I’m beginning to think that there is some sort of weird time warp down here in Antarctica. Time really seems to get away from you. Originally I thought I’d have all this free time to do stuff, but it’s definitely not the case. With only one day off a week, time blasts by. In addition to my full time job as a snowmobile instructor and mechanic, I am also on the Joint Antarctic Search & Rescue Team. (JASART) It’s called a joint team because the team is made up of personnel from the US Antarctic Program, and the New Zealand Antarctic Program.
Our team can be deployed to any situation on the continent, from plane and helicopter crashes to missing persons or vehicles. There have been two helicopter crashes recently (one Australian, and one Korean) but our team leader only got involved in one of them because the victims were flown out through our station.
We practice a lot of different scenarios because we never what situations we might be involved in. Our training started with knot craft and then moved into rigging rope systems for raises and lowers. We also covered pulley systems with different mechanical advantages such as 3:1, 5:1, 9:1, etc. I’m grossly understating how much info this really means, as we have to go into such depth as to understand how much load is put on every piece of equipment used in a rescue system as slopes and angles change. We need to ensure that our systems have a 10 to 1 safety factor. Meaning that it can support ten times the load in every component.
On one of our recent training days we went out to Castle Rock, which is a rock formation on the peninsula. It has some steep snow faces on this side and it was a great place to get familiar with putting our training to the test. We practiced safe techniques of using our crampons and ice axes, and then progressed to self arresting in the event of a slip or fall. This was particularly important as the slope we were on had a snow field at the bottom with crevasses! Following this, we moved up the slope and setup a multi pitch lower. This means we had two rope systems setup to lower a litter (place to put a victim) down to safety. The litter had to transfer systems so that it was able to continue it’s path down the slope. Each system had to be anchored securely in the ice and snow using pickets, dead men, and ice screws to support at least 10 times the anticipated load. Each system also had a main line and belay line to ensure there were always two ropes in play to minimize falling risk to the team members and the victim. I hope you enjoy some of the pictures. I have a lot more SAR info and pics to follow.
Practicing a self arrest with an ice axe while sliding down a slope. There was a crevasse at the bottom of the slope, so it was important to know how to stop a slide before going to the steeper terrain.
A sundog in the sky above Castle Rock, Antarctica.
Calculating the load and safety factors of every component in a pulley system. The loads change drastically as the angles of our anchors, directionals, and slopes change.
Traversing a slope on the back side of Castle Rock with crampons and ice axes.
Practice with our crampons and ice axes. The active volcano Mt. Erebus can be seen in the background.
Me in front of the cute little Hagglund.