Monday October 27, 2003
Well, the last few days have been very fun. On Friday, we had an early breakfast and went off for our first snow survival course, called “Happy Camper School”. There were 22 people in the course all together, including Karl, Mike, Bruce and me.
We all loaded up in a bright orange “Nodwell”, which is a big snow-cat with tank treads instead of wheels. As you can see from the picture, it was pretty crowded in there for the 45-minute ride to the ice shelf where we spent the next two days. The course taught us lots of skills for how to survive on the glacier with minimal supplies. We learned about different snow shelters you can make, like igloos, snow walls and trenches. The weather was pretty bad all day on Friday – strong winds up to 40 mph, temperatures around 0º F (without wind-chill!), and occasional snow. You can see snow falling during some of our lectures out in the field in the pictures. After spending all day learning how to survive out in the snow, we got to put our new skills to the test by spending the night out there. There were a few tents for us to share, some basic cooking supplies like mountain stoves, dehydrated food for dinner (tastes mostly like card-board), and we all had sleeping bags.
The four of us split up into two small mountain tents and slept there for the night. It was cold trying to fall asleep – I could feel the cold snow underneath me through the sleeping bag, and my feet got so cold that I had to keep warming them with my hands during the night. Once I fell asleep, though, I stayed asleep until the morning. All in all, it was a good night sleep considering we were in the middle of an ice shelf in Antarctica.
The next day, Saturday, we learned how to do cool things like set up and use the high-frequency radio. We were able to call down to the South Pole where there is another research station. Our instructors told us that we could even call as far away as the US if there was someone on the other side listening for us. Later on we did a pretend search-and-rescue operation in white-out conditions. White-out conditions are when the wind is blowing so hard and the snow is falling so fast that you can’t see more than a few feet in front of you, if that far. You can’t even hear someone yelling at you from more than a few feet away. So you can imagine that it would be very difficult to find someone in those conditions! To pretend like we were in white-out conditions, we all put white buckets over out heads so that we couldn’t see anything but white, and it was very hard to hear. We all tied ourselves to a rope and tried to coordinate a search. The funniest part was when one of the members of the “search” team stumbled into the out-house and fell over – he was fine, except for a bruised ego.
You can see red, green and yellow flags in the pictures from the snow school. Those flags tell you where it is safe to walk. Anywhere there is a red or green flag, it means that someone has inspected the area and there are no crevasses there. A crevasse is a huge crack in the snow or ice that is often hidden by a “snow bridge” on top. If you walk over the snow bridge, sometimes it will break underneath you and you could fall 10-50 feet or more. People get seriously hurt and have even died from falling into them, so it’s very important that you know where they are so you can avoid them. The yellow flags are pee flags – you can guess what they mark – you definitely don’t want to walk too close to the yellow flag!
Today we had an advanced snow survival course. We went back to the same place as the first course, but this time we were learning how to use ice axes, ropes and lots of other mountaineering tools. They had a man-made crevasse that we fell into (on purpose) so the other members of our group could rescue us. It was great training – it could save our lives one day – and lots of fun! It helped that it was such a beautiful day today with temperatures in the teens and not a breath of wind or a cloud in the sky. It was magnificent. Mt. Erabus, which is a volcano next to the research station, was clearly steaming all day. You can see the small plume of steam in the picture. Erabus is a very active volcano, but it has not had a major eruption in about 20 years. We returned tonight to a great Mexican dinner - just what I was hoping for – and of course, some ice cream. The next few days will be really busy as we get everything ready to go into the field. Right now we’re hoping for our first helicopter flight on Friday if the weather is good. We have lots to do before then!
Monday October 27, 2003
Today was the day we got to play in the snow. We got to ride out in a big truck to a snow slope where we practiced using ice axes to protect ourselves from falling on steep snow. We then moved on to a 30 foot wall of snow and ice that they have made where we practiced going up and down using a rope as well as how to catch someone on a rope if they fall. It was a beautiful day, and a lot of fun to go slide down a hill, which we did headfirst, feet first and even somersaulting. And the whole time, we were learning how to be safe. It was a lot of fun.
Now we get to spend the next few days getting our stuff together for time in the field before leaving at the end of the week. Tomorrow, we get to pick our food. Lots of cookies and cakes, I'm sure, in addition to the pastas and other easily boilable foods we will be eating while we are out. Choosing it all will keep us busy. For now, off to write a paper.
Until the next time...
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