Flight Lieutenant Stu Quinn serves with the RAF Regiment and is based at RAF Honington. Stu recently returned from the Antarctic where he was part of a tri-service expedition. Stu tells us more.
I had the great privilege to be selected to be part of an expedition to the Antarctic consisting of six members of the Royal Navy, fourteen from the Army and four from the RAF.
The whole experience started two years ago when the three Service mountaineering associations announced a plan to send a team to the Antarctic to achieve three objectives:
- To commemorate 100 years since Capt Scott’s fated journey
- To carry our various experiments as part of the national scientific program to study the effects of global warming
- To explore mountain ranges in previously unclimbed areas of the continent.
There were initially 170 applications for the expedition, so I was really proud to make it onto the team.
I completed two tours in Afghanistan while I was also preparing for the expedition – this made training a bit interesting at times!
Back in the UK I constructed a weighted sledge which I could be seen hauling along the side of the runway at RAF Honington most lunch times come rain or shine! That is something I really don’t miss!
The Antarctic is a dangerous place and as such we had to squeeze in as much training as we could in our free weekends.
This included lots of navigation in poor weather, rock climbing, alpine skiing, fitness training, cross country skiing in Norway, ice-climbing and snow-holing, capsize drills with the Royal Marines, high frequency radio training and more winter survival skills in Snowdonia and finally more skiing and most importantly crevasse rescue skills in the Swiss Alps.
The final training for the team took part at the start of November 2011 in the Ecrins National Park in France.
This was our last chance to brush up on our skiing skills as well as rehearsing the important art of crevasse rescue (crevasses being the team’s main threat).
This is a vital skill as the region we explored, the north western sector of the Antarctic Peninsula, has no form, or hope, of rescue.
If someone had broken a leg or was otherwise seriously injured there would be no glorious sight of a bright yellow RAF helicopter coming to the rescue.
A major incident would have required a four day hike to get back to the relative safety of the coastline where team members would have to await collection by a rescue boat! Thankfully we never had to practice this for real.
We eventually deployed at the end of December and split into three teams each with their own tasks and objectives.
We had eight different scientific experiments to complete including placing GPS transceivers to measure tectonic plate movement and UV sampling to name but a few as well as trialing the contents of the new Arctic ration pack.
We had to haul all our own equipment just to be able to survive before even considering the weight of the scientific equipment.
The areas we were working in were also heavily crevassed but covered with weak snow bridges so we had some rather hairy moments. Lieutenant Rob Tristram had an especially close call on the final day of the expedition.
The weather varied wildly from -40C and complete white outs with 100mph winds to minus -2C with clear blue skies and beautiful views.
We also had an educational role so we created a series of videos to show school kids at home how to survive in the Antarctic.
We also kept video diaries so people at home could see how we were getting on. The whole experience was definitely a once in a lifetime experience and one that the team are all justifiably proud of.
There are simply not enough words and not enough space in one blog to describe the whole experience but if you fancy learning more about how we all got on you can visit the expedition website which contains all our blogs from the ice.
By Stu Quinn