Agnieszka Fryckowska has wintered over on the ice for five winters - working for the British Antarctic Survey as a meterologist and base camp manager. Her longest stretch was 34 months on end, over three winters, with just a handful of others and only three hours of twilight a day. Agnieskza finished up with the British Antarctic Service a year ago - she's now living in Northumberland in northern England, where she's a trainee pilot. Last month, she was awarded a Polar Medal from Prince William for her work for the British Antarctic Survey in a ceremony at Buckingham Palace.
Read an edited excerpt of the interview below:
What is it about the place that has addicted you to it?
It’s a mixture. Not only is it an amazing environment to live in, in terms of all of the things that you get to see; it’s so pristine, so untouched, but it’s the people that you work with and the things that we do. It’s back to basics and relying on each other. And then also working towards the same goal, which is just to get good science.
Where did you first get the Antarctica bug?
It actually began at Otago University. One of my lecturers there would go to the Antarctic for his science every year and taught alpine geology and I thought that was the most amazing thing ever. I didn’t realise you could do that. So that got me started.
I came to the UK to get into the environmental sector and saw that the British Antarctic Survey had a post as a meteorologist. I did climatology and meteorology in my degree, so I thought that maybe I could give this a go. I did apply and I didn’t get an interview. It took me another 10 years until I reapplied, after a Masters, and yeah, got the job!
How did you first placement on Antarctica end up being 34 months long?
Well, when I went for the interview for the job, they actually advertised it as 18 months or 34 months, so I went with my head thinking, ‘I might be able to do 18 months’, but they informed me that, ‘No, it’s 34 months’. Now that's at the interview stage. You’ve got to sit and decide whether you can mentally and emotionally cope with that.
And on the spot you said, ‘I am not missing this.’
Absolutely. It’s such a tough job to try to get, I was not missing out on that opportunity.
What was your first winter in Antarctica like?
I was so excited. I knew I was doing two winters and I couldn’t wait. It’s like a child in a candy shop and you want everything at once. I didn’t know where to start. But there is such a routine of things that occur in the winter and it’s very special for the winterers. There are lots of things that we do. Mid-winters day is the biggest thing, so you make presents for each other, it’s like Secret Santa. There are so many activities going on that you don’t realise what you are entering into until you’re in it, and then you’re coming out of it again. I was just trying to absorb everything that I could.
What were some of the ways that the constant darkness that affected you?
I think, as I say, the activities are there to try and keep us happy, but post mid-winter when a lot of the excitement is gone and there is a little bit of drudgery, you really go, ‘Oh wow, can I really do another one of these?’ and you have to find your own way to get through that. You’ll go out one day and you’ll have an amazing, huge moon and the stars are everywhere and you think, ‘I couldn’t miss out on this actually, this is pretty cool’, so you think that you can put up with anything.