Published: October 28th 2010October 28th 2010
Happy Camper is yet another training course that all field camp participants need to complete before deploying to the field. It is basically training specific towards camping/surviving in Antarctica. We were given a rundown on tent setup including Scott tents and four season expedition tents, as well as camp setup, wind direction and basic do’s and don’t when faced with the extreme climate of Antarctica. After a morning of classroom instruction focusing on health and hazards in the Antarctic, we set out for the camp location. The weather was fair, it was snowing but with the storm systems comes warm air. Our group of 20 started building camp, one of the major components of camps in the Antarctic is a snow wall to block the wind and provide protection for the tents. The wall was built by digging a hole and then cutting out blocks of snow. We then smoothed out the blocks and stacked them like building a brick wall with really big bricks. While the wall was being built I set up the kitchen, with four wisperlite stoves. We needed to melt snow for drinking water and dinner, plus warm water is always a good thing to have available in cold weather conditions in case anyone develops any cold weather related issues. With the tents set up and the wall well on its way to being done, the teachers left us to continue on alone and look after ourselves. At this point an extracurricular activity was underway, those of us who really wanted to rough it were allowed to dig a trench in the snow and sleep in it. As I felt like this was a chance to try my hand at a snow cave I dug one for myself. The idea is you dig a slot straight down and once you reach a certain depth (approx 4ft), begin to dig out the walls of the trench until you can fit comfortably. Then you cover the top and the entrance with a sled or snow blocks to keep in the warmth. Believe it or not snow is a good insulator and while the outside temperature can be below zero, the temperature in your trench stays constant around freezing. It took the better part of two hours to dig my trench and I was exhausted. With my snow cave built I had some dinner and got ready for bed. The logistics of sleeping in a snow cave boggled my mind. How do I take off my boots and get into my sleeping bag without getting my socks wet on the snow? This was an issue and I didn’t ever find good a method even though I had to climb in and out of my hole multiple times due to urination issues. The other issue was my clothing, which I used as insulation on the walls. This was great for sleeping but they were frozen solid in the morning and I had issues getting into them, plus once the ice on the clothes melted, now I have wet cloths, the worst possible thing in cold conditions. As far as the night sleep goes, I got about two maybe three solid hours of sleep and the rest of time I spent running to and form the outhouse. The happy camper school ended the next day with a few scenarios; one was a search and rescue with buckets over our heads to simulate a whiteout. The other was a simulated fire in the vehicle situation, where we needed to set up camp and prepare to be out there all night. All together it was a good time, although next time I will defiantly sleep in a tent.
Preparations for the traverse are well on their way, we gathered all the food we will need for the 2.5 months at camp, tomorrow we will begin the staging process. Our plan is to cross the shear zone with a lot of our gear and then depart from there as early as Tuesday. The traverse will take around 30hrs round trip and will be escorted by the GPR equipped piston bully that I spoke of in a previous blog. I am anxious to get out into the field and start the project. What lies ahead for me I cant predict, my goal is to approach the situation with no expectations so that I am not surprised and I can be ready for anything that comes my way. I hope that this process will be a learning experience for me, both in the aspect of science and expertise but in spirituality and personal growth.