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Arctic Survival

This is a blog post from 2015 archiving the experience on Arctic phase during SAR training. One of the hardest phases of the course.

Arctic phase began and ended with flight delays. Where we went is very remote, and with unpredictable weather patterns and aircraft availability it's expected to be difficult travel there and back. I'll attach a photo to show how far north we went.

After arriving at our plane for 6am we sat around in the plane until about 3pm before taking off, we made it to Edmonton Alberta by 5pm and stayed overnight as the flight crew expired and couldn't fly us to Resolute. The next morning we left and made it to the Arctic 6.5 hours later. Immediately upon stepping off the plane the wind hit us like a ton of bricks. It was -53 with the windchill and the winds were over 50km/hr. In a short 300 meter walk to the building is was suddenly all too real, the Arctic is a rough place to be.

We spent the first night at the Arctic Training Center. Basically a hotel, it was actually quite nice. We still had some administration and some classroom lectures to finish before we commenced the survival portion of the course. This began "acclimatization phase"

To acclimatize to the weather the instructors exposed us to the outside at increasing intervals. If we were just tossed outside we would surely succumb to medical issues and thus ineffective training. The 1st morning was some lectures and an exam followed by a 4km walk out to Crystal City. I can't explain the Arctic... it's wild. It is basically an extremely cold Desert. It doesn't really snow, but rather the wind just blows around the already existing snow... everything freezes, everything.

When we got to crystal city we were greeted by the staff in a 400 square foot garage. Crystal city is basically 4 weather havens (small huts), a few sea containers (for the staff), and a small garage. .. that's it! Where do you go to the washroom you ask? Well you can literally pee anywhere, but often we made a "Kovick" (wrong spelling) which is a block of snow dedicated for peeing on. And they made an igloo for pooping in. So yes, i've pooped in an igloo... several times.

We were still acclimatizing so the first few nights were in a weather haven. During the 1st day we would take a 30min break every hour and a half or so to warm up our hands and dry some kit. We learned how to build fighter trenches, which is an emergency shelter for the arctic. You basically saw rectangular blocks of snow (1.3 feet x 2 feet x 5inches appox) in a line that makes a trench in the snow, then you lean the blocks over top of the trench to make a roof, throw a door on and you're done. Not a very good shelter but it gets you out of the wind. We were told to climb in our trench and experience what it's like... we ended up staying in there for an hour, not the best...

The next day was emergency snow caves. You dig a hole in the side of a hill big enough for you to sit in, throw a door on, light a candle and that's it. This was day 2 so we worked the full morning before a long indoor break to warm up and dry, then worked all afternoon before a break instead of stopping every hour or so. We also had to stay in our snow caves for just over an hour... not as cold as the trench... it was -37 outside and appox -20 in the cave.

That night we learned about signals in the arctic, made some really cool Arctic Candles and lit a bunch of flares/smoke etc. We got one last night in the weather haven... the next morning we met outside the garage with our "essential gear" and received our mission. The scenario was we parachuted into the arctic and we were days from getting back out. As one of the sergeants put it "let's just say everyone is dead... so you only have to look after yourselves..." In teams of 4, survive. Commence "survival phase".

Now we were 100% outside 24 hours per day. Day 1 we set up our tents and built a big wall out of snow blocks to shelter from wind, it took all day to setup camp. When we were done, we got our stove going for warm water and got some sleep. It was cold, no matter how hard you try the tent doesn't get very warm... maybe 15 degrees better then outside, you can always see your breath, and everything freezes. It was quite the experience!

The next day we began working on our igloos. This quickly became a difficult task as we were having difficulty finding good enough snow. And to add insult to injury our Inuit instructor had to leave. So we were left with bad snow and lack of expertise... don't get me wrong, our instructors are amazing but you can't beat 30 years of igloo building experience. In any case, we had to persevere, and so we did. 2 days (well into the night of the 2nd day) we all finished our igloos... Now Al Barr won't say it in his post so ill say it in mine... (check out his blog @, Barr and Pat must have been Inuit in their previous lives. While we all struggled (including instructors at times) they built the perfect igloo... I swear the local Inuit's came by to take notes... it was incredible! anyway... we slept in our igloos and it sucked.

This was most of our worst nights... we weren't allowed our stove to heat the igloo up and since it took so long to build we were unable to chink all the holes with snow... I don't know if I slept more then an hour or so as it was -43 outside and all we had was our sleeping bags.

The next day we built our multi-man snow caves... these were awesome! Spent all day digging into the side of a hill to create a hole big enough for 4 people to sleep in side by side. Wasn't the most comfortable but it was way better then the igloo and warmer with 4 dudes in there.

The following morning, we were told that a helicopter saved us and we were finished our survival portion. Commence "post ex"... back to the weather havens! Hit the reset button! We all got to dry our gear and truly get warm again. Still some work to do but the survival slash "appreciation" portion was complete. The rest of the day was clean up and riffle range. An instructor built a polar bear on a sled. The plan was to pull the bear towards 2 people with riffles and shoot at it. Then out came the shot guns, it was pretty fun.

The next morning was final ex. We received a mission to search for someone near our camp. Upon finding them we as a group of 11 setup a camp, gave medical care, and eventually extricated the patient back to crystal city. It was basically accumulation of everything we learned as well as a learning experience to how some of our kit works in the arctic. It was crazy to see that in a 1 mile walk, our medication froze, everything froze! Made work difficult.

That night we had a small party for the end of another phase. The staff cooked us up some seal, caribou, arctic salmon. All meat that is rare to us back home, incredibly tasting. We also played some very strange Inuit games, one game included putting a rope around 2 peoples foreheads while they balanced on 1 leg and tried to pull each other off balance... the Arctic is a boring place. But it was the inaugural annual tournament of Inuit games and we eventually crowned Josh Terry as the well deserved champion.

The final day in crystal city had us doing some more cleaning and packing up, and crusin around on snow mobiles, all pretty fun stuff. Then the interesting part... getting home.

Upon arrival back to the Arctic Training Center, our plane was already delayed 24 hours. That quickly became 48 hours and 72 hours later we got home, with of course an over night in Edmonton again. The only good thing is the food was really good at the Arctic Training Center, out in Crystal City we ate rations, so normal food was nice. But they only had so many movies, which got old pretty fast. But eventually we made it home, 72 hours late, unpacked everything, washed then repacked everything and back in trucks driving 2 days to Alberta for "Winter Ops".

... hope everything is good where you all are...


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