7 November, 2001
Nov 7th-Teachers Go To School Too!
Yesterday was the beginning of Snow School. This is a two-day course that is designed to teach people how to survive in Antarctica. Our instructors were Ty and Thai. They are both mountain guides when they're not in Antarctica. Besides being Snow School instructors here, they are part of the Search and Rescue team. If anyone is lost, injured or in danger, Ty and Thai are on call to go out and rescue that person. These guys know what they're doing.
At the beginning of Snow School, we had about 2 hours of instruction on safety techniques. Ty and Thai covered everything from how to avoid frostbite and hypothermia (where the temperature of your body drops to a dangerously low point and you can die) to ways of making your time out in the cold a pleasant experience. It is vital to drink lots and lots of water and eat enough food to keep your body warm
Next we were taken to our outdoor "classroom". This was out on the sea ice about twenty minutes from McMurdo. I forgot to mention yesterday that planes land on the sea ice in Antarctica. Yes they literally land on frozen sea! Where we landed is called the Ice Runway. I'll be working out there over the next two weeks before we being flying up into the mountains. The sea ice is about 12 feet thick right now, but will soon begin to melt as the Antarctic summer progresses. By mid December, the Ice Runway will no longer be used and planes will land in another area that is more solid.
Back to Snow School. The next part of our day consisted of learning how to use stoves, putting up two kinds of tents, building snow walls and snow shelters. My favorite part was building a snow wall to surround a tent. Our group really had fun with this. We cut blocks of snow and stacked them up. By the time we were done, we got creative and turned our snow wall into a castle! Cutting and lifting snow blocks is a lot of work!
In order to build a snow shelter, or snow cave as we called it, we piled up lots and lots of bags of our gear and covered them with snow. This sounds easy, but we had to make the layer of snow really thick. Thai would periodically take an ice axe and test our snow mound to see if it was thick enough. After it finally passed his inspection, we let the snow mound sit for about an hour. Then came time to cut a hole and pull the bags out, leaving a cave as a result. I went into it but couldn't lie in there for more than a few minutes without feeling claustrophobic! Some people actually spent the night in the snow shelter. I opted for a mountaineering tent.
After all of our hard work, Thai and Ty left our group for the night. We had a radio with us just incase something went wrong. We had to heat water for our dehydrated dinners and finish setting up our camp. One of the members of our group, David, became the cook for the evening. He heated water for everyone. He was so nice!! I was so cold at that point that David saved the day! Thanks David!!
I shared a tent with Maggie. I have to say that I was warm and slept really well. I was so tired though, so I probably could have fallen asleep anywhere! The next morning we got up around 7:00am and started to break camp. Thai and Ty came to pick us up at 9:00am. The fun wasn't over yet however. Now we had to sit for a class on radio use in the field. We were taken to the Instructor Hut where Thai and Ty slept and shown the ins and outs of radios. Everyone was so tired at this point. It was really hard to stay awake.
After this we had our "tests". The first one involved eleven of us having to put buckets over our heads to simulate whiteout conditions where you can't see anything because the weather is so bad. We had to try to "rescue" Ty who went outside and was missing. We tied ourselves together with a rope and used bamboo sticks to try to find him. Talk about the blind leading the blind! It was hilarious! We couldn't see a thing and kept stumbling. It took about fifteen minutes before we found him.
For the second "test" we had to pretend our snow vehicle was on fire and were forced to camp in the middle of nowhere. We had to set up a tent and get our stove working. Basically we put into practice everything we had learned the day before.
At this point in the day all we wanted to do was sleep, but there was still more to do! We went back to McMurdo and had Helicopter School (also known as Helo School). We learned about how to approach a running helicopter safely, how to board the helo, how to use the tricky seat belts etc. Finally at about 4:00pm we were done. I got in the shower the minute we were back in the dorm! What an experience! I am so tired. Snow School was great. Our instructors were excellent teachers!! You see, Mrs. Curtis went to school too!
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