Tuesday, Nov 06
Only a few hours after stepping off the C17, I was assigned to attend a mandatory field training course, commonly known here at McMurdo as “Happy Camper.” Happy Camper is a two day course which covers the basics of living and more importantly surviving in the cold, beautiful, yet unforgiving land/sea-scape of Antarctica. We began in the class room discussing cold weather basics such as frostbite, hypothermia, dressing for extreme cold, and understanding the importance of team work. Here is a picture of our two instructors, Ben and Alasdair. Alasdair is the one all bundled up in ECW.
By 1030 we (16 other classmates and myself) had packed our bags for the night and were boarding the bus, which would take us out onto the McMurdo Ice Shelf, where we’d stay the night. Standing on the ice shlelf was a surreal feeling. To the north and south you’re bounded by mountains. However, looking east, the ice seemed never ending, revealing the curvature of the earth. Directly north of our small campsite was Mt Erebus (shown on the left), an active volcano and the topic of some very interesting research. Because there is nothing to provide a sense of scale, distances are difficult to grasp – what seems 5 miles aways may actually be 22 miles away. Also the snow pack acts like a big mirror reflecting the ever-present sun, making snow blindness and sun burn serious threats to ones overall comfort.
Ben and Alasdair showed us some essential field techniques. We learned to tie some cool knots, my favorite was the “truckers hitch,” used to secure tents to the ground. We built a snow wall to protect our camp from the possibility of a wind storm, the worst of which always come from the south (off of the ice cap). We use two types of tents, here in Antarctica: the Scott tent (sorta looks like a teepee), and mountain tents (modern expedition tents). The very first Antarctic expeditions used Scott tents – remarkably robust shelters. Around 1800 our instructors left us out with some stoves, food, and shelter. We spent the night on the ice shelf. Thanks to my -50 sleeping bag and a few wisely place bottles of hot water, I was plenty toasty and slept quite well. Overnight lows likely reached -10 F.
After eating a solid breakfast and breaking down camp, we reconvened with our instructors in a nearby hut to work on some scenario situations. My favorite scenario was as follows:
Your team and you are all sitting around inside a warm hut, when the weather suddenly turns bad – Very high winds, very cold temperatures, limited to zero visibility (known as Condition 1 in Antarctica). You all notice one of your teammates is missing. Maybe they’ve been gone 30 minutes? Someone thinks he/she has gone to the bathrooms, which are located appox 40 yards from the hut. What do you do?
Well, we decided to go look for our missing teammate So, in order to simulate Condition 1 weather, each team member that stepped out of the hut needed to be wearing a bucket on his/her head. We sent two teammates who held onto a rope, which was fastend to the inside of the hut. After a several minutes of stumbling and fumbling they came nowhere near the out-houses. Lesson learned: Condition 1 is no joke. However, watching my new friends stumble around with buckets on their head was worth quite a laugh (see below).
Snow School was easily the best class I’ve ever taken. I reviewed things I already knew, learned some completely new things, met lots of new friends, and got my first thorough Antarctic experience. I am definitely a “Happy Camper!”
On Saturday Nov 10, I’ll fly to the Dry Valleys to meet my fellow MCM-LTER Stream Team members. I absolutely cannot wait – feeling like a kid on Christmas. McMurdo station is pretty sweet, but it’s time for some new scenery and lots of quality (big)science in the field!