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 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 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. 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 will 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, I’m looking forward to it!

http://www.iridiumextreme.com/

http://www.satcomms.com/

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 areeasy, 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.

http://www.montane.co.uk/products/men/extreme/extreme-salopettes/129
http://www.mountain-equipment.co.uk/the_gear/clothing/waterproof/kongur_jacket_—562/
http://www.mountain-equipment.co.uk/the_gear/clothing/thermal/ws_powerstretch_tight—522/
http://www.montane.co.uk/products/men/baselayer/bionic-long-sleeve-zip-neck/278

Crossing the Antarctic: Physical Challenge

Felicity Aston will be skiing a distance of approximately 1700km when she takes part in the Kaspersky ONE Transantarctic Expedition this winter. Find out how she prepares for such a physically-challenging journey.

Check out the official expedition video!

In mid-November 2011, Felicity Aston will be beginning a 70-day expedition across the Antarctic. To find out more about how she is preparing for this journey and the challenges she will face, check out the official expedition video!

The Countdown Begins!!

If you have ever packed your bags for a holiday but been left with a vague feeling that you have forgotten something really vital then you might be able to appreciate how I feel right now. All the equipment and the majority of the supplies I will use during the expedition must be packed up and sent to Chile where they will be transported to Antarctica. everything must be packed so that it will survive the journey and nothing must be forgotten. The result is that my life revolves around lists – I have lists of lists – and I check them a hundred times every day, crossing off items as they are safely stowed or circling items that have yet to arrive from suppliers and manufacturers. With just a few weeks to go until my own departure for Chile, I’m pleased to report that the lists do seem to be getting smaller and as my bags get bigger so does my sense of calm. It all feels very real now and I can’t wait to be heading South !

© COPYRIGHT 2011 KASPERSKY LABS