Sunday, October 14, 2007
Living and working in the coldest, driest, windiest place on Earth can be very dangerous. In my short time here, I've heard may stories of adventures that went seriously wrong. As a way of minimizing the danger, everyone down here must attend cold weather survival training. The first course I took was Sea Ice Training. Not everyone needs to take this course, but since I will be living on sea ice for five weeks I'm glad I had the opportunity to learn more about my future home-away-from-home. We learned to recognize signs of ice cracks that form throughout the season and how to test the thickness of the ice to make sure it's safe to travel on. Very important skills to have!
The second course is the one that every first time McMurdo resident must take is called Snow Craft Training, but most people refer to it as Happy Camper School. This course involves an overnight camping trip out on the ice shelf far away from town. Most people get very anxious about this course because you have to sleep in tents or snow shelters out there and boil water on small camp stoves to make dehydrated food for dinner. Most people don't get much sleep and some participants get frost nipped or frost bitten fingers or toes or noses.
I must admit, I've been feeling nervous about Happy Camper School ever since I found out I had been selected for the Arise team. That's almost five months spent being a little scared. I feel so much better now that it's over and I know I can survive a night in a tent on snow and ice in sub-zero temperatures, -17degrees F to be exact!
Even though the course was challenging I can say that I was a fairly happy camper. The group of twenty of us made a very good team. We enjoyed each others' company, everyone pitched in, and all the work was done well. Together we learned to quarry snow building blocks to construct a wind wall, put up tents with special anchors buried in the snow, dig sleeping trenches that reminded me of rabbit burrows, and make a snow hut. I spent most of the afternoon and evening digging a snow trench intending to sleep in it, but realized as the evening was becoming night, that my trench wasn't quite big enough to keep an insulating layer of air around me. My muscles were already telling me they were tired and it wasn't smart to keep up the effort, so I climbed into one of the yellow pyramid shaped Scott tents. I slept a little, shivered much, and was very glad when one of my tent mates said it was time to get up and break down the camp.
I was very, very glad when we drove back into town on one of the many red people movers and could finally use a real bathroom instead of the freezing cold outhouse! With the really useful courses behind me, I think I'm ready to head out to our field camp. Or at least I will be, after I do my laundry.