This course is given to anyone on base who has equipment at the top of a mast or tower. For me, this is mainly antennas and satellite dishes, but it also includes meteorological gear, science experiments etc, so a fairly diverse group of people attended the course. It was run at a huge training centre down in Taunton, mainly used by the power industry to train technicians who work on high-voltage pylons.
Day one started slowly, with lectures about the equipment we’d be using and all of the health and safety stuff we’d need to know (e.g. don’t fall off and don’t touch the high-voltage power cable – all useful advice!). However, we later got kitted out with harnesses, helmets, steel-toecapped boots and a vast array of equipment used for hanging off towers safely.
From that point onwards, it was great – we spent days swarming over every type of mast and tower imaginable, even including a quick lesson on how to climb wooden telegraph poles, of which there definitely aren’t any in Antarctica! Once we’d got the hang of the basics, we practised various rescue techniques to get injured personnel down from a tower, and used various pulley systems to haul equipment back up again.
The treat saved for the final day in Taunton was a climb up the tour de force – a 63m tower with a single vertical ladder running up the middle of it. This was surprisingly hard work, and left your tired forearms aching for days afterwards.
We then all nipped back up to Cambridge for the final bit of training – learning how to erect a 15m mast ourselves. Again, this was great fun as it was like assembling a giant Meccano set and then using it to practise various rescue scenarios. Hanging off the top of this one was more exciting as it was very narrow, surprisingly wobbly in the breeze, and had been put together by us, a bunch of complete novices. Fortunately, we all survived.