Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Happy Camper

I survived field camp aka Happy Camper School. I can officially say that I slept outside in Antarctica in -40F weather. And it was literally outside--I slept in a trench I dug in the snow.

The camp was a lot of work. We started out doing some classroom work to familiarize ourselves with the signs of hypothermia, frostbite, etc. Then we packed up all our gear and rode in some Deltas out to near the camp site. After some lunch and a short discussion about how the stoves work, we made up our sleeping kits, and walked out to the actual camp site.

At the camp site, we learned some tips on how to lay out our gear for an Antarctic expedition. After that, the real work began. We learned how to set up Scott tents, the same kind that Scott used on his expeditions to Antarctica.

Next we got out the saws, shovels, and sleds and built a large snow wall. This was a lot of hard work. There were three groups of people: the block cutters, the block haulers, and the wall builders. The snow is very dry and solid, so cutting it was a chore. It came out in huge blocks and sort of sounded like styrofoam but it was much heavier. We used these blocks to build a horshoe-shaped wall about 5 blocks high.

While we were building the wall, Trevor, the instructor, dug a snow trench to show us one shelter option that we could make in about 10 minutes. He showed us that and then we set to pitching 4 season, mountaineering tents.

Since I'm hardcore, I decided to spend my night in a snow trench. It took me a bit longer than 10 minutes to dig my trench, so I would have been screwed if it were an emergency. And I also dug mine a bit too wide, so it was hard to cover. I couldn't get single blocks wide enough to bridge the whole gap, so I had to get creative and use multiple blocks. Here's a picture of me digging my trench with my trusty Eclipse fleece:

The instructors left for the night while I was working on my trench. We were on our own for dinner and sleeping. Dinner was just one of those rehydrated meals. Someone got two large pots of water boiling and we poured a couple cups in our bag '0 food. Surprisingly, it was mighty tasty. I'm guessing anything would have tasted good at that point, though.

After dinner people started head to bed. I went for a walk to warm up and then turned it. It was quite an elaborate dance to get in my sleeping bag and in my trench and then close things up. Surprisingly, I stayed warm all night. I laid my sleeping bag on two foam pads and an extra sleeping bag to insulate me from the ground. The trick that worked for me was bringing a chocolate bar to bed with me and throw a bottle of hot water wrapped in a sock into the foot of my sleeping bag. I promised myself that if I could hold out for the night without having to get up and go to the bathroom, I'd pick up a six pack of beer. And I did, so there is some beer in my future (the first since I got down here).

Today was mainly breaking down camp and learning about radios. We set up the HF radios and used them to call Mac Ops to find out what was for lunch (even though we weren't going to eat lunch in the Galley). After we got everything cleaned up, the instructors picked us up and we watched a few videos and called it good.

Afterwards, I went back to my dorm, showered and hung up my gear, and then headed into the office to upload some pictures and write this blog entry. I think I'm headed over to the Galley to get some food and then back to my dorm to pass out. The beer will have to wait until tomorrow night.


Bill said...

A little cooler there than here in MN - but there was some snow in the air today. I'm pretty proud of you going with the trench. As long as you have the right equipment, and some smarts, you can make it anywhere. Sounds like fun. Enjoy that beer tomorrow!

Don said...

So you've graduated to ditch-digger? Nice. Couldn't you just have checked into the Holiday Inn?
Looks like you're having fun.

Josh Reed said...

The lack of hotels around here is surprising considering that McMurdo Station is the vacation destination of the rich and famous. It was pretty cramped in the trench, but I was going to try and cut a tunnel into the next trench if I had to pee in the middle of the night. Fortunately for my neighbor, I didn't have to.

Bill, I did enjoy the beer. I picked up 2 six packs (our ration for the week) and had a couple last night while doing my laundry.

Ian said...

Glad the Eclipse fleece is keeping you warm.