Ice, Ice Baby

“Today you are you! That is truer than true! There is no one alive who is you-er than you!” Dr. Seuss


And the safety training course continues!

Thursday was the day of avalanche rescue followed by sea ice. The avalanche rescue involved a lecture followed by learning the most effective way to search for a victim with and also without a beacon, and the most effective way to dig for a victim once located. The sea ice session is the most dreaded session by all participants of the safety course, we all know that it involves jumping into a pool of ice and climb out using ice picks. Again, we began with a lecture and we were then suited up in snowmobile suits and wellies and given ice picks to put round our necks and into top pockets. We were all taken over to the ice pool area where we first had to practice rescuing a victim from the water using a waterproof survival suit and dragging the person out, taking off their wellies and suit and putting them in the hypothermia wrap. Then, we all had a go at sliding into the pool ourselves, swimming to the other side and climbing out using the picks and kicking as much as we could to lift ourselves out of the water. The suit delayed the water reaching your body, slowly filling up as you swam. I surprisingly really enjoyed this challenge, I handled it quite well and felt like I was now getting used to the arctic once I had achieved this part of the course.

Thursday also marked the first day we witnessed a full on dump of snow in Longyearbyen. When we woke up there was heavy snow, which continued all day and most of the night.

Enjoying the snow on the way to UNIS.

Friday was the final day of the rotations and we were left with glaciers and GPS. Glacier was in the morning, a lecture followed by how to rescue a conscious person who has fallen down a crevasse. We then went outside and were on top of storage containers, where we practiced the set up and rescue of someone a few times (rotating each time to allow everyone to try different roles) who was at the base of the storage containers. After lunch, we had the GPS course, where we learnt how to read UMT coordinates on the map and how to use the provided GPS devices, along with radios and the satellite phone. A nice quiet task to end a crazy round of safety courses.

Saturday was the big finale to the safety course. Approximately 6 hours of practical exercises outdoors followed by a 1 hour exam which we need to pass to pass the full AS-101 safety course. We met at the top of Nybyen (the location of the barracks where I am staying, out the back of Longyearbyen) at 8am ready to walk up to the activity area. As there were 5 exercises to split amongst 8 groups, three of the groups were split up and spread out between the other 5 groups. 7 new members joined our group for the day. The 5 activities of the day were emergency camp, avalanche search, practical ways of using equipment in emergency situations (eg. using rucksacks as a stretcher), glacier rescue and first aid. In each station, we got to practice the skills we’d learnt in a situation which was designed to be more realistic that the situations we’d practiced in around UNIS. We were also located outside of the town and so the only light was the light from head lamps, adding an extra challenge to all situations. Following this, we got to watch a helicopter search rescue, including firing flares for the helicopter.

Glacier rescue where I was the victim just about to be pulled up to safety.
Improvising with emergency equipment to keep warm.
Fired flare as the helicopter approached. Bright light above the town on the left is the approaching helicopter.
Part of the exercise area. Taken at midday when the sunlight is creeping over the mountains.

We all headed back to UNIS and had a bit of time to relax before going in for the exam. Following the exam, we had student council elections and then a Saturday gathering in the canteen. We stayed for a few drinks until it finished at 10, but had to go home rather than go out for more drinks so that we could get some revision done on Sunday ready for Monday’s exam.

Sunday was the day to move into my permanent home. We had an email a couple of days earlier saying that barrack 11 was ready from Saturday afternoon, but with such a busy Saturday, we waited until Sunday to move. The new barrack is quite different to barrack 3, with smaller bedrooms and no sink or mirror in the rooms. There are two kitchens per floor though as opposed to the one kitchen in barrack 3. Once the exams are over, I’ll be able to fully unpack and settle into my new home.

Next time, see how the new home is working out, find out how the exams went and how the new modules are going.


Author: Lucy Hoskin

23 year old student from Aberystwyth University about to complete my Masters in Astrophysics in the arctic.

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