31 October, 1998
I woke up in my Scott tent at 6:00 am to hear mumbling in my tent and outside my tent. [I was wearing ear plugs-- the snow is really loud here-- and my night mask...remember the sun doesn't go down here]. The horizon had been clear yesterday, but this morning the sky looked a little foreboding and there was a slight snowfall. Diego, our designated radio person, radioed in to our instructors, telling them we were packing up an hour early because we didn't want to be caught in a storm.
We started up the stoves, ate hot oatmeal, drank hot chocolate, and broke down camp. It's amazing how much equipment is needed for 19 people! Each of the Scott tents weigh 80 pounds, so they had to be carried back to the equipment hut on sleds.
We walked back to the instructors' hut to have a debriefing on the night's events-- what worked and what didn't. Most people slept fairly well...keeping warm was the common theme.
We talked about risks in snow camping and how to manage those risks. We had lunch and then went over the various radios used here in Antarctica communication. One guy left camp here with a radio, got stuck, and realized that the battery on his radio was out. He didn't know how to change the battery and didn't have another one with him, so it took the people in the camp a while to realize that he wasn't returning and that they should go look for him. Communication is essential in an environment like this!
We ended the day with simple tests of our skills. We split up into 2 groups-- one group simulated white-out conditions with buckets on their heads and they had to find a lost person a short distance from the hut without jeopardizing any of the group. [This actually happened to a guy...he was 10 meters from the hut in white-out conditions, he couldn't find the hut, and so he died 10 meters away!] The other group (the one that I was in) simulated a crashed helicopter accident in which all of us survived and we had to decide what to do about it. We set up a tent with dead man's anchors, set up a stove to make sure we had water, and we sent a group to radio for help. Word came back that we would not get any help for another three weeks, and one of our group started experiencing mild hypothermia (so we fed her, hydrated her, and walked her to get her warm). These all were simulations but things we needed to know for survival.
Following both simulations, we debriefed once more in the instructors' hut and then packed up our gear and headed back to McMurdo around 4:00 pm. Nina and I had to stay an extra hour for helo training (helicoptor training-- how to behave around helicopters-- since we'll be using that as our transport to and from the Dry Valleys).
Wow-- being outside can really wipe a person out! Both Nina and I got windburned and that warm, hot feeling that you get after a day in the sun. I felt a headache coming on, meaning dehydration, so I drank lots of fluids in the evening.
I felt an incredible urge to go to bed early, but the big Halloween Party was tonight and I was told I had to see the costumes some of these people come up with. The Halloween Party is very big here, and people plan out their costumes throughout the year and bring their costumes to Antarctica with them when they come. The party was held in the gynasium. For the first part of the party, they had a DJ; for the second part, they had a live band. It was wild! The costumes ranged from Monica Lewinsky to Princess Lea to a really good replica of a marionette to Caribbean wear to the Scream guy. I had no idea McMurdo was this crazy...I went to bed with my dehydration headache still intact and decided I was sleeping in...
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