Jim called us for a team meeting one morning: “Where’s Peter” he said. “This is a search and rescue exercise, you’ve 3 minutes to get yourselves organised”. And off we went. Hurrying to get torches, kit, clothing, medical kit we left the safety of the guesthouse. Andy took charge as Team Leader to get us organised and start the search. We were quickly split into 4’s and started searching around the guesthouse, sweeping the area and shouting for Peter.
It soon became apparent that we had our own ideas on the best way to find Peter. Jim called us all back in after 6 or so minutes as we were so spread out you’d easily lose one of us if you didn’t keep track. It was decided that a search line would form on one side of the valley. Running into position we formed a line, spreading out as far as our head torches would beam and moved forwards, like an un-oiled army.
We walked at different paces which made it difficult once more. “We need to keep at the same pace” I shouted. At this moment Paul to my right spotted a reflective Peter lying in the snow about 100 meters ahead. “How on earth can you see him?” I thought to myself. Paul sprinted off, me following in his footsteps, draped in my down gear and polar boots which made running in the snow pretty tough. I shouted for the rest of the team.
Peter was there lying on the ground. Paul leapt into action as Medic; Peter told us his name, he knew when he had eaten and what had happened. Peter has fallen over! Someone put the bothy over us as we went through the DRABCDE of medical training. We decided that poor Peter had hypothermia, and he was fading in the cold. After what seemed like 40 or so minutes Jim shouted, “the helicopter will arrive in 5 minutes”.
At that point we had to move Peter to safety and to the helicopter landing site maybe 300 meters away. Using the only kit that we had, we picked up Peter and moved him onto a pulk, strapped him in and off we went. Someone was at his feet, two were pulling the pulk, and 2 either side of Peter to keep in him position. That 300 or so meters felt like miles as we struggled over a ridge and through the snow to safety. “End of exercise” shouted Jim and we all went back into the guesthouse for a debrief.
Scenario training is probably the best way to learn in the Arctic – learn by doing and by making mistakes. I know that if the team had the same situation again, in real life, we would be more effective from start to finish.
Svalbard this time was different – it was 24 hour darkness, the team was a mix of new and older team members. Team dynamics were different – it was interesting having new members to share knowledge and new enthusiasm in the group. We camped out more, we put our years’ worth of training to the test with improved storm proofing of the tent, knots, navigation, skiing and getting organised prior to heading out into the icy wilderness. One night I slept in a snow trench …. The scenario was ‘the tent has blown away’. That night I can’t really say I slept, but I did survive!
One thing that I need to work on is my route planning – realistically on the expedition we will put the GPS coordinates (85°15‘N 176°09’E) into the GPS and head for it (navigating around the ice floes and ridges). In Svalbard we did a route card, looking at points along the Longyearbyen valley and planned 3 days of travel and camping. This slow and laborious process frustrated me – the GPS was new and our team let couldn’t get to grips with it. After ½ day we just about managed it, but it tested my patience … some might say, I didn’t have any patience, for at one point I had to step away from the planning table! Testing the mind is great, but it’s also good to push yourself to that point when you have to ‘take 5’ and step back in.
I felt strong on the ice and in training; my physical training has made me fitter, but as we have a year to go, it’s important to step back, reflect on what I have learnt, what I struggled with and to look at where I am going. The next year with Ice Warrior is going to be challenging but I am very much looking forward to it, and to more scenario training.