Come Monday the weather had eased and we were given the go ahead to complete our survival training. This involved learning basic navigational skills, Sea Ice testing, Cooking and Sleeping in the snow for 24hrs. We set out with backpacks stocked with Ice axes, freezer dried food packs (looks like dog food but tastes pretty good!), sleeping and bivvy bags, compass, maps and the necessary pee bottle and poo bags.Nothing Foreign in Antarctica is to be introduced into the Environment, this means that everything you take in must come out, including all Human waste. Even spilling Coffee or Milk on the Ice must be scooped up and taken away.
Spending a night on the snow proved to more difficult than expected. For starters it never gets dark, you can get quite sunburnt at 3am. We also had to sleep in a waterproof bag called a Bivvy. Watching the rest of my team attempt to get changed and setup there sleeping bags whilst inside the Bivvy was hilarious!
We Ventured over to Shirley Island which lies around 2km from Casey Station. This Island can be accessed over the Sea Ice for most of the year but during the peak of Summer the Ice breaks out cutting access to the island by foot. Its imperative to test the thickness and quality of the ice every time you cross, a fall into the -1.8 degree water can easily lead to hyperthermia or death in just minutes. Testing is carried out with a hand held orga and the results are taken back to station and written up on a whiteboard for other expeditioners to see. On our first trip over the Ice was 165cm thick with 50cm of quality ice on top, I travelled there again yesterday and the ice was the same thickness, yet the entirety was poor and rotting. By next week the Ice may be closed for access.
The island is home to a rookery of Adelie Penguins. These inquisitive, cheeky little characters live here year round waddling up and down the rocky hills collecting fish and returning to there nests. These nests are situated on the summit of each hill on the Island and are constructed out of small pebbles. The Adelies are often caught stealing pebbles from each other’s nests and scuttling away frantically with the loot for there own beds. Its currently breeding season so many nests are occupied with an Adelie incubating an egg wedged nicely under there plump little Tummys.
Skewers fly over head and loiter around waiting for an unsuspecting Penguin to expose an egg. At the sign of an opportunity the Skewers race in and attempt to snatch the egg out from under the Parent. We watched as the Predators burrowed in under a Nesting Penguin forcing it off its nest and stealing a meal. Once the surviving eggs have hatched the chicks become even easier prey for the Skewers, The Adelie Adults must be on high alert to protect there young.
On Friday we drove a Hagglund up to Wilkins Aerodrome to knock out a few jobs. Wilkins is situated on an icy desert up on the plateau. It is a remote location camp that is home to 8 men who build and maintain the 3.2km runway, the ice here is 700m thick. We scored perfect weather and spent 2 days a top a double storey container surrounded by blue skies and a vast white blanket as far as the eye can see. We got home late Saturday afternoon in time for a Romanian themed dinner and to rock out to the station band, the ‘Meltdowns”. The party then flared into the early hours of the Morning!
This coming weekend will bring the beginning of resupply. The Aurora Australis (Australian Icebreaker) is currently chugging across the Southern Ocean towards us and will hopefully arrive at Casey on Sunday. With the base at record capacity right now and Resupply around the corner, things are shaping up to be a very hectic few weeks.