Leader: What exactly does FSTP do?
O’Bannon: We do training
for people who are going to be working outside on
the ice, from scientists, to mechanics, to general
assistants. We teach courses on sea ice safety, GPS,
altitude and crevasse travel.
One of our main courses is a two-day course called
Snowcraft One (a.k.a. happy camper), where we teach
all the basic survival skills necessary to use a survival
bag (a large bag containing all the essential necessary
for two people to survive for three days in a storm).
This means we teach them about environmental injuries
and prevention; how to use a stove to boil water (you
would be surprised by the number of people who don’t
know how to boil water when it’s cold); how
to set up a tent; and how to build snow walls and
sleep warm and dry. Then they get to sleep out in
a snow mound city.
The next day we debrief how the night went, talk
about risk assessment, and cover how to use a radio.
Then we run them through two problem solving scenarios,
one where they have to find someone lost in a whiteout
(we put five-gallon buckets on their heads to simulate
this), and the other where they have to set up a camp
and boil water all within a half hour. They may even
have a hypothermia case thrown in.
FSTP is also responsible for search and rescue on
the continent, so we train once a week for this down
on the ice. We also go out and support different science
groups that are in need of mountaineers. Basically,
we go out as safety officers and guides with the science
group and help them accomplish their work. This is
one of the perks of the job as we get to travel to
different places and do some exciting work.
Leader: How did you end up with the job?
O’Bannon: I applied with
Raytheon Polar Services (www.polar.org).
I talked with the people doing the hiring and eventually
found myself on a plane heading to the ice.
Leader: What kinds of skills will you be
using down there? Any NOLS skills?
O’Bannon: I’ll be using
my teaching, mountaineering, glacier travel, GPS,
winter camping , and ground penetrating radar skills,
which is basically crevasse detection. On one of the
projects, I am supporting a traverse to the South
Leader: What’s it like—what
you expected, or entirely different?
O’Bannon: It’s pretty
much like I expected, having talked to lots of folks
who have been down before. A number of NOLS Instructors
have been to the ice or are going soon. This year
FSTP has both Louie Sass and Susan Detweiler working
here. Vince Gordon is down as a snowmobile mechanic.
Chas Day, Nancy Pfeiffer, and Lucy Smith have all
worked in FSTP. Spore Meuwissen, Kevin Pusey, and
Thane Lever are also among some of the others who
have worked on the ice.
Leader: How long will you be there?
O’Bannon: My deployment starts
September 30 and will end sometime around the mid
to end of February.
Leader: Did your winter expertise prepare
you at all for what you’re doing down there?
How is it the same as winter backcountry living? How
is it different?
O’Bannon: Well, in a sense
most of what we do is easier then a NOLS winter course.
We do not spend as much time outdoors and we pretty
much drive everywhere. One of the reasons I like the
search and rescue aspect is that we actually get out
on the snow and move around on our own power. We teach
a lot of the same skills as a NOLS winter course,
but we just don’t get to spend as much time
practicing them, and people do not get to be proficient.
But hopefully they learn enough to stay out of trouble
and deal with it if they don’t.