Surviving Antarctica: Field Training Officer

Story and Photographs by Shane Ness.

“Im also missing out on all the Screaming and the Pooing”

Tony Donaldson Field Training Officer Mawson Station, Antarctica.

Antarctica might be the most extreme place on earth, but could you imagine how tough it would be teaching survival techniques at -30C? Tony Donaldson a Mountain Guide from New Zealand is the Field Training Officer at Mawson Station over winter and he is up to the challenge.

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Climbing Fang Peak

“The scope for danger or loss of life is a lot smaller then it is back home”

Tony Donaldson,

“When things go wrong down here, they go wrong very quickly”

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When it all turns to Custard

Antarctica is a destination very few ever reach, designated  as “natural reserve, devoted to peace and science” (Antarctic Treaty) Antarctica has captured the imaginations of intrepid adventurers for decades. You really feel you are at the edge of the world in Antarctica, some of the most isolated people on the planet.

“I wanted to see how I would fare, working in a really harsh environment”

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Search and Rescue Training

It takes a certain breed to be able to complete a winter, someone who is tough, capable of facing any challenge this icy world throws at them. An Antarctic winter has an uncanny knack of throwing everything it has at you, almost in an attempt to break you. Tony had an extra challenge, something very few would be able to cope with. Tony and his partner Svata had their daughter Anne while he was in Antarctica.

“Svata had our daughter Anne on the 22nd of Sept”

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Tony at home with Anne

“It’s been challenging missing some of the initial steps”

Tony says reflecting on the first few months of being away from his new born daughter.

Antarctica is isolated, really isolated, so isolated that once you arrive you are stuck until the summer returns 9 months later.

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Now this is remote

Once the Australian Ice-Breaker, The Aurora Australis leaves the station, taking with it the previous winter staff, you quickly realise how isolated you are. All of a sudden, station life goes from 40 people down to just 14. The station is quite, you cross paths with your new family in the corridors of the red shed. It starts to sink in, you are some of the most isolated people on the planet.

Thank you for visiting Tatteredpassport, Have you been somewhere super remote? Or have you visited Antarctica? I would love to read your comments.

You can find more stories from Antartica and many more adventures by clicking the FOLLOW button. You can also follow my adventures on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter and Snapchat.

One Life, One Search,

Peace Out,

Shane

Riding In Hagglunds: Antarctica.

I wake early to watch the sunrise over Wilkins Runway. Its 4:30am and around -10c, However it is all worth it. As I watch that sun peak over the horizon, reflecting off millions of ice crystals, I take a moment. A moment to really see where I am, How lucky I am to be here, to be here in Antarctica.

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Antarctic Sunrise: Wilkins Runway.

Wilkins Runway is built on approx. 500m of solid Glacial Ice which moves up to 15 meters a year and is the gate way to Australia’s Antarctic Programs Casey Station.

Today we return to Casey after spending a week conducting maintenance at the remote airfield.  The return trip is only 90km but can take up to 4hrs. It is a long, rough ride in one of the coolest vehicles in the World, a Hagglund. 1hr into the trip we reach the edge of the Antarctic Circle.

The very unique sign creates an incredible photo opportunity and the back drop, well that just takes your breath away. Here you get a real sense of how remote you really are, how vast the frozen continent is.

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One incredible Sign

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5 Days later at the Antarctic circle.

Back in the Haggs, we start the descent off the plateau, making our way back to Casey. We pass over some blue ice, taking care not to slip or slide on the super slippery blue is Joe expertly navigates the hazard.

You never know what you will see up here, this time we spot an old 44 gallon drum. The drum is an old Way Point that has surfaced, who knows where it has come from.

Descending further down the plateau you feel the temperture rise, as it gets warmer we notice snow and ice melts. Even in this All Terrain Vehicle these need to be negotiated carefully.

We cross a few of these melt streams and begin to hear radio chatter, we are close to home now. We make our wat through Penguin Pass and get our first view of the aptly named “Red Shed” where all the Caseyites live. We “Call In” to Casey Comms and are welcomed back by Tina the Comms Operator.

Thank you for watching. You if you have enjoyed this post please Like, Share and follow, you can find Tattered Passport on Facebook, InstagramYouTube or simply by clicking on the follow button at the bottom of your screen. 

One Life, One Search,

Peace Out,

Shane.

Antarctica: Casey Station, Re-Supply 2014

The yearly Casey Re-Supply is the most chaotic and busy time at the Australian Antarctic Program’s Casey Station. We have a week to completely re-stock the station with Fuel, food, parts needed for repairs and to send any scientific research projects back to Australia as well as receiving anything to do with this years projects. It is the only time in the summer season that the crew work 24hrs a day. Everyone is working super hard and doing tasks outside of their usual role on station. I am an electrician and I was driving the big old Mack Truck.

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Survival Training: Antarctica.

The time has come, I am both excited and a little nervous about the next two days. Every expeditioner needs to complete and show their competence in all aspects of survival training. This includes everything from organising your expedition paper work through to plotting your course using maps and compasses.

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Survival Training: Casey Station

As our training day approaches we are informed by the Meteorology team that the weather is turning bad and a blizzard is possible. We carry on planning our training day and decide as a group to go a head. I must admit I am a little nervous about spending 24hrs out in this weather, but at the same time I am well aware how much of a unique experience this will be. Everyone down there needs to complete survival training, but so far everyone has had perfect weather.

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Survival Training, Antarctica.

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Survival Training, Antarctica: Feeling The Chill

We have completed all our paper work, collected all our gear and we are ready to head out. We make our very first call in to Casey Communications, explain our intentions and off we head towards Shirley Island. We need to follow the approved walking route which winds its way through a rocky valley. We have a few marked GPS Way points on our maps, which we use to navigate ourselves through this area. I soon realised that this was going to be a challenge. We constantly refer to our maps and compasses, but it so windy. Every time I remove my map from my jacket it almost blows away.

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Radioing In

We reach the sea ice and call Casey Communications. To walk on ice we need know how thick it is and the only way to do that is to drill the ice. So we grab our Sea Ice Drill and set it all up. We learn a bit about sea ice, how to tell if it is good ice, how thick it is and how saturated it is. As we finish drilling we are visited by group inquisitive Adelie Penguins. It was incredible, they came right up to us and spent a good 10 minutes just chilling and checking us out, until they get bored and return to their colony.

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Adelie Penguins, Shirley Island, Antarctica

As we reach Shirley Island we have another training drill. We set up a survival shelter called a Mega Bivvy. A bivvy is a bag that you can use in a survival situation. They are way to escape from the wind, they are super light and easy to set up even in strong winds. We all jump in the Mega Bivvy and call in to Casey Communications. We watch and listen to the weather getting worse and decide its time to head to our next location, The Wharf. Here we will learn how to use the camp stoves and how to set up our personal bivvy bags and where we’ll be spending the night.

Thank you for stopping by Tattered Passport, if you have liked this post please Like, Share and Follow. You can follow Tattered Passport on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and simply by clicking on the follow button at the bottom of your screen.

One Life, One Search,

Peace Out,

Shane.

Stand By Me, The Meltdowns: Antarctica.

The Casey Winter Crew of 2013-2014 are about to head back home to Australia, so to send them off with a bang, the new incoming crew assemble a band and quickly put together a show for them. I would like to present to you “The Meltdowns”.

After a superb formal dinner prepared for us by the Casey Chief’s Eddie and Gareth, we were treated to a live performance of a bunch of great songs. Here is Stand By Me sung by Greg.

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NASA Base in Antarctica

Today we are invited out to see a very cool place, somewhere I would never have though that I would see, let alone see in Antarctica. We are invited to visit the NASA base situated on the sea ice out from McMurdo Station.

We arrive at the NASA base and I look around, I can see a few very tall sheds and few make shift “Nissans” these Dome style huts, and the huge Mount Erebus. We are guided inside and given a brief induction to the site. Then we head off in groups for a tour of the facility.

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Antarctica, NASA Base.

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NASA. Antarctica

I wont pretend to completely understand what these scientist were doing, I will let the video speak for it self. I will just say that in my non scientific understanding these scientist were looking for Neutrinos, which are the most tiny quantity, or particle ever imagined by a human being. They are also looking to figure out what happened in the first seconds after the big bang.

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https://youtu.be/iEX-dhReN24

I hope you enjoy the short film from my visit to NASA. Do you know about Neutrinos or are you a scientist that is looking into the very beginning of our world? I would love to hear your thoughts on the matter. Maybe you could explain it all to me?

Thank you for stopping by Tattered Passport, If you have liked this post Like, Share and Follow. You an follow Tattered Passport on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube or simply by clicking the Follow button at the bottom of your screen.

One Life, One Search,

Peace Out,

Shane.

Aussie Day Antarctica Style: Epic Triple J Hottest 100 Party!

Happy Australia Day from all the crew down at Casey Station. This was my first ever Australia Day in Antarctica and one of the most unique Aussie days I have ever had. The day started off with a swim in the Southern Ocean a chilly -2c, the air temp was 0c so it was so cold, in fact it was so cold it hurt. I managed to get my head under water and very quickly jumped out, the chill completely took my breath away. It was so much fun and to be a part of a Casey Australia Day tradition was pretty special.

After our very brief swim we made our way back up to the “Red Shed” our living quarters ready for our Aussie Day party to start. We had Triple J’s Hottest 100 count down cranking, an epic game of cricket, home cooked meat pies, darts and some games of pool going on and even an Antarctic Ute Muster. We were blessed with an absolutely beautiful day, in stark contrast to the previous day that was foggy, you could not even see the ocean, even today the day after, the weather has come in and it is snowing. We partied into the night dancing and singing along to the Casey band “The Meltdowns” pumping out epic pub rock anthems until the we hours of the morning.

Thank you for stopping by Tattered Passport, if you have liked this post please, Like, share and Follow, simply click the follow button at the bottom of your screen. You can also find Tattered Passport on Facebook, Instagram and of cause YouTube.

Have you celebrated Australia Day some where unique? What did you get up to this Australia Day? I would love to hear about it.

One Life, One Search,
Peace Out,
Shane.

Hiking in Antarctica: Observation Hill, McMurdo Station.

I have been at McMurdo Station the US base in Antarctica for a few days now. The weather at the Australian base Casey where I will be spending the summer has been horrible so flights have not been able to land. Its been a little strange here, kind of ground hog day. Every morning we wake up at 0600 and meet in the foyer of the gym, where we have been sleeping on old army fold up beds and await to hear if we are flying or are we spending another day here. Today, again we are not flying so we decide to go exploring. We have seen this mountain behind our gym, named Observation Hill, so we chuck our survival gear on, gather our camera gear and off we go.

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Looking over the Ross Ice Shelf at the epic mountains

Its around -10c, hardly a cloud in the sky and just a slight breeze making it cold, the kind of cold where you think twice about taking your hands out of your warm gloves. We walk around the corner and see the mountain, it doesn’t look like to much trouble but I cant see a path up, is there a path or do we just scramble our way up? We pick a route that looks the easiest. The instant we pass the height of the buildings we get the Antarctic slap in the face, that is the wind chill, this is going to be cold. We reach a clearing and over near the edge I spot some old construction. On closer inspection i can see that this is the old location of the Nuclear Power Plant that the US had built back in the 60’s and 70’s. The only nuclear power plant that has operated in Antarctica. I found myself a little disappointed that there had even been a nuclear power plant in Antarctica but not surprised that it was run by the US.

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Stopping for a photo of a mate taking a photo

We continued the trek up the hill, i was completely amazed by the view of the mountain range and the huge expanse of the sea ice. I stopped many times for photo’s and to attempt to take it all in. I catch myself thinking “I am actually here in Antarctica”, it just doesn’t seem real, it was like i am on holiday, not here for work. I suppose at the moment it is like i am on holiday, we haven’t started our work life yet. The trek up started to get pretty steep and rather slippery. There still was no actual track other then some foot prints from those that have rushed up to the top. We were nearly there and the view every meter up became even more epic.

Then I got a glimpse of the cross on the summit of the hill. I new i was close and i quickly got myself up to the top to meet all the other Aussies, amazed out our view. We had an uninterrupted view of the magnificent Mt Erebus, the southern most active volcano. It was so beautiful, there was smoke slowly flowing out of the mouth of this huge 3794m ancient monster which in 1979 sadly claimed a New Zealand Airlines aircraft. Once again I found myself collecting my thoughts, I was sitting atop a hill, looking over a active volcano in Antarctica. Is this really happening? I could of stayed up there for hours but my camera gear couldn’t, nether could my hands. I was still struggling to operate my camera’s with my gloves on so each time i took a photo i was taking off my gloves and my hands where freezing. My camera was almost flat, the batteries were really suffering in this temperature. I had experienced this before, in Siberia, China and even when I was snowboarding in Japan. I had learnt to carry your camera gear under all your jackets and close to your skin. You can get a little bit more out of your batteries if you chucked them in your armpits for a few minutes before attempting to take a photo. I looked down the hill and new the trek down was going to be a challenge. It was going to slippery and the loose rocks we passed on the way up were going to cause dramas with every footstep, but what a view, the trek was well worth it.

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The one and only Mt Erebus

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We make it to the top

 

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Taking in the view

Thank you for stopping by Tattered Passport. If you have liked this post please Like, Share and Follow. You can follow by simple clicking on the “Follow” button at the bottom of your screen. You can also find Tattered Passport on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.

One Life, One Search,

Peace Out,

Shane

The day I start my biggest adventure ever.

Today is the day, the day I start on my biggest adventure ever. Today I leave for Antarctica. After a few delays we all meet at the bus stop in front of the motel that I have called home for the last week. Its a cold wet Hobart morning, the sun still yet to rise, the fog still yet to clear and the feeling of excitement is thick in the air. The bus arrives we chuck all our gear in the luggage compartment and the adventure begins.

We arrive at the Hobart Airport, its a small airport that pretty much only caters for domestic flights, except for the little terminal that is hidden away in the corner, the “Saffire Lounge”. The Saffire Lounge is the rarely used Hobart International Airport which each year says fare well to all the Antarctic Expeditioners. I enter the small terminal and feel a wash of pride flow through me. I am one of a very small selected group of people who are lucky enough to see this very unique terminal and all that it represents.

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Antarctic Pancake Ice

The flight was not your average international flight, the A319 is a very unique aircraft. The middle seats have been removed to carry luggage, however in this instance the large space allowed the expeditioners the perfect place to mingle. We all hung out in this space, drinking coffee, eating muffins, chatting and of cause taking plenty of photo’s. We were also allowed to walk straight into the cockpit and chat to the pilots. This was a very unique experience. From the cockpit you got the best uninterrupted view of the large expanse of pancake sea ice and huge ice bergs.

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AAD A319

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The AAD A319 at the Pegasus

Once we closed in on Pegasus airstrip, the huge glacial runway at McMurdo the US station inside the Antarctic circle, I started to realise how lucky I was to have been selected for the Australian Antarctic Program. Then I stepped onto the ice and it hit me, A huge smile crept onto my face which 2 months in still has not left. It was bitterly cold, -17c but I did not care. I was here, I was in Antarctica. I quickly snapped a bunch of rushed pics as were getting guided over to “Ivan The Terra Bus”, the single most epic vehicle I have ever seen.

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The most epic vehicle anywhere

After a very bumpy ride we arrived at McMurdo. McMurdo is huge, and I mean huge, I had been told that it was big, but I guess I had no real idea what to expect, but this was not it. My first Antarctic experience was of this massive city, with 1100 people living and working there. I could see massive accommodation buildings, heaps and heaps of vehicles, there was a fire station equipped with a full size american fire truck and I had heard rumours of 3 bars. Was this really the Antarctica that I had expected???

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Chief Gareth and Sparkie Nessy at the famous McMurdo Station sign

Thank you for stopping by Tattered Passport, if you have liked this post please Like and feel free to share. You can also follow by simply clicking on the “FOLLOW” button on the bottom of your screen. I will be posting regular updates from my time in antarctica so stay in touch. You can also find Tattered Passport on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.

One Life, One Search.
Peace Out.
Shane.

(PS: I have been filming heaps, including our trip from Hobart to McMurdo, However due to the limited bandwidth we have I can not upload to YouTube. I will upload all my YouTube content as soon as I return to Australian around late feb early March 2015)