I'm warming to the idea of a freezing Christmas

Last updated 12:00 22/12/2012

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Nelson Mail reporter Anna Pearson is heading to Antarctica. In the first in a series of columns she covers the preparations for the trip.

It was more than 30 degrees in Christchurch on Monday, and there I was trying on extreme cold weather or ECW gear at Antarctica New Zealand's headquarters.

Some time this weekend, weather permitting, I will be on my way south to sub-zero temperatures.

I'll have two standard-issue bags with me - one green, one black, containing notebooks, a laptop and Antarctic clothing.

I'll be in webbed seating on a Hercules aircraft, which will set me down on the ice shelf after an eight-hour flight from Christchurch. Four weeks at Scott Base is something I've been dreaming about at my desk in Nelson for months.

I was lucky enough to be made Antarctica NZ's media scholar for 2012, something usually reserved for immediate graduates of the Graduate Diploma in Journalism course at the University of Canterbury.

There was no journalism course this year, so I was more than happy to be offered the opportunity to plug the gap.

It's hard to imagine what it will be like down on the Ice, but the gear I was issued with on Monday gave me a good indication of the extreme environment I'm heading to.

Scott Base is maintained at a comfortable 18 degrees Celsius, but outside is a very different story. Antarctica NZ logistics team leader Paul "Woody" Woodgate says summer temperatures usually range from -25 degrees to zero, with winter temperatures between -10 and -50.

I've been given two pairs of boots, and the ECW survival ones have more than 20mm of insulation underfoot. They're huge, especially considering my size 10.5 feet, but they're really light and comfortable.

I've been given polypropylene and merino underwear, polar fleece pants, two base layers for my top half and three different jackets. It's a layering system and the ECW jacket is the warmest.

I'll need to have that one with me at all times in the field, along with the survival boots.

I hardly need any of my own gear, apart from toiletries, some casual clothes and shoes for inside the base, a towel, and my notebooks, laptop and camera.

I don't even need a sleeping bag, as the dorm room I'll be staying in has beds kitted out with sheets and duvets.

A white - the whitest - Christmas with strangers will be a unique experience, and I'm told it usually involves dress-ups.

Then there's New Years, seeing 2013 in with 24-hour daylight and views of Mt Erebus - about 45 kilometres away.

Antarctic Field Training or AFT - the second of many acronyms - will be one of my first activities, with a two or three-day course focused on things like assembling tents, building snow caves, mountain and ice travel, first aid, cooking, radios, survival bags, and keeping warm and safe.

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Woody tells me to stick to the flagged routes and formed roads while outside, or risk finding a crevasse: "You'll find one of these things, and we won't find you."

I'll be writing stories and taking photographs, covering some of the many science events going on this summer, and I think they'll put me to work at the base as well.

I can't wait for that first breath of fresh air, straight off the plane, and to let you know what it's like down there.

- The Nelson Mail

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