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20 November, 1999

Sleeping in a Quinzhee

Kevan Carpenter, primo quinzhee builder, is working with a New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology ice sampling project on Mt. Moulton in West Antarctica. The team, led by Dr. Nelia Dunbar, will camp at ~10,000 feet for a month. They are examining layers of volcanic ash and air imbedded in the ice to determine climatic variations over the last 500,000 years. The layers range in age from 15,000 to 480,000 years old and are believed to be from a nearby volcano. They'll collect the ice samples using a collection of chainsaws with carbide blades.

He's sitting on his gear in the side of completed snow mound that he's sharing with his coworker Dan. Both of them have had a lot of experience snow camping. I, on the other hand, have none. At 11:00 p.m., I set up my sleep kit (bag, liner, foam and inflatable pad) in the other side of the double mound. I had been toasty warm in my ECW gear most of the day, but as I searched in my duffle bag for extra layers to put on, I had to remove my gloves and my fingertips began to freeze. That got me hurrying.

I decided against hanging out in the cold any longer, and when I got into the dome, made a bad choice. I had just gotten so cold, I didn't want to change into new long underwear layers. The idea of taking off my clothes to do that was excruciating. Instead, I put an additional two layers on. I snuggled into my overly large bag wearing the clothes I had sweated in all day. Except for my socks, they felt pretty dry by this time. Remember I said that would come back to haunt me? Three hours later, I was still lying there shivering and as miserably cold as I'd ever been. I was now wearing five insulating layers and the cold felt like it was slowly seeping through my skin, right into my core. Not coincidentally, I was cold in all the places I had sweated earlier. Worse, after putting it off for hours, I finally had to pull on my bunny boots and slide through the entrance to go outside in the snow to pee! (Apparently, holding back the excess fluids make you feel even colder.) When I reentered the tent, I gritted my teeth, pulled off my old layers and put fresh ones on. It must have helped because next thing I knew, it was after 8:00 and snow-camper Kevan was passing a thermos of hot chocolate in to me.

So, what did I learn the hard way from all this? I'll always, ALWAYS, forever more, change into verifiably dry clothing before climbing into my sleeping bag! I've also switched to a narrower mummy bag. The closer fit should help keep my body heat in with me while I sleep. I've still yet to try this out in the field, so wish me luck!

It was absolutely still inside the mound. When the light inside appears = blueish like this, you know the walls are thick enough to protect you. By = morning, the snow and sky had merged into a flurry of white.

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