Sunday, October 28, 2007

Very Happy Campers

We could not have had better weather for Happy Camper School!
It was a balmy +9 Fahrenheit . Our group included people from the Firehouse, the Hospital, the Heavy Machine shop. the Electricians shop, and other science groups, so we got to meet people outside the Andrill group which was good. After a brief intro to the dangers associated with being outdoors in Antarctica we rode out to the 'Happy Camper' Base on the McMurdo Ice Shelf in a 'Delta' - it was initially designed for transporting people across the Canadian tundra we were told. We learned about stoves and the camping equipment, then we collected our equipment, and went out to set up camp.
We pitched two Scott tents, 4 mountain tents, and built a Quinzee. Some people (including Rainier, from the Andrill ARISE group) built trenches. We also flagged the route to the outhouse, built a protective wall, and set up the camp kitchen. Check out the other ARISE blogs to hear more about Happy Camper School.
Some people went cross-country skiing. I took pictures of the banners that I have from Talahi Community School in St. Cloud Minnesota, Friends School of Minnesota in St. Paul, and my Department (Earth & Atmospheric Sciences Dept., St. Cloud State University, Minnesota), with Mt. Erebus in the background.

We got buzzed by the helicopters that were flying past several times - that added some excitement. Then along with other 'campers' I carved the letters 'Andrill' from the quarry used for making the blocks for the snow wall. The 'R' took several attempts.

It was some time after 11pm when I finally turned in for the night after a cup of cocoa. After a warm night (there were four of us in a Scott Tent), it was still relatively warm in the morning, with a slight breeze.
There was low cloud, and it was quite dramatic-looking with the snow and ice on Hut Point Peninsula behind us.
We spent Saturday morning learning how to use the radios - our group radioed South Pole station to get the weather there! In the afternoon we went through a couple of scenarios. The first was searching for a lost person in a 'Condition 1' (i.e. a serious blizzard); our group of 10 spent a long time making our search plan, and we ran out of time, so we failed to find our lost person. We just had a rope, and we simulated blizzard conditions by putting buckets on our heads.

The second scenario was that we were in a vehicle that had burned, and we had managed to all escape with one survival bag, and there was 'Condition 1' weather approaching: we had to pictch a tent, build a snow wall, radio McMurdo, and boil a quart of water in 10 minutes. We radioed McMurdo, and boiled the water, and we almost got the tent pitched - we did not build the snoww wall - the snow was really difficult to quarry out, and the tools not nearly as nice to work with as the ones we had used the day before. I certainly feel much better prepared in case I should face a survival situation here - or anywhere.

Did you get cold when you slept?
No. This was for several reasons. Firstly, I changed into dry socks and long johns when I got in to the tent. They were damp from all the exercise I had gotten, and if I had stayed in them, I would have gotten cold. Also, there were four of us scrunched in a Scott tent, and that made it really toasty. If anything I was overheated - almost sweating, which was a bad thing, because sweating is bad because it produces moisture, which can freeze and cool one down too much. Being cold (especially my toes because I had had a previous frostbite injury on them) was what I had worried most about before Happy Camper, but this proved to be least problematic - helped in part by our beautiful 'balmy' weather, and the precautions I took to make sure I was appropriately warm.

Did I sleep?
Not much. It was horribly claustrophic in the sleeping bag, and very hard to move around. I must have dozed off at some point, because when I woke up I was horribly panicked about being 'locked' in my sleeping bag - I managed to undo the zip and all the drawstrings and calm myself down, and organize things so I could stay warm around my face and upper body without pulling all the drawstrings tight, after that I felt much better

Did I have to get up and go to the bathroom in the middle of the night?
No. but I could hear people who did - the snow squeaks as one walks, so I could hear people walking to the outhouse, and I could also hear people walking around because they were cold, and I could hear all the snorers, as well as people getting in and out of tents to go to the the outhouse. Some people used pee bottles in the middle of the night, so they didn't have to go out.

Were my boots frozen in the morning?
They were very cold. I put handwarmers in to them and by the time I had sorted out my clothing in the morning, they were okay for wearing.


Anonymous said...

Why do you call them Scott tents?
What did you do with the frozen pee?
Does the snow always squeak when you walk on it?
Do you take a lot of boots with you to change into?

What kind of food do you eat?
How big is the tent?

Would you recommend wearing a bucket for all the drills?
Mrs. Gates students, Mears Middle School, Anchorage, Alaska

Kate Pound said...

What a great bunch of questions.

We call them Scott Tents because they are the same design as the tents that Captain Scott used on his expedition. They do not have built-in floors, we put a heavy groundsheet down, and then put sleeping pads on top of that.

Regarding the frozen pee, people did several things with it. Some people kept the pee bottle (tightly closed) in their sleeping bag with them, so it did not freeze, so they would be able to empty it out in the morning. Other people just put it somewhere at the edge of the tent or Quinzee, and it was frozen in the morning. That meant that they could not get rid of it straight away in the morning - they had to find a way to thaw it. Ultimately, people poured it down the 'toilet' in the outhouse - or they brought it back to MucMurdo with them,let it thaw, and poured it down the toilet. We are not allowed to empty it onto the snow, except at designated spots that are marked by a yellow flag on a bamboo pole.

The snow in Antarctica is very 'dry', consequently it does nearly always squeak when one walks on it.

I did not take any extra boots to Happy Camper school, because I knew that my ordinary heavy-duty hiking boots would not insulate me enough, so I just took my bunny boots. I did take a pair of down booties that I wore on my feet in my sleeping bag.

First we had soup (made from packets - chicken noodle, cream of mushroom, tomato) - it was easy to make, we just put boiling water in our cups, stirred it up with a plastic spoon. Then we each had a re-hydrated meal in a packet - we poured boiling water into each packet, stirred it, and then closed it and left it to sit for 20 minutes or so (we tried to keep it insulated so it did not get too cold). Then we ate it. It was food. We also had lots of bags of gorp (nuts, raisins & chocolate chips), unlimited chocolate bars, cheese crackers, and tea, instant coffee, and cocoa.

The Scott tent was about 6 or 7 ft on each side, and the top comes up to a point, so most people can actually stand up in the center of the tent. Most of the time in deep field parties two people share a Scott tent - so having four of us in one tent was really crowded.

Wearing a bucket for all the drills? No, it would be really really hard to complete our tasks then - but I guess it would help us think about how hard it would be to do some of the tasks if we did find ourselves trying to pitch a tent in an emergency situation in (a situation that we are trained to avoid getting into). You can try the rescue exercise yourselves. It is important to figure out your plan with your group before you go out into the 'Condition I' weather.