Antarctica Search and Rescue

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Me in front of the cute little Hagglund.

Advertisements

Cape Evans, Antarctica. Part 2

Howdy again everyone.  It’s been a busy couple weeks as I have been training lots of scientists the art of snowmobiling, selling paintings at the McMurdo craft show, and doing Search & Rescue training.  I have lots of new material to post, just not enough time, so please be patient, but there is lots more exciting things to come. : )

Here is part 2 of my Cape Evans post.  I hope you enjoy the pictures.  It was one of the most incredible days I have had in this amazing place.

Some beautiful ice crystals near Cape Evans, Antarctica.

Some beautiful ice crystals near Cape Evans, Antarctica.

Ice crystal formations near Cape Evans, Antarctica.

Ice crystal formations near Cape Evans, Antarctica.

The Barne Glacier.  This is the end of the glacier where it runs into the Ross Sea.

The Barne Glacier. This is the end of the glacier where it runs into the Ross Sea.

Icebergs frozen into the Ross Sea at Cape Evans, Antarctica.

Icebergs frozen into the Ross Sea at Cape Evans, Antarctica.

The remains of a dog in the stable area of R.F. Scott's Hut at Cape Evans, Antarctica.  The chain and collar are still on the dog.  It looks like it simply laid down to rest on it's bed and died.  : (  The early explorers used dog teams to reach the South Pole and they were often used as food when they became weak.

The remains of a dog in the stable area of R.F. Scott’s Hut at Cape Evans, Antarctica. The chain and collar are still on the dog. It looks like it simply laid down to rest on it’s bed and died. : ( The early explorers used dog teams to reach the South Pole and they were often used as food when they became weak.

A snowshoe made for a horse.  R.F. Scott tried to use horses to reach the South Pole, but they proved to be unsuccessful.  When they could no longer make it though the deep snow, the horses were killed and used for food.

A snowshoe made for a horse. R.F. Scott tried to use horses to reach the South Pole, but they proved to be unsuccessful. When they could no longer make it though the deep snow, the horses were killed and used for food.

A huge stack of seal blubber.  The seal blubber was used to provide both food (which likely sucked) and was burned in "blubber stoves" to heat the historic huts of the early Antarctic explorers.  The blubber still appears to be oozing fats and oil as there is nothing here to cause decomposition.  No insects, rodents, and freezing temps year round.  The smell of the blubber is very distinct and quite noticeable in Scott's hut at Cape Evans, and the Discovery Hut located at Hut Point.

A huge stack of seal blubber. The seal blubber was used to provide both food (which likely sucked) and was burned in “blubber stoves” to heat the historic huts of the early Antarctic explorers. The blubber still appears to be oozing fats and oil as there is nothing here to cause decomposition. No insects, rodents, and freezing temps year round. The smell of the blubber is very distinct and quite noticeable in Scott’s hut at Cape Evans, and the Discovery Hut located at Hut Point.

Tea and other supplies inside of Scott's Hut at Cape Evans, Antarctica.

Tea and other supplies inside of Scott’s Hut at Cape Evans, Antarctica.

The dining table inside Scott's Hut at Cape Evans.  Both Shackleton and Scott's expeditions used this table.  Imagine the holiday celebrations the men had, the discussions, the planning for their attempts to be the first to reach the South Pole.  The history just oozes out of this fantastic place and you can literally feel it.  Amazing!

The dining table inside Scott’s Hut at Cape Evans. Both Shackleton and Scott’s expeditions used this table. Imagine the holiday celebrations the men had, the discussions, the planning for their attempts to be the first to reach the South Pole. The history just oozes out of this fantastic place and you can literally feel it. Amazing!

Medical supplies inside the hut.  Everything is still in place, as if the men would be returning at any time.

Medical supplies inside the hut. Everything is still in place, as if the men would be returning at any time.

A table containing artifacts and science projects of the early Antarctic explorers.  The emperor penguin is not stuffed.  It is just as it was originally left.  History is frozen in time.

A table containing artifacts and science projects of the early Antarctic explorers. The emperor penguin is not stuffed. It is just as it was originally left. History is frozen in time.

Here I am looking like I have bug eyes.  LOL.  In the background you can see an iceberg frozen in the Ross Sea, and Mt Erebus erupting!  Such an awesome day!!

Here I am looking like I have bug eyes. LOL. In the background you can see an iceberg frozen in the Ross Sea, and Mt Erebus erupting! Such an awesome day!!