Polar Expedition Training: Svalbard April 2017

A Chara, céad míle fáilte roimh duit!

Final kit check completed….bags re-packed six times 🙂 ……checked-in and printed boarding passes off…. I guess it is time to get myself to Svalbard again for some more polar training!

Having completed my basic and advance polar expedition training last month in Svalbard, it is time to use my accumulating polar knowledge and skills in a mini-expedition scenario.

My team mates for this phase of our polar training are Mark, Ben T and Paul with two guides Michael and Arran plotting our downfall 🙂 . We will also have two beginners, Aled and Ben F, undertaking their basic polar training with their guide Rhiannon.

We spent the first two days at our now familiar base at Guesthouse 102 making preparations for the mini-expedition.

Some of this preparation involved:

  • Re-familiarization with our personal / team equipment and kit.
  • Checks on all equipment and kit with particular attention to our tent, emergency shelter and stoves. These items of kit are all critical to our survival.
  • Packing the appropriate food ratios and stove fuel for the duration with emergency supplies.
  • Allocation of team kit in a logical and fair manner.
  • Brushing up on our skiing skills and practicing travelling with loaded pulks.

One of the particular aspects of the training that I like is that you will not just head out from base into the wilderness without everyone being fully prepared, kit and equipment checked, various roles being practised and allocated, and a plan being in place for the various scenarios that you may encounter. It is not unheard of people joining tours and courses in the arctic region and they just set off without any preparation and expect the guides to look after them. Personally I would rather be self-sufficient, capable of looking after myself and being able to be a proactive and productive team member. Preparations completed it was time to get out of Longyearbyen and head towards our objective Bolterdalen and Scott Turnerbreen.

Group Travel 5We traveled across various types of snow and ice on varied terrain on our mini expedition. This was my first time encountering and skiing over mixed snow / ice conditions, so the going was very slow on my part! In short, I struggled heavily on some parts and in those tough moments I questioned my skiing ability.

My poor technique was causing my body to expend quite a bit more energy to get the same traction / output as some of my team mates. My nutritional intake wasn’t meeting the energy requirements of this additional exertion, so I’ll need to review the type of snacks I take on future expeditions. Our guides (cheers Michael and Arran!) offered their advise on correct form and technique but my mind and body did not seem to want to co-operate and comply!  Over the course of next couple of days my technique gradually improved; but there is certainly room for improvement and plenty of practice will be sought over the coming months on varied terrain and underfoot conditions.

Group Travel 2

The team worked together really well together and setting up our camps / polar toilets 🙂 and de-camping went smoothly. Our tent routines generally went well but there is always room for improvement so I’ll be practicing in confined spaces over the coming weeks and months. We had plenty of banter and opportunities to have quick breaks during the day to drink in the views of our surroundings. I wasn’t sure if we would convince Arran to return back to Longyearbyen as he seemed more than happy to stay in the wild enjoying the sun!

The arctic environment which encompassed us was simply stunning. The completely white surroundings coupled with the glaring sun and cold environment are not friends to most cameras and video recording devices. The flash on my smartphone decided it was too cold to work. I’ve been trailing a PR6 bodycam from Pinnacle Response on my trips to date and I’ve found it quite good for most situations and conditions. The majority of the pictures and videos I have on my Svalbard training posts to date are all from the PR6 bodycam. I do not have the words so I hope these short clips will help convey our surroundings…

Polar bear watch in near 24 hour daylight is a surreal experience. Once a few metres from our tent and the snoring 🙂 you could hear a pin drop. I even had a curious visitor during my polar bear watch on the second night. When standing on bear watch you are greeted by sheer silence from your surroundings – an ideal time to find a good watch point and take time to gather your thoughts and reflect on the days events. However, when I heard what sounded like slight steps in the snow behind me I thought to myself bugger I hope that is not a polar bear! (Well, I actually thought more colourful language!)

I turned around, flare gun in hand, and I could see nothing. After a quick scan of my surroundings it turned out to be a less intimidating visitor of the feathered kind…. a Ptarmigan! It casually had a look at our tent and then proceeded to plod past me without a care in the world.

On return to our base in Longyearbyen we packed away the pulks and all went for some well earned food and liquid refreshments 🙂  Another trip is Svalbard has come to an end and I’m already thinking of my next visit! The time spent in Svalbard and on this mini-expedition was hugely beneficial from my personal perspective.

Finally, I would like to thanks Jim, Michael, Arran, Rhiannon, Paul, Mark, Ben T, Aled and Ben F for a great time!

Until next time… Slán go fóill!

paul 5


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