Sunday, October 16, 2005
posted 10/16/2005 11:51:00 AM UTC+12, McMurdo Local Time

Happy Camper School!

Well, I survived camping out in a snow cave on an ice shelf in Antarctica (tongue twister there!) Had a really good time, and surprisingly didn't ever get very cold with the exception of fingertips getting chilled when doing things that would have been really tricky with gloves on.

There were 19 students in my group and 2 instructors, Cecilia and Trevor, who are super cool people. After an hour or so in classroom instruction, we put on our cold weather gear and piled into the back of a Delta (giant off-road vehicle - this one has a box on the back for people, some have other tasks like our fuels Delta, Scharen, that has a big tank on the back) to roll over to "snow camp city," which is out on the ice shelf past Scott Base. The ride out was nice, much smoother ride than a Haaglund, and we were at the camp 20-30 minutes later. We got out of the Delta and into a warmed Jamesway (leftover insulated tent/cabin thing from the Korean War) for a little more instruction, then set off to start building our camp!

The first big project was setting up our Scott Tents (pyramidal tent in the picture,) which was pretty easy since there wasn't too much wind and the snow was nice. Next, we piled up all our bags of gear, covered them with tarps, and started shoveling on snow. Once we had 18" or so of snow packed down on the gear, we left the pile and started sawing out blocks of compacted snow to build a wind wall. The wind wall construction was pretty cool, the packed snow was about the consistency of really dense styrofoam so we could do some fairly elaborate masonry work with it. Once the wall was completed, we dug an entrance into the snow cave and started pulling out the gear leaving an igloo shaped structure. Next, we erected several modern 4 season, two person, mountaineering tents behind the snow wall. Ben and I still had some energy left, so we set out to dig a kitchen and dining area, which turned out to be a big hit when the wind started blowing a bit later on.

Eventually, we had a completed camp and started cooking and eating. Fortunately, the instructors didn't have us melt snow to get all of our water, which would have taken quite a while for the size group we had. We ate the usual camping food - freeze dried meals, chocolate bars, granola, nuts, etc. and really enjoyed it after a few hours of hard work moving snow! The instructors went back to stay in the Jamesway and we were all on our own for the night.

One of the nifty things about Antarctica in the summer is that the sun pretty much doesn't set. At this point, it dips behind the horizon a bit around midnight, but it's always plenty bright to do things outside, and usually bright enough to need some dark sunglasses. Our group got done building the camp a little earlier than usual, so we were all a little bored and needed something do do before bed, so we did the logical thing and started cutting out a bunch of blocks of snow and stacking them up! In the end, we had built a rather large throne out of snow overlooking all of snow camp city!

I ended up sleeping with two other people in the snow cave that the happy camper class had built a few days ago - it was a tight squeeze for three people, but we made it work and slept surprisingly comfortably!

The next morning, we broke camp and walked over to the instructor hut to learn some more stuff. Fortunately (for learning's sake,) the wind was blowing pretty hard, which was nice because we were aiming to practice setting up camps in a semi-realistic emergency situation. First we were instructed on the use of the handheld VHF radios and the repeaters in the area, then the old military HF radios that are used for communications from the more remote field camps. Unfortunately, the South Pole radio guys were out for the day, so we weren't able to talk with the Polies, but we did setup the radios outside and called in to Mac Ops (our communications guys here in McMurdo.) After the radio stuff, we divided the group in half and went outside for a couple drills. First we had a drill where we had to boil a liter of water from snow, set up a small snow wall, erect a tent, and setup the HF radio in a hurry. To complicate things, one of us (me!) was quietly told to pretend they were getting hypothermic. Had a good time and the group did a really good job. Next, we were given a scenario where someone had walked out of the tent to use the bathroom and a Condition 1 storm blew in. We were given a rope and had to go rescue the person with buckets on our heads to simulate whiteout conditions and loud wind. We didn't do as well with this drill, long story but basically we blindly started walking into a little maze of vehicles, buildings, and small snow cliffs. Also, the wind was strong enough that it blew a few people's buckets off, making things a bit more interesting!

Eventually, we got done with the happy camper stuff and headed back to Mactown. There was an all hands meeting in the galley, which I had to attend, then I got cleaned up and headed over to the fuelie party at hut ten. Had a really good time at the fuelie party, which lasted until 10 or so, then it was over to Gallaghers (one of the bars here,) for the 70s party for a bit, then finally off to bed. Needless to say, by the time I got back to my dorm, I was really tired and very glad to have a regular bed in a heated building!

Other random stuff - Last Friday the Haaglund that I was riding in during sea ice training the other day is no longer with us. It had been driven over to Scott Base and apparently had an electrical fire (wonder if the scott base hitching post is 240v? :) ) while sitting unoccupied outside and burnt to the ground. Preliminary rumors are that the heavy shop will be able to get it going again, but it's going to take quite a while. Apparently the fire was hot enough to melt out all the glass, so it's going to take a bunch of parts to get it going again. Sounds like my promotion will officially be effective at the beginning of our next pay period in about a week and a half, so that's cool. Molly made it down to Christchurch yesterday, so she's going to orientation today and will hopefully be on the flight down tomorrow!


Q:Is your bed comfee and a bit better than the basic college dorm? In
general - is this completely surreal? -Mom

A:Sortof, no, yes. It's a moderately comfy bed, but it's seen better days. I'm in a 4 bunk room in Building 155, which is pretty convenient since that's the same building where the galley, public Internet terminals, station store, and laundry are. So, basically, I can take care of most of my personal stuff without having to put on insulation and going outside. The room is fairly basic - just a rectangle with some beds, some furniture, a phone, and lots and lots of warm clothes. Fortunately (as the sun doesn't set,) we don't have a window so it's not hard to get to sleep when it's time for that! I currently have two roommates, but at some point we expect the fourth bunk to get filled as well.


A:Yes, everyone down here has a job. We actually work pretty hard usually, I've just been 'playing' a lot lately because I've been bouncing around getting trained in on all kind of neat things that we've got down here. The normal work week is 6 days (Sunday off,) 9 working hours a day.

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