Mast building

August 17th, 2005

The second part of the climbing course involved building a 15m mast in the yard in Cambridge. The mast itself comes in 2.5m sections which get bolted together. Starting with the first two in place, we climbed up and hoisted a new section into place, then bolted it on.
 To keep it upright, there are six stay wires that get anchored and tensioned. These attach every three sections, but it’s not safe to climb more than two unstayed sections, so we had a set of temporary stays to attach instead. We built the whole mast in just less than one day – Kirsty and I topped it off with the last section.
The following day was spent doing rescue practice. Mike, our instructor, had brought the lovely Buffy up from Taunton and we had lots of fun retrieving her. Then it was time to take it all down again!

Warm clothing

August 14th, 2005

When people find out that I work for BAS, they quite often say “isn’t it really cold there?”. The answer is of course, yes, but you can always wear more clothes! Now I’ve found out exactly how many more clothes: I went to the stores to check over the clothing I’ve been issued. Two big bagfulls of stuff were dragged out of the racks, and I went through them trying them all on. Certain things, like the eight pairs of thick woolly socks and the balaclava, were expected. Other things – such as the kind of giant fleecy babygro suit with no sleeves – were less so! Trying it all on took about an hour-and-a-half. Anyway, here are a few of the things in my bags:

  • Dryflo underwear – long-sleeved teeshirts and leggings – the fabric draws sweat away from you by capillary action, so you don’t get sticky.
  • Moleskin trousers – these are combat trousers with a kind of combed-cotton finish, and are warm and hardwearing
  • Ventile jacket and trousers – Ventile is a fabric made from cotton which is windproof, lightly waterproof and very breathable and hardwearing. Because it’s made from the topmost quality cotton fibres (only 4% of the crop is suitable) it’s very expensive. It was originally developed for survival clothing for the RAF in WWII, but has been the choice of British Antarctic expeditions ever since.
  • Thirteen pairs of gloves! Every kind you can imagine: big mittens for skidoo-driving; fine-fingered gloves for delicate work; heavy leather-palmed rigger gloves, rubber waterproof gloves, fleecy gloves and so on.
  • Three pairs of boots: plastic walking boots that take crampons; insulated safety boots and mukluks. Mukluks are Canadian felt-lined boots that come up to mid-calf. They have a separate lining: you get issued with a spare one and are supposed to swap them over each day to stop them rotting!
  • Eye protection: one pair of skiing goggles and one pair of (prescription) glacier-grade sunglasses. These have side pieces so that they don’t allow any light to leak around their edges and make you snowblind.
  • And finally, a black woolly hat with the BAS logo!

Mast and tower climbing

August 5th, 2005

Phew! I’ve got home and am recovering from a busy week in Taunton on a climbing course. We have lots of tall structures on the bases, mostly carrying comms and metereological gear, and so a whole bunch of us got sent down to Western Power in Taunton to learn to climb towers and work safely at height. The other six people on the course are all going to winter at Halley – they’re an interesting bunch and we became good mates over the week.
We spent most of the week climbing the electricity pylons on the training field – there are four different ones – and doing various tasks. So we rigged and de-rigged a mobile phone antenna and did tower rescues: abseiling down to rescue a casualty and lower them safely to the ground.
Now I’m not a natural climber, so I found it quite challenging. I found that my confidence improved with practice, and having a job to do whilst up high is much better than just climbing up for the sake of it.
This morning, to round off the course, we climbed the communications tower, which is 62m (200ft) high, and which has a vertical ladder up the centre. It’s a long, long way! My arms hurt on the way up, although I did reach the top and managed to relax and enjoy the view. Going down, however, was much more difficult. The tower’s fitted with a fall-arrest system which consists of a clamp that slides along a rail, and this will tend to jam unless you get yourself in exactly the right position, which involves leaning back off the ladder with your arms out straight. I didn’t have the strength, stamina or confidence to do this and had to come down much more slowly, moving the clamp a metre or so at a time. It’s one of the most physically demanding things I’ve done, and although I’m glad I did manage it, it’s not something I’d do again lightly!
There are some slightly grotty phone pictures of the course on my moblog site
Next week I’m in Cambridge, where we’ll do the second part of the course – putting up and taking down a 20m guyed mast.