Katie’s Journey to Antarctica – Part One

2 April, 2024

As the Antarctic winter season fast approaches, we’ll be following the journey of one of the Antarctic Infrastructure Modernisation Programme’s (AIMP) Assistant Project Managers, Katie Handford as she gears up to spend winter at Rothera Research Station in Antarctica.

Hello reader – welcome to the first of my three-part blog series on my Journey to Antarctica! That’s right, I’m off to Antarctica and I’m currently in preparation mode for my third (how lucky am I?) consecutive trip, but I will be ‘wintering’ for the first time this year.

Wintering is the term given to Antarctica’s winter season that runs from March through to October. In this period of time, the team and I are expecting to spend 24-hours in darkness in the harsh polar winter, where we will be completely cut-off from the outside world. No ships or aircrafts arrive throughout the winter period in Antarctica so even emergency medical evacuations can be complicated. However, through extensive training, we’re tooled with the knowledge on how to take care of our mental health and social wellbeing, as well as our physical safety. So, there’s plenty to get prepared for during an extended period away from home.

Fortunately for me and my family, I will be departing for Rothera two days after my birthday in April. I’m thankful that I get to spend important time with my family before I leave.

The thrill of setting off on such a unique and life-changing experience fills me with excitement, but before I can get there, we must be prepared for what’s to come. This is why we complete rigorous training alongside a winter team training session. This year we attended a camping weekend in the Peak District where we were taught crucial skills such as rope tying, using pulleys to get people out of crevasses, and search and rescue and navigation techniques.

A group of people standing in front of a building
Team training session, Credit: BAS

We are also given fire training and were put through a variety of emergency scenarios to see how the team would adapt and react. Aside from the critical skills developed, it’s also an opportunity for us to bond and socialise with colleagues, so it’s a really great experience and prepares us so well for life in Rothera.

This year, I will be joined by eight members of the construction team who will be stationed at Rothera throughout the winter – a first for members of the construction team too. I will support them as we take another step closer to the completion of the Discovery Building – our incredible new science and operations facility. You know… the big blue thing? You can’t miss it! During this time, the team will also be completing the final stages of internal partitioning, installing pipes, ductwork and wiring for services within the building.

Aerial view looking down at a large blue building and a runway
The new Discovery Building at Rothera Research Station, Credit: BAS

The agenda for the winter season is packed full of exciting construction work, in an extreme environment which I absolutely love being involved in. No two days are ever the same in Rothera and the positive culture and teamwork that shines through the AIMP team makes collaborating to find solutions an enjoyable and memorable experience for us all.

Outside of the daily work routine, I’m looking forward to spending time with colleagues, maybe venturing out to do some skiing on the lighter days or making use of the indoor climbing wall. There’s no time to be bored in Rothera as you’re surrounded by good people, delicious food, and some of the most spectacular scenery in the world. I’ve also packed my personal box, which contains lots of chocolate, sweets, crafting bits and bobs and some moisturiser. It will be sent down to meet me in Rothera, which will keep me going throughout the winter.

A woman standing on the deck of a ship
Katie Handford on the deck of the RRS Sir David Attenborough polar research ship, Credit: BAS
A person standing in front of a snow covered mountain
Katie Handford on the deck of the RRS Sir David Attenborough polar research ship, Credit: BAS

With training done, bags almost packed, and my birthday still to come, it’s only a matter of weeks now until I depart for Rothera to commence my first experience of wintering. I’m really looking forward to getting to know the station in a completely new way this time round, and I can’t wait to get started.

I will keep you updated with my journey once I get settled in. Write to you soon!