23 November, 1996
Nov 23 journal. Late in the evening out at Ferrell automatic weather station, 60 miles from McMurdo on the Ross ice shelf.
I'm now sitting in a tent writing in pencil because ball point
and felt tip pens won't work in this cold.
We got up at 6Am, dressed and dashed to breakfast. We said "Goog bye" to Dr. Scott Borg, one of the NSF program directors who has been very supportive. He is scheduled to return to the states today. He has told us to really trust our ECW gear and other equipment that NSF/ASA provides. He has been in the field numerous times and knows what to expect. He has been interested in what Jennifer and I are doing and why we are here. We will miss him.
We then dressed in our Extreme Cold Weather gear (ECW) by 7:30. We walked to the helo pad early because we were so hot in our room with all the clothes on. Our flight was planned for about 8, but we finaly got off at 9:35. We watched all the loading of our gear as we waited. The helo pad also gives a bird's eye view of the runway so we watched as LC 130's left for Christchurch or the Pole.
The Kiwi's (New Zealanders) were to fly us to our field site so the helmets we were issued didn't permit us to talk to the pilots. We really couldn't hear, but we were too fascinated at the scenery to worry about that anyway. Jennifer and I were stashed in the place at the side rear of the chopper, what was called the "hell Hole" during the Viet Nam war because the gunners always sat there. It provides a fantastic view, but you are riding sideways. This helicopter is the same as the Hueys used by the US, but is painted green. (All the buildings at the New Zealand base, Scott Base, are also painted green. Odd) Jennifer and I had already taken photos of loading our gear and contineued to document our trip with photos from the chopper. We seemed to just skim over the ice. You really can see ripples all over.
We arrived about 10 and unloaded. The Kiwi pilot told us to lay on our baggage to keep it from going aloft when the chopper lifted and left us. We had always been told that regulations said we were supposed to set up our radio and check it before being left, but I guess things have changed. It usually is a frantic scramble to set up the radio while the helicopters wait for you, but I guess they thought that since we were only 60 miles away from McMurdo it would be OK to leave us before a radio check.
We first set up one Scott tent which serves as a lounge,
kitchen, radio room, laundry drying, etc. This tent is about 6-7 ft square, shaped like a pyramic and about 7 ft tall at the apex. It
has an opening at the top for a PVC pipe serving as a chimney. It also has a long cylindrical door with two layers: one, a heavy outer door and the inner tube serving as a lining. The idea is that this will prevent so much snow from getting into the tent. It really is well designed. I wondered if the Antarctic explorer, Robert Scott designed it or if it was just named to honor him. No answer. I'll have to research that.
It took some effort to get the tent up. Jennifer, Suruj, and I had forgotten how to set the "Dead Man" anchors in the snow. They must be placed in at least 6 places to secure the tent in heavy winds. Ferrell site is famous for steady winds, so we have to be sure. On a dead man anchor you go down into the snow at least two feet and dig a T-shaped hole which is undercut and angled toward the tent. The tent string is attached with double half hitch knots around a large piece of pipe placed in the hole and covered with
packed snow. The other end is tied to the tent with a trucker's knot. We had seen this at Happy Camper School, but I had forgotten. Thank goodness, Dr. Braaten knows all about this.
Next we set up the HF radio and checked in with Mac Ops (McMurdo communication operations). We had to move the radio antenna several times to get it angled correctly so the signal bounced off Black island where they have a repeater to amplify the signal and send it to McMurdo. Once this is set up we won't have to move it anymore. Each morning we are to check with Mac Ops at 8:15. We are lucky to get a later check in time as this gives us a little time to sleep in in the morning.
All our baggage is moved into one line, the cargo line. This
will make it easler to find in case of lots of snow blowing and drifts form.
Next we set up the second Scott tent which goes up must faster
now that we know how to put in the dead man anchors and raise the tent more efficiently. This will serve as the potty tent. The "potty" is a large can lined with a burlap sac, two plastic bags and covered with a toilet seat which is made of a heavy styrofoam so it won't seem cold to exposed flesh. We also mark off an area by a "pee" flag. All urine, gray water from washing dishes, cooking, etc. will be concentrated at this site. All the solid from the potty will be bagged up and returned (retrograded) back to McMurdo when we leave.
We eat lunch: peanut butter, bagels, hot soup, hot chocolate or coffee, granola bars and Pringles potato chips. We have brought about 125 pounds of food here, which includes food we plan to eat plus dried survival food to last us another 3-4 days if we cannot get out in time. A lot of our food is frozen and we can just leave it out in a large box on the cargo line. It never thaws. In fact, getting the food thawed the day we want to eat it might be a major problem.
Let me describe how a meal goes. First you fill the Coleman
Stove tank with fuel at a site away from where we will be collecting snow to drink. Get 3 large pots of snow and heat them to melt the snow. This takes a LONG time when you want really hot water for chocolate or coffee. Then you can cook your meals. Later you have to clean dishes. I'll describe that later.
After lunch we make two snow walls. This was tough because cutting the snow blocks was hard. There is an ice layer about 12 inches down in the snow and we wanted to make the blocks about 18 inches thick. We use ice saws to cut the blocks. The blocks are also heavy, but we get each
wall 3 blocks high and about 8-9 feet long. This produces large pits in which our tents will be placed to give them more stability and resistance to the wind. The Sierra tents are easy to put up because we practiced at the Berg Field Center last week. Thank goodness for all our training. Now we understand why we had to have field survival training, helicopter training, radio training, etc. We REALLY needed the skills.
Late this evening we eat dinner. We cooked boiled shrimp and scallops and accompanied them with instant rice and oriental vegetables. It tasted really great. We had huge helpings and I am surprised that I could eat
it all. We keep several bags in this tent; one for burnables, one for food waste, one for cans, etc. These will get returned to McMurdo
for later shipment back to the US for recycling or disposal. Even trash isn't burned here to prevent polluting the air. We have to separate the burnable wastes from any wastes that might be burnable, but are contaminated with food. Any of the food contaminated waste must be shipped back to the states in a refrigerated area to prevent spoilage. Things get so complicated when we try to protect the environment of this pristene land.
When we cleaned up the dishes, we first
wiped the plates clean with paper towele (burnable) and then washed in a minimum of water. Finally we rinsed them with boiling water and wiped them dry. However, doing this while bending or kneeling over in a tent can be tedious.but we did it as a group project and it went fast.
I am really tired now and it is only 9PM. As I prepare for bed,
I am amazed at how still it is. It is so quiet. No sounds of birds, animals, machines, air conditioners, heaters, etc. Just silence. Amazing. This is the end of a tiring, but exhilarating day at a place with incredible beauty. You also realize though, how unforgiving it is to those who make mistakes. We have been told numerous tales of people who either got lost, were suffocated of carbon monoside poisoning intheir tents, froze because they didn't wear proper gear or nearly died when their tent blew away. It is awesome, but scary. I look forward to a new, exciting day tomorrow.
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