Advanced Polar Expedition Training: Ice Warrior Project

Having completed the basic polar expedition training it was time to tackle the advance polar training. We would take the knowledge and skills learned to date and further develop these. We would also undergo immersion and hypothermia training to allow us to gain an insight into potential scenarios that could be encountered on an expedition travelling over sea ice. We would also have our media gurus 🙂 , Three Wise Monkeys Productions based out of London, join us for a few days to get some footage for the Ice Warrior Project feature documentary on our #Lastpole expedition.

It was certainly going to be an interesting week ahead, however, my body decided to be awkward and it let loose what I thought was the dreaded man-flu 😦 I spent a day in bed with many layers being worn in the hope I could sweat the invaders out. I got up the next morning and felt pretty awful; as soon as I moved around I was ready to keel over. Luckily we had a theory session with Jim that morning and he spent time going into more detailed specifics on some of the topics we covered in the basic course and also went into more details relating to the #Lastpole expedition next February.

We then spent part of the day route planning a three-day / two night mini expedition commencing from the outskirts of Longyearbyen towards Eskerdalen into Sassendale and then heading towards Tempelfjorden. We would then backtrack our route to Longyearbyen. I think we were optimistic in thinking we would complete a 110km round trip in three full days but we would give it our best shot. The remainder of the day was spent preparing our pulks and making sure we had all the required equipment, kit, fuel, rations and so on.

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The next day I was feeling no better but decided to see how I would manage moving with the loaded pulk. We put up a few kilometers in a river bed but the exertion took its toll. It was too much too soon and I had to go back inside out of the cold to get food, hydration and rest. I felt no better the next morning so I had to make the decision to stay behind while Mark and Michael headed out. To say I was gutted would be understatement but I knew physically I wouldn’t have been right. In the hope of joining up with the guys the next day Jim drove me to the hospital to see if I could get medication to quicken my recovery. After a check-up and getting bloods taken I was told it was a virus and it was a waiting game until my system rebooted. The Three Wise Monkey Production team had joined us that morning and were getting settled into Svalbard life.

The Three Wise Monkey Production crew were filming around various places in Svalbard and getting some footage of us all. Have to say they were a great bunch of people and I’m pretty keen to see some of the footage once they have the final product.

I spent my time in our base over the next couple of days completing an inventory of our remaining gear and equipment and generally trying to be productive by getting everything organised and put away in storage. By the time Mark and Michael were on their return leg I was feeling semi-human again. I was given the go ahead to complete the immersion and hypothermia training 🙂 so I was chomping at the bit to get involved.

We drove to the outskirts of Longyearbyen and picked up the two guys and loaded their pulks into the back of the van. The both of them were in great spirits and I managed to stick a camera in their face… and wasn’t met with a slap or colourful language!

The immersion training was next up and you can check my earlier post here for my thoughts, some pictures and videos. I combined my immersion training with a Polar Plunge in aid of Special Olympics Ireland. I enjoyed the experience, however, it focused the mind on the processes / procedures / teamwork we need to have in place before the #Lastpole expedition next year – time is your enemy in this scenario.

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Pajo the barman

As it was also St. Patrick’s day we sampled a few local beverages and Jim and Peter produced a bottle of Jameson which was dispatched later that night. Pajo kept serving us and wouldn’t let us go to bed until it was all gone, a very bad influence on us….hopefully that sounded believable 🙂 The hypothermia training was next up on our schedule.

The idea was to bring you to just below the onset of mild hypothermia, so you would get an idea of how your body reacts to cold and recognise the symptoms in yourself and others. Mark and myself lay down in our baselayers on the snow / ice under the watchful eye of Jim and Peter…both in their toasty parkas!

Jim talked through the various aspects of hypothermia, an open air lecture if you will 🙂 . He kept asking us questions to check on our alertness. I thought I would last about 10 minutes before I’d be shivering uncontrollably, but I was completely fine apart from slightly cold hands. At around the 15 minute marked Jim got both of us to raise our hands – to quicken the process. Mark had started to shiver after a few minutes but at 26 minutes Jim told him to go inside and get warm. His hands had swollen up quite badly. At 29 minutes I was still not shivering but my hands had gone very white and were slightly swollen, so Jim told me to go inside. For next 30 minutes as my body warmed up my hands were in excruciating pain and I felt slightly faint. It is not an experience I would want to repeat! Given I have relatively low body fat I was very surprised that I did not shiver when I was lying outside in near -20c; possibly the last of the virus was still in my system and had a part to play. We got fed and watered and spent the remainder of the day sorting out the remainder of our kit and equipment.

Before I left our accommodation I did manage to capture the reading material in the toilets which was strategically placed at your head height when seated on the throne…

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We all went out for a final dinner and drinks later that night as we would all be getting various flights to our homes the next day. It was a great way to finish the two weeks – cheers Mark, Michael, Mac, Peter, Jim, Sasha, Trish and Thierry for a great second week!

Both the basic and advanced polar courses were both informative and practical in their content and delivery. I feel more confident in my abilities in a cold environment now, and I also recognise that I have weaknesses and need to work on those over the coming months…practice, practice and some more practice!

Roll on mid-April till I continue my #Lastpole expedition training in Svalbard with a mini expedition onto the sea ice…..to be continued 🙂

Slán go fóill!

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