Following a recruitment drive utilising billboards from our sponsor Ocean Outdoor nearly 30 new trainees signed-up for the Ice Warrior Quest to the Inaccessible Pole.
A varied and diverse group of men and women from all over the UK they ranged from electricians, personal trainers, psychologists, mechanics and TV presenters. Molding them into competent polar explorers required training! At Jim’s request I headed to Dartmoor to help whip the recruits into shape.
To maximise my time away from London I left early on Saturday to spend a night in my bivvy on my way to Ice Warrior training HQ. The moor is a damp place and I awoke on Sunday to the cold, squidgy kiss of slugs crawling through my hair. A disgusting yet highly effective wake-up call.
I met the team that afternoon. They had bonded over an intense 4-day medical program including river drowning and polar bear attack scenarios. The heavy workload had driven them to drink and some were a little raw from Saturday night’s whisky drinking antics. Sadly for them, hangovers were not covered in the medical training and no quarter would be given to pub casualties.
I’d be under instruction myself for the week, taking my cue from lead instructors, Emma and Kirk. I set about assisting Kirk teach the team navigation with map and compass then GPS. These skills were tested during a night navigation during which the guys prepared route cards for 10 waypoints scattered around the moor. I’m happy to report that everyone made it to the final waypoint, the pub, in time for last orders.
One key role that all Ice Warriors must learn is that of the stovey; the person who takes charge of the stove to melt ice for hot drinks and food. It’s a rather mundane task, sitting and melting snow from the moment the teams stops for the day until the last person is in bed. They are first up in the morning, lighting the stove and continuing to boil water for breakfast.
I had the honour of teaching the guys how to use our expedition stove, the MSR XGK. It was the first time I’d taken the lead in teaching a class and I found it a nerve-wracking experience! Despite my nerves I managed to light the stove first-time with sparks from my Swedish fire steel and distract my class with flames before the class jokers smelt my fear and tore into me. Crucially, nobody set themselves alight so I’m calling that a success.
Our days started off with a burst of sweat-inducing exercise courtesy of PTs Dom and Wole. Though lovely guys, when in charge of a class they became sadistic and hurt us via hill sprints, burpees and plank holds, or the ‘warm-up’ as they called it. Although tough I enjoyed the morning sessions, it was a chance to bond with the guys as a team member rather than as an instructor and besides, I’m a glutton for punishment.
The week was rounded off with a search and rescue exercise during which the team would put all they’d learned into practice. My role, unfortunately, was just to sit in the unusually warm sunny Dartmoor weather and pretend to be a plane crash victim suffering hypothermia and femoral bleed. Something I did to the best of my acting ability; even keeping my composure as cold, clammy hands of the medical team groped, prodded and generally molested my prone body and threatened a warm suppository.
Overall the team performed brilliantly. They’re a switched-on group demonstrating great ability to learn and communicate well with each other. They have set the bar higher than my time on the moor, when navigation mishaps saw us getting a lift back to the Bellever YHA from Jim, our heads held in shame. Now I look forwards to meeting them to repeat the training in the unrelenting cold and 24-hour darkness of Svalbard.