22 October, 1999
"Happy Camper School". That's what they call it. It is actually a class called Snowcraft I and is a one-day winter survival course that is required of anyone who is going to travel away from McMurdo Station. I have just returned from my training and I am a bit tired and a lot wiser. I had been anticipating this training since I first found out that I was coming to Antarctica. I was excited about having such a unique experience, but at the same time I was nervous about camping in such extreme conditions. It turned out to be, overall, a very positive learning experience. I met some neat people as well.
24 "Happy Campers" met at the McMurdo Search and Rescue Building at 9:00AM for our training. Our two instructors, Brennan and Bill, are both experienced guides and members of the McMurdo Search and Rescue (SAR) Team. Bill has been in Antarctica for 7 seasons. This was Brennan's first year here, but he has extensive experience in guiding in the Cascade Mountains and other locations. Both Bill and Brennan did their best to lower our anxiety. The course is designed to provide the skills needed for people out in the field to handle situations where they may not be able to get back to camp or other emergency situations. We started out by getting some information about the contents of the survival bags. Each person who leaves McMurdo needs to have with them a survival bag. It contains everything you need to survive for several days in the harsh Antarctic environment. It has a tent, sleeping kit, stove, food and snow tools. Brennan also talked to us about cold related health problems. These include hypothermia, frostbite and dehydration. The main things we learned about being in the cold are: 1) It is easier to stay warm then it is to get warm. You should prevent heat loss by wearing several layers of clothing. Make sure you stay dry. If you exercise, make sure you loosen your clothing, so you don't sweat and make your clothes wet. Do not wear cotton clothing, because cotton holds water. Also, wear an outer wind breaker and wind pants to prevent heat loss. 2) The three main ways to warm up your body, if you are cold, are exercise, food and hot liquids. It is very important to drink lots of water and other liquids because the air in Antarctica is so dry. Brennan stressed prevention of problems, rather then having to deal with a serious situation in the field.
After the lecture portion, we all got into a big tracked vehicle called a Nodwell and went out to the site of the overnight training. When we got there, it was beautiful. The weather was bright and sunny. There was little wind. Mt. Erebus, an active volcano, was puffing in the distance. In one direction there was a spectacular icefall, in the other was another fantastic mountain, Mt. Terror. We were on the Ross Ice Shelf, a permanent ice shelf which is a part of the Antarctic ice sheet which extends out onto the Ross Sea. This first thing we did was construct shelters. We set up at pyramid tent called a Scott Tent. It is designed to be set up in very high winds. We also built a snow mound by piling all of our sleeping kits in a big pile and covering it with lot's of snow and packing it down. Someone then dug into the mound, pulled out the bags and dug out the inside. It made a really cool shelter. We also set up three mountain tents. We had to build a large snow wall to protect these tents from the wind. Wojciech Majewski, a graduate student from Poland, and myself decided to build a trench shelter for us to stay in. This is a type of emergency shelter that is called the "Grave That Saves" because it can be built in the most extreme conditions to get you out of the wind. It was quite a difficult project, but we completed it by the evening.
We then built a kitchen out of blocks of snow and had supper. We used the camping stoves and made freeze dried meals. It was pretty good, but after working so hard on the shelters, I think anything would have tasted great! After a walk to enjoy the wonderful scenery, it was into our sleeping bags for the night.
You will have to wait until the next journal to find out how that went. I'm too tired to write any more tonight. (That should give you a hint on how I slept.)
Below is a slide show of some pictures from "Happy Camper School".
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