With the conference and the first-aid training complete, all of the new recruits were loaded onto minibuses and shipped up to the Peak District for the field course for a more practical introduction to the kit and the techniques used by BAS. For accommodation we stuck up our tents in a field rented from a local farmer, and the food was classic camp food cooked in large groups. Given that I’d spent the last couple of months living out of a tent, this wasn’t too much of a hardship, but it came as a bit of a shock to the system to some of the less outdoor-orientated recruits.
Day one included an introduction to the very rugged pyramid tents used in Antarctica, and the ‘BAS sleeping system’, which uses a roll-mat, a thermarest, a sheepskin and a couple of sleeping bags to try and keep you warm through the cold nights. We also learnt how to use the Primus stove and Tilley lamp, both of which are ancient designs and have been proven to be rugged enough to survive the tough conditions, but require a real knack to light.
Next day we were dropped off at Curbar Edge, where the Field Assistants trained us in ropework, including abseiling and crevasse rescue techniques (with further training to come when we start work in Antarctica). This was hard going for the non-climbers in the group, so whilst they went over and over the knots to try and get them sunk in, we took the opportunity to get in a bit of cheeky gritstone bouldering in the sunshine.
On the final day we did a bit of navigation, with the take-home lesson being that it is tricky (to say the least) trying to map-read in a completely featureless Antarctic environment. Passing hikers were puzzled to see us scattered over the Peak moorland, stumbling blindly around whilst wearing ‘whiteout goggles’ (ski goggles with the lenses covered in masking tape). With an hour or two free at the end of the day, we took the opportunity again to get the rockboots on and thrash our way up a brutal gritstone jamming crack – grand.