Communications

If you took your mobile phone with you to Antarctica you wouldn’t be able to get a signal because there are no networks in Antarctica – no Television signals and, apart from BBC World Service and the Christian Network which is just about audible on Long Wave, no radio signal either. Instead I communicate using satellite phones. Satellite phones work in exactly the same way as mobile phones except that the network is not operated from masts on Earth but from satellites in space. I use a satellite phone to make a call once a day to the logistical operators ALE (Antarctic Logistics and Expeditions) to tell them my position. If they don’t hear from me in a 24-hour period they will send a plane to the last position I reported and look for me. When (and if) they find me, I will be going home regardless of whether the lack of communication was due to a genuine emergency, a communications failure or an error on my part – it doesn’t matter, the expedition is over.

With so much time, energy and funds invested in the expedition, it is vital that my communications equipment works reliably in order to avoid an unnecessary end to my expedition as much as for my safety. For this reason I carry

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two satellite phones (one as a back up), two SIM cards with prepaid airtime, two batteries for each phone and a spare of every other vital lead or part. All the spares represent a lot of extra weight but I wouldn’t want to take any chances.

Antarctica is one of the few places on the planet where there isn’t permanent satellite coverage – close to the pole there are a couple of hours in

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each day when the sateliites are so low over the horizon that the signal is patchy at best – and there is only one satellite network that provides any coverage at all, Iridium.
I have two Iridium Extreme 9575 satellite phone handsets. They are a new product that was only released a few weeks before I left for Antarctica. They are smaller, lighter, ‘ruggedized’ and can provide GPS location information. But the main reason for the excitement over the new Extremes is because they can connect to a small device which then acts as a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot.

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So now, if you have a smart phone, you can access the internet exactly as you would at home using a satellite hotspot – even in Antarctica.

I get very excited by new technology, particularly by new ways of communicating, but just because we CAN, doesn’t mean we HAVE to. I’ve carried satellite telephones on all my previous expeditions which means that, technically, I could have called anyone in the world any time I wanted. I could have rung home every single day if I’d wanted to – but the truth was I didn’t want to. It is really hard to be transported from your tent in Antarctica back to the warmth and comfort of home – but only for a few short minutes while the call lasts. One second you are surrounded by your family, laughing and joking and the next, the instant the call is disconnected, you are alone again and somehow feel further from home than ever.

I speak to ALE once a day to report my position and every third day I ring my home support team to pass messages and speak to journalists or schools. Apart from that I can send (but not receive) tweets and record a podcast daily. This will be my contact with the world for three short months – and I have to say, it’s a unique experience!

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Transantarctic Expedition – Week Two

Felicity lost a full day on Monday last week due to a storm.

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This was a frustrating setback for our intrepid explorer. However, the fact that she now has over 4,000 followers on Twitter helped to raise her spirits. Felicity was able to set off again on Tuesday, and had a fantastic day of travel. She came within 200 nautical miles of the South Pole, and kept on going. Spending a whole day skiing through a white haze on Thursday was disorientating and surreal. She crossed into the 87th degree, which the Americans call the ‘Sastrugi National Park’. As Felicity points out, this is very apt as the sastrugi are huge and everywhere. A sastrugi is a long wavelike ridge of snow, sculpted by strong Antarctic winds. Check out Felicity’s Twitter page to see some amazing photos of this landscape.

Clothing

It is perhaps ironic that the key to keeping warm in Antarctica is keeping cool. If I wore one big warm jacket, as soon as I start skiing I’d quickly get too hot and start sweating. Sweat is dangerous at cold temperatures because as soon as I stop skiing, the moisture would make

me cool down even quicker than usual and I could be more susceptible to cold injuries or hypothermia (which is when the body gets dangerously cold).

By wearing lots of layers, I can better regulate my temperature so that I stay warm but don’t overheat. It is perhaps surprising that I usually only need three layers – a thin thermal, a mid-weight fleece and a windproof jacket – but if the wind drops and the sun shines, I can often get away with just two.

The choice of outdoor clothing often comes down to personal preference and I have become quite picky! I like using merino wool thermals that are long in the body (so they don’t untuck themselves from my leggings when I stretch), have a zip at the neck (so I can vent if I get hot) and thumb loops in the sleeves (so that my wrists stay warm).

The choice of jacket is pretty crucial too – it has to be windproof and breathable but it also needs to be long (so that it protects my bum from the wind!) and have a big hood that will protect my face. When travelling in the Arctic I learnt the benefit of sewing a strip of fur around the edge of my jacket hood like the Inuit. The fur trim creates a little micro-climate around my face, away from the harsh polar wind. For this trip I have the warmest-looking ruff that I have ever seen –I was given it a few years ago and have been saving it for a special occasion!

On my bottom half I wear powerstretch trousers because they are easy, comfortable and warm (I sleep and ski in these) underneath pile and pertex salopettes. The salopettes have to have a drop seat to make going to the loo possible without getting completely undressed (!) and have zips right the way down the legs so that I can unzip and vent on hot days – but I use pile and pertex because I like the protection of the pile on my upper thighs which otherwise get blasted by the cold headwinds coming from the Pole.

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Transantarctic Expedition – Week One

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who have been following her Tweets and Phlogs will know, Felicity Aston finally made it to her starting position, the Ross Ice Shelf, last Friday after weeks of weather-related delays. She spent her first day skiing under clear blue skies while admiring snow-capped mountains in the distance. Although the good weather continued into the next day, Tuesday saw things take a turn for the worse as Felicity began the upward trek on the Leverett Glacier with extremely strong winds affecting her sleep at night and travel speed during the day. A few good days let her gain more ground towards the end of her first full week (approx 20km per day) but bad weather towards the end of the weekend has left her behind schedule. The frustration of not gaining as much ground as she would have liked was evident, but this week Felicity hopes the weather will let her get a lot closer to her next major milestone – the South Pole!

Ross Ice Shelf

Hello from the Ross Ice Shelf! I finally got here. It took 2 planes today to manage to get me to the far side of Antarctica and the start of my expedition. A few hours ago they dropped me off on the ice-shelf after an amazing flight over the Trans-Antarctic Mountains – and here I am. I’ve set up my tent, I’m alone on the Ross Ice Shelf and looking at a big white horizon on the one side towards the North – and to the South, this wall of mountain, absolutely spectacular. I couldn’t ask for better weather. It’s really calm, it’s sunny, warm – so it’s been very kind to me for my first night on the ice. I can’t wait to get

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started in the morning – and start my journey to the South Pole and the opposite side of Antarctica. I’m currently at about 85 degrees South and tomorrow I’m going to be chipping away at that – so yeah. Here’s to a good nights sleep and a good start tomorrow.

Departure

After a 10-day delay in Punta Arenas, I’m finally on my way

to Antarctica. I will be flying on a Russian cargo plane operated by Antarctic Logistics and Expeditions (along with several other expeditions who have all been waiting to get to the ice) to their base camp on Union Glacier in the Ellsworth Mountains. Even though I will be in Antarctica in just 4 or 5 hours, I still won’t be able to start my expedition immediately. First I must wait for a flight in a small ski plane to the far coast of Antarctica to my start point on the Ross Ice Shelf.

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As with my journey into Antarctica, this flight is completely weather dependent. Only once the plane leaves after dropping me off at the coast will I be completely alone, and then, I can start my real journey!

The Waiting Game

I have had a very busy week in Punta Arenas in Chile. All my equipment arrived in good order but, apart from the Fuizion Freeze Dried meals that I brought with me from the UK I had to buy and prepare all my expedition rations right here in the room of my hostel. First were the breakfast bags (oats with sugar, powdered milk and a generous knob of butter), then the day bags (499g of goodies per day including sesame snaps, salted peanuts, chip sticks, peanut butter cups, coconut chocolate bars, white chocolate maltesers, marzipan, jelly sweets, toblerone, twix and milk chocolate) and supplements (16 different pills daily containing 6 different vitamins and minerals), and finally adding the evening meals, High5 carbohydrate and protein drinks, coffee, hot chocolate drink and daily loo paper ration!

Yesterday all my bags for Antarctica were weighed and loaded onto the aircraft. I had five large kit bags in total plus a set of skis and a bundle of sledges. It will be a relief when I see them again in Antarctica. The flight was due to depart today but the news is that there has been a lot of snow on the runway in Antarctica, followed by high winds and there is also one flight that has to go in ahead of us. For now I’m happy to have an enforced day off (no equipment here to be tempted to play with!) and enjoying my favourite things about Chile (churros, Pisco Sours and the liberal use of avocado on everything) but still, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it won’t be

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too many days before I’m on my way.

On my way…

Felicity AstonToday I set off on the first leg of my journey to Antarctica. I am flying from the UK to Punta Arenas, a city at the very southern tip of Chile, where I will wait for my flight to Union Glacier, a base camp in Antarctica. The flight should happen on the 8th November but, as with everything in Antarctica, it very much depends on the weather. Not that I shall be short of things to do while I wait.

In Punta Arenas I will be reunited with all my equipment which was sent ahead of me and there is a list of last minute adjustments that

need to be done to prepare it

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all for Antarctica. I also need to buy the majority of the food that will make up my daily rations and split it into 70 bags – one for each day. It takes time to make up the bags as each item of food is carefully measured; if I take too much the bags will be unnecessarily heavy, but take too little and I might leave myself hungry!

Right now I am finding it very difficult to sit still but I’m not sure if this is due to nervous anxiety or overwhelming excitement – perhaps equal measures of both.

Psychology

Felicity will spend around 70 days on her own in the featureless landscape of Antarctica. Coping with the mental stress of being alone for this length of time and dealing with the monotony of both her daily routine and the landscape she will be skiing across is key to the success of the expedition. It also presents an opportunity to learn something about the mental processes that enable self-discipline, perseverance, motivation and, ultimately, achievement when under pressure.

In preparation for the expedition, Felicity has been working with Dr

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Stephen Pack, a Senior Lecturer / Researcher at the University of Hertfordshire specializing in Sport and Exercise Psychology. He is an expert in the use of psychological skills

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exercise psychology. Dr Pack has been teaching Felicity some tools and techniques that will help her prepare for, and process, the mental rigours of the expedition and the months of isolation in a demanding environment.

Using language as an indicator of mental process, Dr Pack will be looking closely at the podcasts recorded by Felicity during her expedition to chart her mental journey through her use of language. Combined with pre and post expedition sessions, he hopes to use this information to contribute to his main research interest which lies in perceptions of stress and coping, and the link between physical activity and psychological well-being, particularly in the natural environment.

Ultimately it is hoped

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South Pole

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that there are several different South Poles (the magnetic south pole, the geomagnetic south pole, the southern pole of inaccessibility etc) but the one most commonly referred to as THE south pole, is the Geographic South Pole. This is the southernmost point on the globe, the point around which the Earth spins and the place first reached by Scott and Amundsen 100 years ago. Today, it is also the site of one of the largest research stations in Antarctica. The Amundsen-Scott station (known as ‘Pole’) is an American-run station where some 250 people live and work during the Antarctic summer season. The two-story station is raised on stilts above the snow and is a few hundred

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yards from the South Pole.

In front of the Amundsen-Scott station is a silver sphere on a red and white striped barbers pole a few feet high, surrounded by the flags of the 14 nations that signed the original Antarctic Treaty in 1957 – but to make matters regarding all the different south poles even more confusing, this is only a ‘ceremonial’ south pole. The actual location of 90S is a short distance away, marked by a stake and a signboard. The stake is topped by an ornamental pin-head which is created by the staff that have spent the winter at the nearby research station and which changes each year. This second pole is necessary because although the ceremonial silver sphere appears to be stationary, it is actually sitting on the Antarctic plateau, a thick cap of ice that is slowly moving out towards the sea. So, in fact, the silver sphere moves northward every year. The second marker is repositioned annually over the actual point of 90S.

This will be my third arrival at the South Pole but each time it has been under very different circumstances and had a totally different significance. It still feels very bizarre to be standing at the very bottom of our planet.

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