The Service personnel who will take part in the British Services Antarctic Expedition 2012 have recently completed their final mission rehearsal exercise (MRX) in the Ecrins National Park region of the French Alps.
The first ever joint Services expedition to the mainland of Antarctica will begin on 27 December 2011 and last for just over two months. The team consists of 14 members of the Army, six from the Royal Navy, four members of the RAF and one Royal Marine.
The team has been training for three years in order to be able to gain the necessary skills set that they will require just being able to survive and operate in the formidable Antarctic landscape.
They have had to fit this training in between their day jobs and operational deployments to Afghanistan during the same period.
However, through hard work and determination they reached the culmination of their training by deploying to the French Alps for a week of ski-mountaineering, pulking, crevasse rescue drills, avalanche rescue drills and most of all simply learning to survive and operate in the sub-zero temperatures that they will experience during their two-month foray into the Antarctic Peninsula.
The team initially deployed to a small gite (lodging) near La Grave at the base of the French Alps before making their way with all their equipment up to Clot de Chavala (2,416m) where they established their base camp for the week. Nightly temperatures dipped as low as minus ten degrees Celsius, with the temperature during the day never going above minus two.
The MRX was organised along the three aims of the expedition: to train personnel in the scientific experiments that they will carry out on the expedition, to practise exploration into unknown areas, and finally to commemorate the achievements of Captain Scott 100 years before.
The team were able to achieve all three of these aims, with the final one being made all the more poignant by a visit to the Scott Memorial at the base of the training area which celebrated Scott's own MRX training in the same location exactly 100 years before.
The main training saw the team concentrate on reinforcing the ski-mountaineering skills that they had already learnt, and operating with some of the equipment that they would be using during their time in Antarctica.
The culmination of the exercise was a five-hour up-hill ski-mountaineering day to the top of the Dome de la Lauze (3,568m) followed by another three hours to ski back down with full rucksacks, radio equipment and additional survival stores that the team will be expected to carry in Antarctica.
Expedition leader, Lieutenant Colonel Paul Edwards, said of their training in the Alps:
Overall the exercise was a huge success, with all of the team members having a stern test of their mountaineering and skiing skills in the glaciated high mountain terrain of the French Alps.
The team's equipment was also extensively tested and held up well in the sub-zero temperatures, helping to give us a taste of what to expect when we deploy south.
Most importantly the team gained valuable experience training together as a team and our drills and team cohesiveness have markedly improved during the exercise.
We are now ready to face the harsh environment of Antarctica early in 2012 and hopefully we will live up to Scott's epic legacy.”
The team has now completed all their training. The final event before departure will be a grand dinner in the Painted Hall of the Old Royal Naval College at Greenwich on 3 December 2011, for which only a few tickets now remain.
The team has so far raised over £10,000 for their nominated charity 'Help for Heroes' and hopes to raise more by getting people to donate through their website while they're away. (Defence News)