Tuesday, December 2, 2008
McMurdo Station - Dec 2, 2008 - Logan
Location: Ross Ice Shelf, Antarctica
Elevation: ~3m (9’)
Breakfast: Omelette, pancakes, and JoJos.
Lunch: Hummus + cheese sandwichs (2) and potato chips.
Supper: “Alpinaire” dehydrated dinners (similar to Mountain House) dated October 31, 2001.
Happy camper school
Today I woke up at 6am to work on the blog a little bit before breakfast. It was so weird to stumble out of my pitch black room into a crowded corridor full of people and then looking outside at broad daylight. I’ve been down here a couple of days already and it still surprises me every time.
Today we started “Happy Camper school”. This is a short two day class that is meant to be a crash course on how to stay alive in Antarctica if you somehow get stranded in the middle of nowhere (like in a plane crash). (On a side note, isn’t everywhere in Antarctica the middle of nowhere?) We have two instructors and 18 students. After sitting through a few lectures about how to dress, how to work a MSR Whisperlite International stove etc, we drove back towards Willy airfield and out onto the Ross Ice Shelf and played in the snow! The first task was constructing a bombproof camp. We built a quinsy big enough to sleep 4 people, set up two Scott tents, dug three “graves”, and set up three 4-season tents. To construct the quinsy we piled up all of our gear bags, put a tarp over it, covered the mound of gear with 18” of snow and then dug a hole in from the bottom, moved all the gear bags out and viola, you have a super strong snow shelter! A Scott tent made out of yellow cotton canvass and is shaped like a pyramid with a wooden pole in each corner. These tents have been standard fare for Antarctic exploration for the past 50 years because they are almost indestructible. The only downside is that they weigh ~100 lbs, so they would be a little tough to take backpacking. (This is where I am sleeping tonight) A “grave” is an aptly named snow shelter. To make one you dig a hole in the show in the shape of a grave then cover the top with blocks of ice once you are inside. This is a fast efficient shelter that could keep you alive during a storm, the only thing wrong with it that I could see is that I’d worry that nobody would find me if I was sleeping in one.
Once all of the tents were up the instructors showed us how to set up a snow block quarry and we built a 50’ long, 3’ high wall of snow blocks to shelter the tents. The weather had been worsening throughout the day and it began to snow heavily, but there was no wind. The air temperature was just below freezing so we were getting big fat fluffy snowflakes. At this point the instructors wished us luck in surviving the night and went back to their heated hut for the night! We were still full of energy and while some folks continued digging out their shelters, some of us began to wonder what we could construct out of snow blocks from our quarry and finally decided to build a bridge. We came up with the design & started cutting out all of the blocks that we would need. In the middle of this we broke for dinner which was made entertaining when we again began discussing the age of our meals. We found an expiration date on some of the dehydrated meals to be October 31, 2001! For desert we had chocolate bars, one of which had to be at least a decade old because even though it was pure milk chocolate, it looked like white and brown marble. Tim & Spruce tried it and said it tasted like cardboard. I’ve eaten a lot of weird things in my life, but I’ve decided that I’m drawing a line when it comes to decade old chocolate bars.
Around 11:30pm we had finished cutting all of the blocks for our masterpiece, but we decided that it would be more feasible to build an arch instead of a bridge. The weather cleared up at this point and showed us that the short snowstorm had left us with ~3” of fresh snow. We began stacking the blocks and Marie & I plus two others used our bodies to hold up the leaning sides of the arch as Tim and a few more people placed the final keystone pieces on it. By 12:30 am we finished the arch and the sun came out showing us a beautiful Antarctic “night” which looked suspiciously like the “day”. I’m not sure exactly how low the sun gets on the horizon, but it isn’t anywhere close to setting. We used the leftover snow blocks to construct a bench and table, took lots of pics and then went to bed. What a great day!