30 October, 1998
Happy Camper School Day! Nina and I had breakfast at 7:00 am, picked up some handwarmers for our trip, and did some miscellaneous errands before we had to report to Happy Camper School. We gathered our bags of overnight stuff, extra ECW gear, and trudged up the hill to the survival school building.
Our instructors, Chas and Nancy, introduced themselves and explained the notion of Happy Camper School (which it was called after they realized the probable negative feelings "Winter Survival Camp" may have caused to some people). They reviewed ways of preventing frostbite, dehydration, and hypothermia-- focusing on how to help someone experiencing signs of any of them, and common mistakes that people make in helping that person. They told us that we must constantly be drinking water and eating food. This would prevent lots of problems. We could have as much chocolate and goodies as we wanted. Again-- food...but, wow, now I had an excuse!
We loaded our food, water bottles, and some equipment into a Delta and Sprite (names of various vehicles in McMurdo). The Delta is a large, rectangular bus that has VERY large wheels for this kind of terrain. The Sprite is smaller and has conveyor-type wheels on it. [In order to operate any of these vehicles here in Antarctica, you have to go through training and obtain your Antarctica driver's license]. We climbed the mountains right behind McMurdo and crossed over to the other side, past Scott Base (the Kiwis base), and out on the ice. We unloaded our gear and equipment next to a Jamesway building (building designed out of mahogany wood for the Korean War-- sort of a half-cylinder building). We had a briefing in the Jamesway and then had lunch.
During the afternoon, we reviewed the techniques of stove setup and stove cleaning for our overnight adventure ahead. We then gathered our sleeping gear for the night-- one sleeping bag, one polar fleece sleeping bag liner, and 2 pads to go under the sleeping bag per person. Too bad they weren't Thermarest pads...that was important to me later! We walked a stretch down the road (trails marked by colored flags) to where we would be camping for the night. We went over the various ways of building shelters and the pros and cons of each. At our disposal, we had 2 Polar Expedition tents (Scott Tents, used by Scott on his Antarctica Expeditions), 3 mountaineering tents, and ice picks, shovels, saws, and hammers to build snow wind walls, igloos, trenches, or Quinzee huts. They taught us to make a quarry by sawing down into the snow, pulling out perfect cubes of snow to pile on top of each other (either for an igloo, for a wind wall, or for a snow trench). Another group stacked many of our sleeping gear bags on top of each other, covered them with a tarp, and piled about 1-1/2 to 2 feet of snow on top of them. After patting down the snow and leaving it to sit for about 15 to 20 minutes, they were able to dig down and up into the bags, creating an entrance into the Quinzee hut. By pulling the bags out one by one, they were able to create the flat-surfaced sleeping space they needed. Having the level of the sleeping floor higher than the entrance creates warmer air for sleeping (rather than a cold sink). I helped with the wind wall for the 3 mountaineering tents. We cut out rectangles of snow with a saw, shoveled them out, and placed in stacks of three or four high to create a wind wall. It is very important when camping in Antarctica that you prepare for the high winds that could come up at any time. When staking the tents, we had to use dead man's anchors where you make a trench perpendicular to the rope coming out of the tent. Then we undercut the side of the trench closest to the tent, found a stake to lay in the trench undercut with the rope around it, filled the trench in with snow, and stamped on it to insure that it would stay. If the stake were simply pushed into the snow, it would slide right out when the winds picked up.
The instructors left camp about 5:30 - 6:00ish, after telling us to stick together and not go out in groups of less than two. They pointed out where there were crevasses in the snow and encouraged hiking along the marked trail only (again, colored flags).
We ate dehydrated meals mixed with boiling water (we simply boiled snow). The meals were things like beef stroganoff, chicken dinner, and beans and chili. We drank loads of hot chocolate and did some exploring.
On climbing into a Scott Tent that night, I put handwarmers in my glove liners and wore my long underwear, fleece tops and bottoms, socks, and my hat to bed. Contrary to what people had warned, I did not sweat at all. [The sweat becomes a problem because it makes you wet and hence colder. You must always change wet clothes in a cold environment because the wet will just wick away your heat]. I slept fairly well, but as I mentioned above, I wish the pads underneath had been Thermrest pads because then I wouldn't have had to keep shifting to keep the cold from coming up from underneath. If I had to do it over again, I would have put my bibbed wind-overalls underneath as well. It just would have been one more layer between me and the ground! I survived the night and kept reasonably warm, after waking up once to put handwarmers in my socks, too. I cannot imagine the earlier explorers doing this night after night and not having any respite from the cold!
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