brilliant sun lit sky and began packing up. There was a thin layer of ice on the inside of the bivvy which forms from the condensation of the water in my breath, during the night some of it fell onto my face. I then got to start a challenge I love the one of getting dressed and then packing everything inside my bivvy into my pack before I emerge from my cocoon before I roll up the chip packet and place it back on my pack. Most people get out of their bivvy and pack from the outside. The advantage of being able to do this process inside the bag is that you minimise your exposure to the environment and everything that needs to stay dry stays dry – mission accomplished. With the camp packed up it was time to head back to station for breakfast – Elise and I had some fun taking photos of our shadows in the snow as we headed back. Back on station everything is done in reverse from when you leave: call in to let comms know you are back on station, return GPS and spare batteries and remove intentions from the comms board and then change your fire tag back to white. We then headed down to the field training store to hang our chip packets, mats and sleeping bags to dry and air. We would collect these in a couple of days as we were to keep hold of these for the rest of the season. It was then time to eat breakfast and have a shower. For most people they take the afternoon off but I went to see what needed to be done on site, we all know I’m bad at sitting still.

What was left of the camp site ...
The end of survival training also coincided with the final stages of resupply, with the next day very late nearly the next day the Orange Roughy turned her back on the station and headed out of Newcomb Bay off to the Mertz Glacier to conduct science and collect krill for the krill aquarium back at Kingston. With the end of resupply bought about the realisation that what I was here to do was about to start. While we had worked a little during resupply I was about to get back into all things remediation here at Casey, back into the field after 2 seasons back home in the lab at Kingston.
And like resupply being over so is this post, I’m writing listening to two friends practise an acoustic set in the music area, it’s what I needed today to help me finish this so thanks guys.

See you later Aurora Australis.
Thanks for for the visit and the cargo!
“It’s your place in the world; it’s your life. Go on and do all you can with it, and make it the life you want to live” – Mae Jemison (NASA astronaut, 1956)

Next up Meet the Remediation Team, plus Crib, Christmas and New Year all rolled into one!

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