Saturday, January 12, 2008

A 'Night' On Ice

Well, we all survived a night out on our own in the Antarctic.  It was a great couple of days and I learned a lot!  Our awesome instructor, Susan, has been doing outdoor training for almost 20 years and her experience and expertise was incredible.  It was great to have her leading our group as she really knows how to bring a group of people together and work on their own.  The classroom training started with the basics you'd expect regarding hypothermia, dehydration, UV protection and what to do to protect yourselves.  Then we packed up our gear for our trip out on the ice.  We were dropped off a few miles from station along the road to the two airfields.  We hiked out about mile to some shelters for some more training on stoves, tents, snow shelters, food, and water.  For those that don't know, it takes water to make water!  If you just put snow in a pot by itself to melt, you will end up with burnt tasting water.  Dump in enough water to cover the bottom of the pot well.  :)

After the end of all of the instruction, we loaded up the sled with our personal gear and bags.  Susan pulled it to our campsite with a snowmobile and we walked after her.  Once we joined her she told us where to camp and what we would need out of the Comdex(?) box out at the site which had all of the tents, shovels, ice axes, sleds, flags, cooking gear, and saws.  Yes, saws!  More on that in a minute.  We loaded all the gear on sleds and dragged it out to our site.  The first thing that we setup was our Scott tent which is basically the same design that Scott used on his own tents a hundred years ago.  It is an interesting design that I won't go into.  One of the interesting things is for this tent is that it doesn't have a floor and has flaps around the edges that you pack under the snow to keep the wind out.

Once the Scott tent was up, we the started on the snow wall to help protect our tents from the wind.  You start out by selecting a place for your 'quarry'.  We cleared off the fresh snow and marked out a grid using one of the tent stake boxes as a template.  Then we used the saws to cut out the blocks of snow.  You start by sawing all the way down two adjoining sides of the grid and digging out the snow along the outside edge as deep as you want the blocks to be.  Then you saw all the way down the rows.  If you saw them one at a time, your blocks come out all different shapes.  Think of cutting a sheet cake.  Once you have some block that have the sides cut (you don't cut the bottom).  You take a square shovel and push it hard at the base of the block and push down on the shovel.  The blocks just pop off.  It works out really well.  You then just line up the blocks to build a wall three or four feet high long enough to shelter your tent from the wind.  If the blocks don't match up right, then you use the saw to make the ends match up.  After each row, you use the saw to create a level base for the next row.  You can encircle your tents if you want, but we just built one wall about 30 feet long east to west as most of the bad storms come from the south.  We then used our quarry as a pit for the kitchen with a wall as well.  It was actually a lot of fun since we had decent weather.  I imagine that had it been 5 below with a 20-30mph wind, it wouldn't have been so much fun.

While others worked on getting the stoves going and melting water, some of us talked about building a snow shelter.  There were a couple of recent Quinzhees nearby and we decided to make use of them instead.  See the link for details.  Having been built before the storm that just came through, the entrance was buried.  So we decided to dig our own.  After a hour or so, we were able to make it to the inside.  It was in pretty good shape but a little low, so we dug out the floor another 6-8 inches which made a huge difference.  One of the other campers and I decided to sleep in it 'overnight'.  I keep quoting words referencing 'night' because to me, 'night' never exists here since the sun never goes down this time of year.  Anyway, sleeping the Quinzhee was awesome!  It was incredibly warm inside and VERY quiet.  Zero noise from from wind or the other camper's tents.  I think that the only real downside is that if you need to get up in the middle of the 'night' to use the bathroom, you have to get fully dressed as you'd get too cold and wet sliding on snow to get out.  Once I post the pics, notice that we dug the hole down and then out.  This acts as a cold sump to draw the coldest air down into the hole.

It was a great time and we really lucked out to have decent weather.  I'll upload the pictures soon and possibly to another post later.  The Swedish icebreaker, Oden, is at the ice pier and there are rumors of penguins out at the point.  There is also a traditional rugby game between the US and New Zealand (Kiwi) base at 3pm.  The Kiwis have won for the past 50 years, but it should still be fun.

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