Felicity Aston’s Top Ten Antarctic Tech Tools
First Posted: 24/02/2012 15:57 Updated: 24/02/2012 23:31
She’s just survived the deprivations needed to become the first woman to complete a solo coast-to-coast crossing of Antarctica but now she’s wearing elegant evening attire and sipping cocktails on London’s South Bank just like any young sophisticated urbanite.
Felicity Aston has just returned from her remarkable journey across the frozen continent and is savouring a raucous, ice-themed welcome home party although the veteran explorer admits her ‘job’ means people sometimes expect to find something different in her.
“People look at me strangely when they meet me. They’re looking for a twitch, or a faraway look in my eye – as though someone who’s just done such a crazy journey must be really strange,” she tells me.
Out of her Antarctic layers it’s true that the 34-year-old wouldn’t look out of place in a bank, at a boardroom table or in a library. There’s no giveaway that she’s just made history 100 years after the first men made it to the south pole.
With a decade of experience behind her – her first job at 23 involved three years in the Antarctic – Aston wanted to take her challenge that one step further after reaching the south pole on 29 December 2009 with the Kaspersky Lab Commonwealth Antarctic Expedition.
By the end of the journey, she was sobbing, and awestruck – having travelled from the Ross Ice Shelf to Hercules Inlet on the Ronne Ice Shelf via the South Pole.
Aston tweeted the whole way and was able to record phonecasts which automatically appeared on her website. Not surprisingly, communications were very limited, Iridium being the only kind of phone that works there, and then only at extremely high rates.
A GPS brick pinged her location back to base, while each morning and evening she checked in with her GPS to get her bearings.
For all the high tech advances, batteries don’t work in the cold and plenty of older tech works better: “I had a great foldable solar panel charger that I would plug the GPS and phone into each night. But batteries don’t charge if they’re cold, so I had to sleep with the batteries, holding the phone, with a wire going out of the tent to the solar panel that caught the 24 hours sunlight.
“Surprisingly some of the older technical fabrics are also better in the arctic. It’s not about keeping dry, it’s about keeping ventilated, so the Ventile fabric that Scott of the Antarctic used is the best wind-proof fabric, but it’s too expensive,” she adds.
Aston also sports a real fur trim on every expedition coat she wears.
“I got that fur in the arctic years ago, and it was caught in the traditional way. It is the only thing that creates the microclimate around your face that you need to stop your skin freezing. Artificial fabrics just can’t do the job.”
Describing a number of weird moments from her solo trip, Aston says: “There are optical illusions that you can’t explain. Snow falls from clear blue skies, and one time out of the flurry I saw a little man with a round head jump onto a dinosaur and ride away. I can still make out its shape now.”
Sponsored again by Kaspersky, who coughed up the £20,000 it takes to fly to Antarctica, Aston says there is no way she could have got there without them, let alone bought all necessary equipment on her own.
Felicity’s top 10 tech tools:
Satellite iridium phone
14-watt foldable solar panel
Southern hemisphere compass
Phone Cast by Italio
Nordic cross country Asnes Amunsden skis
MSR SGK cooker
Montaigne windproof layer with pile lining
Mountain Equipment windproof jacket
Her remarkable achievement sometimes has a disconcerting effect on people she meets.
“They sometimes say to me ‘I’ve done nothing with my life, and you’ve achieved so much'”, she says but Aston is clearly still coming to terms with exactly what she has achieved; after all, in the video she recorded after completing her epic trek, she admits: “I don’t know what it all means.
“It was really a series of tiny victories, rather than one big achievement. I had a series of small jobs to do everyday. And I never let my mind think about the immensity of what I was doing – I had to break it down,” she says.
Her advice to anyone who wants to do something, anything, with their life is: “Focus on your goal and go for it. Take advice, but take selective advice – a lot of people will want to tell you what to do but most of all, just get started!
“You can make all kinds of excuses, like you’ll do it when you have the right equipment, but that day may never come. So just start.”