Arctic Expedition Training

The team head to Svalbard for pre-expedition training

Svalbard, an archipelago located well within the Arctic circle (78 degrees North), just 600 miles from the North pole, made an ideal training ground for the team. With 24 hours of darkness, typical temperatures of -12 to -18 degrees and unpredictable weather fluctuations, the team quickly learned to have respect for the conditions and take precautions when outside for longer than a few minutes at a time. Following the previous post about the scientific expedition to the Arctic for climate change, Sonia, our ‘sponsee’, has provided us with an update on the completion of the expedition:

It very quickly became apparent that weather forecasts weren’t to be relied upon, and when out in the field we should be prepared for any eventuality. This reinforced the very reason we were here – to accurately measure on-the-ground weather data, enabling the calibration of the weather station models (essential for understanding the changing climate, and the wildlife which rely upon this changing environment).

Our first week consisted of learning polar bear encounter drills, ski practice, tent & other kit repairs and use of pulley systems (often used to pull pulks up steep inclines – but also essential for major incidences such as a team member falling down a crevasse). It was also a great chance to understand what freezing temperatures really felt like – and how to avoid cold injuries.

Testing the strength of the snow anchors

Our second week focused on practicing what if’s…. What if our tent ripped? What if we had an injury? What if we had a bear attack? What if someone got hypothermia?

We spent the first couple of days learning how to make snow shelters, practicing our bear drills using escalation of force, first aid scenarios with a focus on keeping the injured teammate warm whilst being treated and kit repairs.

The team building their snow shelters

We then spent time planning our routes before setting off on the mini 3-day expedition to put everything together before the final expedition.

The 3-day expedition was a great opportunity to work out how much food we were likely to need, what clothing we’d wear and to schedule the bear and stovie rotas. Bear watch had to be done alone for around 2-2.5 hours each night on a rota basis, and anyone spotting a bear would then wake the rest of the team up. The ‘stovie’ job was done morning and night and involved collecting and melting snow for drinks and the rehydrated meals – boiling snow water took a long time, especially on the coldest nights!

Stovie used to melt snow for dehydrating meals

The training and the 3-day expedition were great fun, but also exhausting as the full realisation of the size of the challenge sunk in. We had one rest day to recover and pack before the 8 day expedition would begin.


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