13 November, 1999
Saturday November 13, 1999
After "dining" it was time to investigate the opposition's camp. Some how they managed to scoff two Scott tens and were told to build a snow trench instead of a snow mound. A snow trench is exactly what the name says. It is a trenched cut out to the snow; it is just a bit wider then the sleeping bag and blocks of snow are placed over it in the fashion of an A-framed house. It was really quiet nice and very well constructed. One thing about both the trench and, the snow mound and the snow wall is when the sun strikes the edges of the blocks of snow that makes these up they have a beautiful blue color to them.
It was probably about 1800 hour on last night (11/12/99) when a bunch of us decide to walk the flagged trail. The trail actually becomes part of the Castle Rock loop, a 7-mile trek over glacier, ice sheet and sea ice. We walked probably 1.5 miles out to the face of a glacier. The blue ice of the glacier showed magnificently against the light snow that clung to the spots where the wind did not hit. I guess the glacier face has to be around 200 feet tall. This is in an area known as "Silver Junction". No idea why.
While we were there the wind started to whip and you could see a whiteout approaching from the south. A whiteout is where the blowing snow eliminates all visibility. Some of us hustled back toward camp, while others opted to wait in a small hut that had been erected at Silver City and it hit just after we arrived. We stayed behind the snow wall and were well protected. The squall left as quickly as it had come. We cranked up the stoves and mad e hot soup and chocolate and cider and we ate some more. Got to stoke the furnace before you go to bed. I n fact were advised to tae a couple of chocolate bars to bed with us. Two Kiwis in the tent next to me went to bed first. Then I decided to turn in. My "roommate" Bert stayed out on the trail.
"Yellow Flag' time (a unique experience to say the least) and then to bed. Ya right! First I placed boiling water in my water bottle and put it into the liner of my sleeping bag, which after much struggling I finally got to lay out, sort of flat, in my sleeping bag. Keep in mind I am on my hands and knee bent over into the tent. The wind is blowing, so as soon as I finished that, I tried to brush/blow the snow that had blown into the tent out of the tent. I buttoned up the tent and had to stand to catch my breath. Working with all that gear on is most difficult. I took a break, drank more chocolate and ate some more trail mix. Now back to bed. I crawled into the tent and as my feet passed through the vestibule, I turned, sat up and took off my bunny boot, put them inside the tent door and buttoned it up. Now sitting there, what to do next? I decided to take off my parka and to sleep with the rest of my gear on. From outside to inside layer: polar fleece jacket, wind bibs coveralls, polar fleece coverall, insulated pants and shirt and then me. Oh ya, I slept with my hat on too.
Now, to turn and to get into this sleeping bag with its liner was another challenge. Gradually I worked my way down into the bag, but not without much twisting, turning and an inordinate amount of grunting. I was getting exhausted just going to bed. Unbelievable! Now I needed a drink, but of course my water bottle was full of boiling water. Oh well, I'll survive. Besides, if I drink I might have to do the "yellow flag shuffle" and thoughts of getting out of the bag, and then getting dressed, and then getting out of the tent and then shuffling off to the "yellow flag" through the blowing snow were just more then I could bear. I put the parka at the top of the sleeping bag and used it for a pillow. Ah, ready to sleep at last. Well not quite! It's about this concept of zippering a sleeping bag that has a liner and you with all your gear on in it. After about 15 minutes of struggling I decided to leave the bag about 1/3 unzipped. Ready for sleep at last.
Finally feel asleep, I don't know how much later, only to be awakened by Bert trying to get into the tent. I thought I had problems, I am only 5' 31/2", Bert is over 6'4". It was a bit comical. He is so long that he had to sleep with his head in the vestibule. For once it's good to be short.
We evidently fell asleep but at about 0400 hours Natured called and I awoke. Getting out of the bag, dressed and closing the tent was not an easy task although Bert was cutting big time ZZZ's. (I learned later that I evidently, my snoring actually, was responsible for more lost sleep then the cold weather. Ooops, sorry.)
The journey to the outhouse was beautiful, but unique. The outhouse even more so, unique that is. Suffice it to say the seat is styrofoam so you literally do not freeze to it. Rather then disturbing Bert by trying to get back into my sleeping bag, and everyone else too, I went for a short walk out on the flagged route toward Silver City. Once again thoughts drifted back to home only this time on a more positive note I was wishing that the kids and Darcy could be afforded an opportunity to do what I am doing. I'm really not too sure all the kids would enjoy it, the boys yes, the girls, that's another story. I could probably bank on Darcy not enjoying it, she has a tough enough time dealing with the relatively cool weather we have at home. Nonetheless, it sure would be nice just to hold her hand and stroll across the ice sheet. Oh well.
I returned to camp and started boiling some water for our breakfast. The bulk of the gang got up around 0615 hours. We all ate and had the camp struck by 0900 hours, the time when Chas was to return with the Nod-well to pick us up. Chas, who had spent the night sleeping in the snow trench that the opposition team had built, drove the Nod-well up right on time. We loaded her up and were instructed to walk to the instructors hut. Upon arrival there was more food to eat and more lessons to learn. We putzed for a while waiting for Bill McCormick, the senior survival school instructor, to show up. Once he did we were given instructions on how to use the hand-held radios and the VHF radios such as the ones we'll use in the dry valleys. It was a bit nerve racking for the KIWI troops knew all this stuff and some of us, who will be using this gear, wanted to learn.
After about an hour later the opposition team was taken outside with all their ECW gear and left for somewhere with Bill. We were left behind with Chas who told us we had a scenario to play out. It went like this: Tony, one of the Kiwi's had gone to the outhouse about an hour ago and he was just realized to be missing, and the weather state was a condition #1, a complete whiteout. We had to organize a search for Tony.
Initially we were lost as to what to do. We eventually made suggestions such as tying us at 10-meter intervals to a rope (had about a 100' rope) and then beginning a search. Sweeping first the left-hand quadrant at the back of the building, which was closest to the outhouse. If that did not work we'd sweep the other side and if that did not turn Tony up, we'd do the same thing at the front end of the building. So that was our solution. Wrong, we had to do it. We were told to put on all our ECW gear and to search. No problem it wasn't really a whiteout. OOPS. We had to put white buckets, literally preventing you from seeing beyond your nose, over our head. We found Tony, actually I did. I was the third person on the rope, so he was about 30 meters from the Jamesway. The only problem now was that the signal of 4 tugs on the rope to retrieve the person was not acted upon. So we did find him, but he probably would have died from exposure. We came in and debriefed. You could sense the realization that this in fact could, and in fact, has happened many time before in Antarctica, and unfortunately will probably happen again. Just as a point for those of you who remember the Massachusetts "Blizzard of 1978" there was a young boy, from southeast Massachusetts, who during the height of the blizzard went out to look for his dog and never came back. All the searching, was to no avail, he lost his life, and obviously his way to home and shelter, 7 feet from his front porch. Whiteouts are truly unbelievable.
We thought we were done,but, we were wrong again. Bill showed up just as we finished. We traded places with the other team and were given a new scenario to playout. This time it was a timed thing. The Nod-well was to be on fire and we had three goals: set up a tent, start a stove and contact McMurdo Operations. The key though is that we had to beat the other teams time of 8 minutes and 10 seconds.
Bill drove in circles and finally stopped; he ran to the back of the Nod-well and announced a fire. We were wiser this time, for by the time we exited the Nod-well we had three teams established, each with the task of meeting a specific goal. I was on the radio team with Bert, Kyle, and one of the KIWIs, Rodney I think. We ran to the radio box and set up the antenna only to find that our opposition had switched all the settings and had hid the handset. We slowed for a second, thought about we had to do; got everything squared away and made contact with McMurdo Operations. Having done our job, we ran to assist the tent team. We finished the whole scenario in just 5 minutes flat. Great, but one of the dead man stakes did not survive Mike's pull test, so we had to replant it. Done again, this time it passed, and were were done in 7.03 minutes. We beat them in spite of their cheating. Just as a point of information, the bad guys got their pay back for until some one on the team cheated (again), no one could find the victim.
Myself and two of the others were invited to ride back with Bill in a different tracked vehicle this one was called a Sprite. It was much quicker and much more personal, we were right in the cab with Bill. We chatted on the way back and we learned that we had many common friends in either NSF or ASA.
We got back to McTown about 20 minutes before the Nod-well so had time to use the indoor plumbing. Ah yes, the things we take for granted! After debriefing all the KIWIs and the ASA people left and the grantees remained for a relatively short, but most important video and talk on helicopter safety.
There are two types of copters used here, the most numerous being the A-star and there is one (forgot the name) that is quit a bit larger. We were instructed always to approach the bird from the front and side, never the back; and to "hold onto your hat and if it blows off don't chase it, for you probably won't have a head to put it on." Gruesome thought, but a real possibility.
We were given instructions on seat belting, how to use the radio and where the emergency beacons are located. Too much too fast, for a group of people who just spent 2 days in deep-field and were now sitting in a hot room. (Gee I hope I remember all this when I fly to the Dry Valleys.) We finished up and dragged our bags back to our dorms.
I showered and had a horrible chill, so layered up and laid down. There was a big party tonight and the whole town would be there. I planned to catch a couple of hour of sleep. Wrong, at 0222 hours I woke up. Missed the party and 1/2 the night, but more importantly was still shivering. I got out of bed to put more clothes on and learned that I was not sick, but that the furnace had gone out and it was the noise of them repairing that had awakened me.
Penguin Pete at Mc Station . OUT. (Do you like the radio jargon? Impressive Hey. The Hey is KWIWI talk, these guys are truly a bad influence.)
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