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.


On Top Of The World

“Keep focused on that tiny ray of light because that is the beginning of magic”- My wonderful mother

We made it! A journey which included 4 take-offs in only 16 hours (London, Stockholm, Oslo and Tromsø). We managed to cause drama before even reaching Svalbard, by getting slightly confused in Oslo airport and turning up at the wrong baggage collection point when we only had 1 hour to find our bags, check them in again and get on the next plane. Turned out the flight was already slightly delayed, but the whole plane was informed of a delay also caused by some late luggage (which I then spotted arriving on a truck straight after the announcement and recognised my bags on the top, oops). 

Ready for take off from Tromsø!

From Oslo, we flew to Longyearbyen with a stop at Tromsø on the way, where we had to get off the plane for a passport check and reboard in half an hour. It was then onto Svalbard. During this section of the flight, we plunged into 24 hour darkness and arrived at Svalbard at about 2:30pm in complete darkness. See my full time lapse video of us flying into the darkness 24 hour darkness of the arctic circle at about 1pm (local time) on 8th January here.

We were now in Longyearbyen and were taken to our accommodation. On the way over I had found out I had been temporarily moved our of my original block to a different block in the same accommodation. This is only for a week due to water damage in the flat. The barrack I was moved to is lovely and spacious, it’s unfortunate I can’t fully unpack and settle down until I’ve been moved back.

Welcome to Svalbard!

We had the weekend to get settled and work out where everything was and began to meet other people we were living with. On Saturday night, the group of us along with one of my new flatmates went across the road the “Coal Miners Bar & Grill”. It was absolutely incredible food and a lovely relaxed atmosphere (plus the local beer is only £1.80 for half a litre). The food prices at the supermarket are very high, something we’re all still struggling to deal with. But meals out seem to be similar to prices at home. 

On Monday, we began our safety training course. Monday consisted of a day of lectures which were from 9am – 6:45pm with short breaks dotted about the day. We learnt a lot of theory which will be applied later on in the week as we do rotations on the practical side of the safety training. We were told that we will have to face a few mental battles this week, so much truth. I have been struggling with the constant darkness here, my first mental battle (which I still don’t feel I’ve come out the other side of yet). I can’t pinpoint exactly what the problem is, I just want to see the Sun during the day! It’s just normal. Every day, at about midday (lasting for about an hour), there is a faint ray of light emerging over the mountains. This light is getting ever so slightly brighter each day as we edge towards the first sight of the Sun on the 16th Feb.

On Tuesday, my first course was the rifle training. I managed to cause a scene by going into (and coming out of) my second mental battle. I won’t go into full detail, so the short story is that I worked myself up about the rifle training (having never held a gun before and being nervous for the test) into such a that state I nearly passed out. (I also had very cold toes after seeing a number of graphic photos of frost bite the day before, not helping the situation.) 10 minutes later I stood up and passed the rifle target test allowing me to carry a UNIS gun. The rifles are, of course, a last resort. We have also been taught all about how to scare the polar bear with flares. After lunch, we had emergency camp training. We learnt how to light the gasoline stoves provided in the emergency boxes and set up the tents and trip wires outside in the snow. During the session outside, we managed to spot a beautiful and very clear aurora over our heads.

Wednesday was the first aid training followed by a lecture on UNIS general information and tours. The first aid training is something I was a bit on edge about, being slightly squeamish in some situations. Overall it wasn’t that bad, and we practiced some of the emergency situations outside in the dark and cold for two hours. I was lucky enough to be a demonstrator for the hypothermia wrap, and so I was cocooned in a sleeping mat, blizzard blanket, sleeping bag and windproof bag. (Photos below from Miriam Hogg). 

Still to come this week, I will be learning about avalanche and glacier safety, GPS equipment and I’ll be jumping into a pool of water in the ice. Saturday will be an early start to travel up to the glacier to practice all of our new skills followed by an exam to complete the AS-101 safety training course (also followed by drinks). 

Unfortunately, I also have two exams next week and so have been attempting to try and fit in revision every evening after a long, tough day out on the course. This time next week, it’ll all be over and I’ll be beginning my new modules here in Svalbard, and heading closer to the Sun reappearing over the mountains.