16 November, 1996
minimum temp. - 7.9 °C maximum temp - 1.5 ° C 8 knots wind More about our second day at snowcraft training.
I slept poorly last night because of constant wind against my side of the Scott tent. I wasn't cold, but perhaps nervous. What if I hadn't really put things like the tent cover away properly and they were flying around out there? What would it be like in the morning? etc.
It is cold and very windy in the morning when we got up. Some of our shelters were covered in snow. The two people in the igloo had to be dug out of the drifts. The same thing happened with the snow trench built for one person although he was able to get himself out of the drift. The group in the "Quincy" had to be dug out also. (Lesson learned: when sleeping in a snow shelter, always take in a shovel with you.) We thought we had oriented our tent in the correct direction for the prevailing winds, but this blow came from another direction. So there were large snow drifts around our tent because the wind deflected off our snow wall and dropped the snow just beyond it.
Most of us put on our heaviest clothing: the heavy thermal underwear, fleece pants and jacket, wind pants, balaclava or fleece lined hat, heavy gloves and heavy parka. This morning we didn't forget to use plenty of sunscreen too. Yesterday, several of us didn't wear enough and got sunburned. Because the sun never goes down, it is easy to get burned. (The next sunset is Feb. 22, 1997)
We had difficulty getting the stove to work. The matches seemed damp even if they had been sealed in a plastic bottle. We don't seem to have a convenient place to set up our stove because our designated area is covered with snow. Thus we decide to set it up in the Scott tent. Scott tents have an opening at the top to allow gases to go out. Our group of 7 crawled into the tent to have breakfast of instant oatmeal, hot chocolate, granola bars and gorp. We were having a grand time when Brooke, our instructor, shows up and reminds us we have done a very stupid thing. We forgot to leave the tent door open while using a stove. The stoves produce carbon monoxide and several people have died here because of not venting their tent. He had told us yesterday, but it must not have made an impression on us. Our faces were a little pink, a sign of CO poisoning, but not too bad. Danger lurks so easily and silently here. There is no chance for carelessness.
Breakfast done, we broke down our camp and walked a long way down to the instructor's tent for hot coffee and orange juice to supplement our breakfast. There we went through many scenarios about what could happen at a remote field site and how to avoid problems.
We got training in the use of field radios. Next we simulated what we would do if we were in a plane wreck and had to quickly set up camp and help an injured person. We managed to get a MSR emergency camp stove lit, set up a radio with radio antenna, call in South Pole, erect a Sierra mountain tent and stake it down so it was secure in 16min 23 sec. Pretty good, considering it took us hours yesterday to do the same thing. Next we did a simulated rescue of a person with hypothermia, another with an injury and a third lost in a whiteout.
The last search and rescue was must interesting. In a whiteout situation, you cannot see ahead of you and often you cannot ever hear because of the roar of the wind. Two people were "lost". The rest of us developed a search plan using only a rope and flags. To make the simulation more realistic, we wore white buckets on our heads. You cannot see using them and really had to depend upon the other persons holding the rope as you spread out your search area. We came within 1 foot of one person and never found her. It made us realize how difficult it is to find someone in a whiteout. If one person does something stupid such as wandring off, he can endanger many others as they try to find him. That is quite a thought.
Finally it was time to return to McMurdo, tired, but more confident about going to a remote site on the Ross Ice shelf. The weather had cleared and Mr. Erebus, the volcano nearby ,was smoking gently. I thought, "What a spectacular view." There still is volcanic activity in this continent, with Mt. Erebus spouting steam. I wished I hadn't used up all my camera film already.
As we rode back to base I had a long talk with one of the Antarctic Support Associates (ASA) personnel. His comments put things in perspective. McMurdo is like a small city with 1000 people in summer. Buildings are numbered and the Crary lab is number 1. All things are working to support whatever research is being done in Building 1. All the maintenance personnel, the supply crews, the galley (lunch room), heavy equipment, helicopter transport, transport ships with crews, etc. are there just to continue research being done in this very harsh environment. What an awesome responsibility. I think I need to call it a day. Tomorrow Jennifer and I will try to test the digital video camera and check our equipment in the snow if possible. When Dr. Braaten gets back from AGO2 (near South Pole) where he has another remote weather site, we may have a set of ice core samples to analyze so we will really get busy. We still have to get our official radio training instruction and finally get cleared in safety around helicopters because a helicopter takes us to our remote site Friday.
I am not sure when I will leave here. Flights don't leave McMurdo each day. Additionally, the tickets for redeployment of Jennifer and I aren't quite the same. Things will have to be ironed out. I have been lucky so far....we got to McMurdo on the first flight... but don't know how our luck will continue. Jennifer and I flew in to McMurdo with a group of four people bound for the South Pole. They tried repeatedly to get there, so far with little luck. One time the plane got to the Pole, circled the runway twice, tried to set down, but couldn't see the runway with such low visibility. That had to be discouraging.
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