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Rules and Regulations in No-Man's Land: ExWeb interview with ALE's Steve Jones

Posted: Oct 17, 2014 06:58 am EDT

(HumanEdgeTech) It's a surprise to many that no-man's-land Antarctica is also a place of regulations and restrictions. Some are safety oriented (such as the use of satellite phone) others are imposed to protect the environment.


You are required to get a permit from your country to travel to Antarctica and logistic operators such as ALE have to ensure that the permit exists. Tom Sjogren checked in with ALE for ExplorersWeb to see what's new in terms of regulations and in general for the upcoming season.


Steve Jones is ALE’s main point of contact for expedition leaders planning an expedition to Antarctica and the coordinator for participants in the ANI Ski South Pole Expeditions.


Exweb: Restrictions for drones? Permits required?

ALE: As a logistics provider we are operating with the following requirements on all groups of guests using ALE (expeditions, research teams, mountaineers, adventure tourists). Further guidelines and procedures are expected from IAATO and some governments in the future.

• All visitors, including clients, expeditions and government research groups, must inform ALE prior to departure for Antarctica whether they intend to use a UAV.

• Use of UAVs at all ALE locations must be cleared with Operations before flight. Permission will not be granted if there is any likelihood of interference with wildlife, local aircraft activity, communications or electromagnetic frequencies in use in the relevant area.

• All users must be able to demonstrate to ALE that they have adequate training or, where relevant, certification for operating a UAV.

• UAVs should only be flown in areas where recovery of a downed vehicle is possible. Flight over hazardous areas, such as crevasses or steep terrain will only be agreed after prior discussion with the Travel Safety Manager, and where adequate recovery systems are in place. That may include homing UAV devices or a suitably qualified recovery team.

• UAVs must not be flown in or near to any Protected Areas or Historic Sites or Monuments, where “near” means any possibility of the UAV accidentally flying or drifting into the area.


Here is the official word on UAVs from NSF www.usap.gov/News/contentHandler.cfm?id=4071

Although written specifically for USAP staff, I have checked and NSF confirms it also applies to US tourists using UAVs - so a kind of permitting system if you are a US citizen.

Exweb: Phones and backup phone requirements?

ALE: We require each expedition team to carry two Iridium phones, each with its own SIM, batteries and spare batteries, and a recharging system. We require soloists and ski-kiting expeditions to also carry an Iridium tracking beacon in addition to the two phones. It makes sense for kiting teams to bring VHF radios so they can stay in touch with each other as they travel.

Exweb: The InReach has grown in popularity and is as stable as any Iridium phone and sometimes easier to operate - could an InReach substitute an Iridium backup phone?

ALE: We need to  have two-way voice communications with each expedition or field party and due to the record of Iridium handset failures we require each team to have two phones. An Iridium tracking beacon is additional to that, and not a substitute for a second phone.

It is interesting that there are several competing models of Iridium tracking beacons all with basically similar components and Delorme has emerged as the most popular model for Antarctic expeditions in the last couple of years, perhaps due to better marketing. The ability to follow an expedition’s positions and progress on a website has been really successful for many recent expeditions.

Exweb:  We have tested the GO! and personally I would rather go with a GO! on an expedition than a classic Iridium today. What's your view on that?

ALE: Some models of Iridium phone are easier to use than others. The 9575 Extreme is reported to be slow to power up and has a small and fiddly on switch which can’t be used with gloves on. Our technical staff prefer the 9555 although the antenna is fragile. For expeditions carrying two phones it makes sense to bring two phones of the same model so that the batteries and accessories are interchangeable.


The Iridium GO! is a very positive development for Iridium and we are interested to see them in use in Antarctica next season for the first time. As they are new we want to gain experience of them in Antarctica before commenting on them in detail, other than to say that they look to be the obvious product for anyone buying new. Our requirements for redundancy in critical systems mean that if they prove to be as good as hoped then future expeditions would have the option of substituting an Iridium GO! in place of an Iridium phone.


[Note! In a later mail ALE said they are open to use GO! as "second" already this season.]

Exweb: Any other tech or safety related things that you think people should be aware of?

ALE: Antarctica is as challenging a place as it was a hundred years ago. Equipment designed for extreme use on most of the Earth’s surface breaks down in Antarctica just as much as the motor sledges used by Captain Scott did. Broken wiring, faulty electronics, leaking fuel and contaminated food remain challenges for expeditions in 2014 and every detail needs just as careful planning and testing.

Expedition skiers continue to be vulnerable to cold injury on their legs, and occasionally bottoms and abdomens – the so called ‘polar thigh’. Skiers need to be careful in their clothing planning to have enough insulation and room for trapped air on their legs, knowing that the motion of skiing into a headwind or with a tailwind will compress legwear.

For the last couple of years we have been equipping our ANI guided ski expeditions to the South Pole with lightweight crevasse safety equipment and we recommend all expeditions with more than one person in them do the same. Skiers on both the most popular routes from Hercules Inlet and from the Messner Start to the South Pole have come across crevasses and having a rope and basic equipment enables skiers to rope up to test the snow bridge across a crevasse if they come across one. This seems very sensible and worth carrying.


Each expedition has to make its own decisions on route finding and crevasse safety and skiers need to be comfortable with their experience and ability so that they are competent to evaluate the risks and their own method of travel.

Exweb: Any advice you like to give so adventurers (skiers, mountaineers, tourists) have a successful Antarctica trip?

ALE: For expedition planners, the key thing is to contact ALE early in the planning process with an outline plan so that we can advise on feasibility and provide a cost estimate and then to keep in touch and seek advice as the plans develop. There are many third party experts who can only provide partial or out-of-date information and we offer unlimited planning support so it makes sense to use it.

For expedition skiers dependent on funding, we have seen a trend of enquiries from comparative novices aspiring to break records and to eclipse the achievements of polar travel to date. These overly ambitious plans seldom achieve funding and so it is worth emphasizing that good expeditions with an interesting story can gain sponsors and financial backers without breaking records. There is no substitute for Antarctic expedition experience and it is worth planning do something achievable for a first expedition and to use it to gain experience and credibility for future projects.

Despite good planning and good guiding things can go wrong, so if an expedition needs or wants something – such as a resupply of more medical supplies, replacement for spilt fuel, replacement for fuel contaminated food, a new ski pole etc. then the expedition should advise the Union Glacier Operations team as soon as it knows it wants it – so that we can take into account all opportunities for helping the expedition and this includes deciding that it would be better to land beside the expedition and deliver the items rather than waiting until the next planned resupply, or to consider losing an unsupported status in order to complete the journey.


Our attitude is that each expedition will have done their best to plan and equip the expedition well. But once it starts anything can happen, and from then on the expedition is not on its own, ALE is there to provide support and to help. If you need something and don’t have a spare, say so. We would much rather see that an expedition is well equipped, and well supported medically, and go on to succeed, than struggle for the sake of asking for something, or some medical support.

ALE’s investment program in new and improved facilities at our main Union Glacier base, at our blue ice runway and in Punta Arenas continues and we are proud of the developments and the vastly improved facilities and capabilities that we have compared with even a few years ago.


Exweb: Any new fun trips?


ALE: Mount Sidley the highest volcano in Antarctica is now accessible through ANI for a wildly remote and interesting adventure to one of the remotest mountains on Earth.

We are also now offering the best of both adventure tourism experiences with the Emperors and Explorers experience. This combines a visit and camp at an Emperor Penguin rookery with a flight to the South Pole. Full details on the website at www.adventure-network.com


Steve Jones has worked for Antarctic Logistics & Expeditions LLC (ALE) for 10 years, initially as the Vinson Base Camp Manager and as a field guide leading Last Degree expeditions to the South Pole. From 2007 to 2013 he was the manager of their main base in Antarctica with direct responsibility for all of ALE’s work in Antarctica, including the safety and logistical support of expeditions.

Elsewhere as a polar guide he has guided Last Degree expeditions to the North Geographic Pole and Spitsbergen and led expeditions to Alaska, Arctic Canada and Greenland. He led an expedition across the Greenland Icecap in 1993, and has been on mountaineering expeditions to the Russian Caucasus in winter, reached the summit of Denali three times, made twelve first ascents in Greenland, has climbed on Mount Logan, and on three expeditions to the Karakoram. He has helped several polar adventurers including Pen Hadow, Hannah McKeand and Rosie Stancer to organize their solo polar expeditions.

He has worked as a consultant in safety and crisis management with international organizations and contributed to several publications including The Oxford Handbook of Expedition and Wilderness Medicine. He is an expert on polar expedition planning and the safety management of remote adventurous expeditions.

Steve is ALE’s main point of contact for expedition leaders planning an expedition to Antarctica and the coordinator for participants in the ANI Ski South Pole Expeditions.






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Steve Jones at the South Pole
courtesy Steve Jones, SOURCE
Logistic planning.
courtesy Steve Jones, SOURCE
Steve Jones (second from right) inside the Ilyushin-76 at Union Glacier Runway, seeing off climbers and other adventurers on their way back to Punta Arenas, Chile. (In the image from left, ANI/ALE staff Tim Hewette, Lhakpa Gelu Sherpa and Doc Martin.)
courtesy Correne Erasmus-Coetzer, SOURCE