19 January, 2003
Antarctic Camping and Life in a Tent
There are no flights today. The helo squadron is conducting a "Safety Standown." This means that they will be concentrating not only on the events that may have caused the accident with the helicopter yesterday but also all other aspects of safety.
For us, it means we will stay put because our equipment, backpacks, and other items needed to do major fieldwork are at the base of the Dais which is a long ways away now. The squadron hopes to be flying tomorrow (even though it will be Sunday and normally flights are not conducted then). We will be able to get our gear then. In the meantime we are able to do some housekeeping around the camp. We can still do some limited geology work nearby.
I'd like to take this opportunity then to give you an idea of life in the tents and in camp. Bruce takes care of the 7:30 am radio check with MAC OPS (McMurdo Operations). This is to let folks know we're OK plus double check the helo schedule and discuss any administrative or logistic needs. For meals, we heat water in the morning for oatmeal, make toast on the stove, and have some fruit for a typical breakfast. We pack lunches consisting of bagels with deli meats and cheese, plus granola bars, dried fruit, juices, and trail mix for snacking. Enough for a big lunch and a smaller one later. We take turns cooking dinner. Karina made a rotation for us which we sort of follow. Bruce takes care of Sunday morning breakfasts. We eat quite well here and everyone makes delicious meals. We've had salmon steaks, tacos, pasta, halibut, etc. We also take turns cleaning up after dinner, taking out the trash, cleaning up the area around the tents, and so on. There really aren't any assigned duties for these - everyone pitches in periodically. Generally whoever cooks dinner doesn't need to be concerned with any cleaning afterwards. We all get along really well, have plenty of stories and enjoy each others company. Our meals are always in the ladies tent because it is the biggest. We like to try to have a "cocktail hour" as Bruce calls it before dinner. It's a great way to relax when we come back after hiking and is usually cheese and meats and crackers.
It's cold here but because the equipment is so good that's not really an issue. It's also dry so we need to apply lotion to our skin and sunscreen when hiking. We need to drink a lot of fluids. There are no showers or running water. That means no bathing but we use towlettes and waterless soap for cleaning up. I brought some waterless shampoo that I've used. Supposedly this is stuff the astronauts use. It's OK but not great. I use baby toothpaste which is safe to swallow.
The bathroom is mountain tent with large buckets inside with plastic liners and toilet seats. There are two depending on what you need to do. All waste needs to be shipped out so these buckets when full are sealed with tight fitting lids and duct-taped shut. Then they are sent back via helicopter to McMurdo. That's already probably more than you want to know.
One of the biggest things to get used to is the 24 hours of sunlight. At McMurdo, we had dorm rooms with no windows but here it's bright all the time. This makes it tricky to sleep but you get used to it. The Quantas Airline flight from Los Angeles to New Zealand gave us a small bag which included, among other things, a blindfold for sleeping on the plane. We all kept them and it makes sleeping a little easier. It can get cold in the tent at night but the sleeping bags are great and have a removable fleece liner. Our dinner times vary depending on when we get back from the field. 7 pm is usually normal. We will be up until 11 pm just talking. I'm usually up until 1 or 2 am to work on journals or do some reading. I brought two novels with me but haven't opened them at all. Maybe I will when the field portion is finished and we return to McMurdo. The reading I'm doing is either related to geology or the history of Antarctica. I've learned a lot about both since I've been here and the other members of the team are the best geology teachers on the continent.
Hopefully tomorrow we will be able to get back into the field.
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