The first real test to see if I would be a suitable fit with Ice Warrior’s #Lastpole expedition was to attend their Expedition Core Skills course in Dartmoor. So having booked and paid up my course fee Jim emailed out the joining instructions and kit recommendation. Jim also circulated an introduction email to the group so that we would have each other details. I thought it a very good idea to allow people to introduce themselves and also the opportunity to share lifts.
It was not long before the 27 October came around and I was all packed and ready for my 2 weeks of expedition skills training. I caught my flight, picked up my rental car and headed off for Dartmoor and Bellever YHA. I had an old sat nav to guide me that wasn’t updated in nearly 10 years; what could go wrong I thought sure roads don’t move! Let’s just say it was a long drive and I was glad to arrive into Bellever YHA much later that night. I had the usual hesitant steps in the darkness when I got into the dorm room to make sure I didn’t get into an already occupied bunk – wouldn’t be the most proper way to introduce myself to a new team-mate 🙂
In the morning everyone had a good chat and ate their fill of breakfast. We had potential Ice Warriors at the training from all over – Austria, England, Ireland and New Zealand. After breakfast had finished we met Ric who would be our instructor for the next four days.
Remote Medical Care levels 02 and 04 (4 days)
I had no previous first aid training, so I was hugely apprehensive about this part of the course. The other team members had varying levels of first aid training and practical experience so I thought I would struggle to keep up. I need not have worried as Ric delivered the course at a rate that allowed the information to sink in. From my perspective, the mix between theory and practical exercises were perfect. The course was set out so that each team member would have the ability to cope in a time of a medical emergency; with a focus on three facets (knowledge / skills / preparation) to allow this to happen.
It was an intensive four days with numerous topics covered; including:
- Basic life support
- Medical problems
- Incident Management
We held scenarios outside which mimicked the situations we could find ourselves in when on the #Lastpole expedition. Each team member took turns at various medical roles i.e. being the lead first aid person, 1st assistant, 2nd assistant, scribe, environmental role etc. When we moved outside for the practical exercises I must admit that I did struggle when I was the lead first aid person. The theory was rattling around my head but when under pressure, and with no previous experience to draw from, it was un-nerving being in that situation. After a couple of scenario’s and with the help of the other team members I grew more confident and I was able to complete the tasks with more ease.
Expedition Planning, Funding & Fitness (2 days)
We spent two days running through some of the nitty-gritty details of what exactly it takes to set up and plan expeditions. Some of topics included:
- Safety planning
- Risk assessment and risk management
- Kits & gear
- Physical preparation
We were also given an exercise were we had to prepare and present a pitch for potential corporate sponsors. It was a good way to focus the mind on what we would need to do over the coming months.
Navigation & Camp-craft 1 (2 days)
Jim and Michael took turns at putting us through our paces on the navigation element of the course. Michael spends a large part of his year guiding in Svalbard, so we were very lucky to be able to gleam information from him on what to expect in the Arctic.
We spent a large part of this section of the course outside with everyone getting chances to navigate on the various legs. I enjoyed the night navigation exercise the most. Things did not go to plan and we missed the pub closing time 😦 but I certainly slept well that night! I also strangely discovered that I quite enjoy wading / barging through shoulder height gorse. The gorse was relentless on certain legs of our route but we won in the end…just about! I was picking jags out of my fingers for weeks after.
I found the camp-craft element of the course quite interesting. It certainly focuses the mind when you realise that a small / silly mistake could end the teams expedition or worse still cause serious danger to you and your team-mates survival when miles from civilisation on the ice.
We discussed various topics, including:
- Various tent types and configurations
- Best practice of siting tents
- Storm proofing
- Expedition nutrition
- Stoves & cooking
- Ablutions…always make sure your hood is secured and doesn’t get in the way of the business at hand 🙂
- Good polar practice
The Ice Warrior team nutritionist / dietitian Alex also gave us a talk on all things expedition nutrition. Alex is an ultra marathon running and a registered clinical and sports dietitian. She gave out some very useful nutrition advice on what we should be aiming towards when training and what to expect when we are on the ice. Depending on the person and their body composition we should expect to burn around 6,000 calories per day!
We also met some of the Ice Warriors who previously completed the Core Skills Course. They were back for a refresher course and it was good to speak with them and listen to their experiences and stories.
Technical Rope Skills and Camp Craft 2 (2 days)
My rope skills are best described as iffy so I think I have a bit of improvement and work to do over the next few month! We cover a few topics, including:
- Rope knowledge and use
- Basic knot tying
- Hauling and pulleys
We also covered some further topics on camp craft and on firearms.
Our firearm instructor John took us through the basics with an emphasis on safe practices. We practiced various scenarios but unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately!) the shotguns were not loaded.
We will get plenty of live firing training in Svalbard hopefully 🙂 John was also kind enough to take us through some of the pictures he has from his many expeditions in the Arctic. He has some quite impressive stories and he imparted some very useful practical advice for when we will be there.
The course ended with Jim having a chat with each person in private to discuss how it went. It was a chance to gain Jim’s thoughts on my performance and to identify any potential weak areas that needed work. We all said our good byes and off I went to get my flight.
I met some great people who have the same curiosity for exploration and who relish challenging themselves both mentally and physically. The whole team, instructors and potential Ice Warriors, shared many beers over the two weeks together and I look forward to meeting everyone again in Svalbard and throughout the year at our various Ice Warrior PR events and training.
I have no hesitation in recommending this course for anyone interested in remote expeditions. Feel free to ask me any questions you may have. If you are interested in attending a future course check out the Ice Warriors website.