3 November, 1998
Tuesday, November 3, 1998
Hi friends! "Happy Camper" school (snow survival and field training) was a real experience. Let me share it with you...
I had to report to the Search and Rescue building at 9:00 AM on Tuesday...in FULL ECW gear. The walk up the hill to the building wore me out...little did I know what was in store! :) The rest of my gear was brought along in one of my orange duffles. After meeting Bill and Joe, our two instructors, we got some basic information on what the course would involve. This course is required for those people who will be leaving McMurdo and going into the field to work, or those (like me) going to visit a site out of town. Since I will be visiting the Cape Roberts drill site, I needed to be prepared.
Bill, the head instructor, is a very experienced guide and outdoor leader. He has led many trips in the Cascade Range in Oregon and Washington, and many other places. Joe is from Alaska...this is his first season on the ice...but he has lots of experience guiding people up in Denali National Park. He works there in the summer. Together they made a very knowledgable team of leaders.
Inside the Search and Rescue building we saw examples of what would be in a survival bag, what we would take when leaving McMurdo. After introductions and meeting the other parcticipants in the class, we headed out of town toward the permanent ice shelf near Scott Base. We drove over in two vehicles...most of us in a large one called a "Delta" that had huge wheels. The other vehicle, called a "Spryte" moves more like a bulldozer does. The ride took about 20 minutes because these vehicles don't move that fast. We arrived at a building they call a "Jamesway" and went inside for some instruction before going out into the field.
Bill and Joe talked about a variety of topics, including the gear we would be supplied with, use of MSR backpacking stoves, and snow camping techniques. After lunch in the Jamesway, we walked to a nearby storage shed where we were given a large duffle bag, down sleeping bag, two foam pads, and a fleece sleeping bag liner. The bag didn't end up weighing much...but was rather large. These bags had to be carried to the Delta and all of our gear was transported to the nearby "Snow Mound City." All of us had to WALK to the spot which was about a 20 minute walk from the Jamesway. Hiking in the bunny boots is not an easy task!
Once we arrived in Snow Mound City we took a look at some snow shelters built by other classes in recent weeks. There were trenches with A-framed blocks on top, mounds of snow that looked similar to igloos--called Quincys (I think I spelled that right...no one around here knows how to spell it...they just know how to build it!), and walls made of neatly sawed blocks of snow. It was quite a display and if you look at the slide show I'm going to have up on the web site soon, you will see examples of these!
We learned how to set up a "Scott tent" which is an A shape and quite tall. Setting up the Scott tent really took team work. It was folded into a thin long bag and when they took it out to set it up, I was surprise at its size. It had to be anchored down on each side with piles of snow, and we learned how to make a "deadman anchor" using a piece of piping and rope. We used ice axes to dig a T shape hole, carefully secured the pipe inside it, and made a "trucker's hitch" knot to secure the rope and cinch it tight. You will see some examples of the tent on the slide show.
The other shelter we made was the Quincy. All of our large duffles were piled neatly and covered with a tarp. This was done by Bill, while we were working on the Scott tent. Soon we were instructed to start shoveling snow on top of the yellow tarp...shoveling, and shoveling, and shoveling. The new mound of snow we were creating would become the top and outside of our shelter. It is so cold here that the new snow structure "set up" or solidified very quickly. Bill walked on top of it, and stuck his ice axe handle down inside to check the depth. When he was satisfied that the thickness of the structure was sufficient to hold its form, we began phase two of the project.
This part of the structure was FUN but a lot of hard work. Someone had to tunnel into the side of the mound and find the bags hidden inside. They were pulled out one by one and stacked over on the snow...again! The tarp came out from the inside and what was left was a cavity that could be enlarged into a snow shelter. I had met Brian, from the New York Air National Guard, earlier in the day. He went inside the mound and worked very hard on enlarging the inside...lowering the floor, smoothing the ceiling out, and trying to reach the folks on the other side of the Quincy who were tunneling in to make a door.
The door had to be dug out differently than the hole to get the bags out. It needed to slope downward and then back up again...this way the cold air would become trapped and not get inside as easily. All of this activity took hours and hours to complete. I helped Brian out by removing the snow from the tunnel opening, and tossing it back outside the structure. I am STILL sore from all of that shoveling. By the time the Quincy was competed...it was 8:00 PM. It had taken about 5 hours to complete.
For dinner, we kept things simple. Who wanted to clean out pots and pans anyway? Not me. We boiled water for hot cocoa, coffee, soup, and used dehydrated meals in a bag for the main course. I hate those things! You pour a couple of cups of water into the bag to re-hydrate (or put water back INTO) the noodles, vegetables, meat, or whatever. If you don't get it stirred up properly or don't wait long enough, the food isn't the right consistency. I gobbled mine up anyway because I was very hungry after working so hard all afternoon. Also, I was sure to drink plenty of water and other fluids...you must keep yourself from becoming dehydrated. This is SO important. The warm drinks really helped me out!
Since there was still plenty of daylight (24 hours worth!) we decided to take a hike after dinner. This was for two reasons...to KEEP WARM and to enjoy the beautiful scenery all around us. Mt. Erebus was off in the distance...they said 27 miles to the summit (top) but it looked so much closer. Small wisps of steam were coming out of the volcano all day and night. The varying stages of sunlight caused terrific shadows and patterns on the mountains and surrounding hills.
We hiked to "Silver City" hut--more like a trailer than a hut...about 20 minutes away. We followed a flagged route set up so that people are safely away from crevasses. These are cracks in the ice that are extremely dangerous. Bill told us a story of two men who were out hiking a few years ago. A storm came up and they left the flagged trail to Castle Rock...thinking it would be quicker to cut across, than follow the trail. They fell into crevasses and actually didn't die from the fall, but from waiting to be rescued. They were wedged into the crevasses so tightly that they were not rescued in time. It is SO important to follow the instructions given to you and not venture off on your own. I know that I listen very carefully each time someone tells me about safety in Antarctica (or anywhere else!).
When we arrived at Silver City we found that the hut was very well stocked...with food, five beds (two sets of bunk beds and one twin), a two- burner Coleman stove, and a larger heater (not in use at the time). There were a few others in the hut at the time...other members of our group wanting to warm up, too! :) After a brief stay we continued hiking away from camp for another 10 minutes or so, then headed back. It was nearing midnight and we thought about going into the shelter to try to sleep.
Once inside the Quincy, it was hilarious to try to take off some of the outer wear, like our red parkas, and put on more layers of expedition long underwear, hats, gloves, etc... Here's what I slept in (well I never really slept)...polypro sock liners, wool socks, fleece outer socks, expedition long underwear, another layer of fleece long undies, a long sleeved long underwear top, followed by an expedition capilene long underwear top, a fleece jacket, a neck gaiter, a fleece headband, and a fleece hat. I was also wearing glove liners and a pair of wool mittens. I had boiling water in my water bottle, to create a hot water bottle effect....this was in the bottom of my sleeping bag. I was inside a fleece bag, which was INSIDE my sleeping bag. I was on a pad, with my parka zipped over my feet. The mummy bag was pulled over my head, with only a small opening to breathe. All this...and I was freezing cold and shivering!
This was due partly to the fact that I loaned one of my pads to the person in the Quincy with me. Bags had gotten switched around and when the duffle was opened, we discovered that my partner's bag only had two sleeping bags in it...no pads or fleece liner. Oops! I should have put my coat under the trunk of my body to keep me warmer...I have learned a valuable lesson. I shivered for hours and hours and finally gave up the fight and got dressed and went for a hike...not alone though. You should not do that! I took a friend along. All in all...I think I got about 5 minutes of sleep..maybe 10 tops. Stay tuned to see what I did after my hike...I can't even say "tomorrow" because it was tomorrow already...the days were blending together in a blurr of COLD! Gotta say, this was an AWESOME experience though. Lots of laughs and lots of hard work with a team. I like that! Talk to you "tomorrow" or should I say on the next journal entry.
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