After a week and half around Girton and Thornbridge, I was back in Cambridge. But as a Winterer I still had a couple of training sessions ahead. About a month after Girton I spend a whole week on high places, during the mast climbing and tower erection training.
And why the hell do I need such a thing? Simple. In Halley, most of power and data cables that go around the station are setup on the top of steel towers, just like some of the instrumentation around the place. If there’s a problem with any of it and its necessary to go up there, we winterers need to know how to work the climbing equipment and how to go up the tower. Is one of those “just in case” situations but with Antarctica its better to be safe than sorrow.
The week was composed mostly for a theoretical half morning and the rest of the day going up and down steel towers with 20 quilos of equipment on top of my tired back. But as with everything around here, it was one of those must do experiences.
In practice, the whole week summed up to three points:
1 – Learn how to climb a big metal tower without dying or killing anyone.
2 – Learn how to assemble and disassemble a big metal tower without dying or killing anyone.
3 – Lean how to recue someone that is about to get killed in a big metal tower without dying or killing anyone.
Its safe to say that the main message around the course was “don’t you freakin’ die!”. The rest derived from there. It looks dangerous at first but if you are smart enough to follow the rules, many of which created because someone had already died in the past because they weren’t around, there’s nothing to be afraid from. In fact, this is one of those situations in which there are more people getting killed every year with wasp stings and falling automatic chocolate machines than from falling from huge metal towers and such. After internalize all security procedures, you can take some pleasure of tightening bolts at 20 meters high with just a flimsy looking rope and a pair of metallic claws separating you from a gruesome and painful death. Is quite relaxing I may add, as long as doesn’t rain and the wind behave himself.
The base equipment is actually simple: a harness, a pair of metallic claws secured to it and a stationary rope for work while secured to the tower. We use the claws to climb up and down, such as we keep at least one contact point at all times with the tower.
Once in the place you need to be to do whatever it is necessary, we use the stationary rope to stabilization.
The whole setup is so secure and comfortable that you can even take your lunch up there. Its only annoying because you can kill someone if you drop your fork…accidentally.
The initial training tower was already assembled on BAS back garden. It had a triangular base wide enough for having several people climbing it at the same time on its three sides. It only was 13 meters high since it lacked the supporting steel wires. It was on this one that we did our first training sessions to save people stuck on to it, something that can possibly happen if one of our colleagues decides to touch were he shouldn’t and get himself/herself unconscious at several meters up high. In that situation it is necessary for someone to grab the rescue kit and take him/her out of there before death sets on. To simulate our idiot colleague that had decided to lick a pair of sparking wires while stuck at 17 meters in the air, we used Dave. Dave is a 70 kilos dummy, mostly known for getting hernias to whomever has to carry him around.
The rescue process includes a very long rope, a spinning wheel and a pair of cutting pliers to get Dave out of the tower. I’m not going into much detail here. Trust me, it works!
By the end of the third day we moved to the advanced level. The rest of that week was spend assembling, climbing and disassembling another tower, also made from steel but much, much thinner and 30 meters high.
Climbing this tower was no picnic since each side was only wide enough for one foot. And, since for security reasons we had to go up there in pairs, it was something like playing Twister… but at 30 meters up in the open air.
I was one of the crazies that offer himself to set the last segment (the last 5 meters on a 30 meter tower). At 25 meters high and still without the last set of stabilizing steel cables (these go on top of the last segment), any Autumn breeze made it swing more than you can consider comfortable. These are the times where you must have faith in your equipment and a steady control on the bowels.
Still, we had to save Dave a couple of times even there.
Since everything that goes up has to get down eventually, we had to take everything down on the last day.
This was my best sleeping night of the year. After a whole day climbing towers up and down, with 20 kilos of equipment on top and dragging a dummy has heavier as any decent corpse, after dinner I was already fighting to remain vertical.