my trip to the Antarctica and the South Pole

Monday, December 06, 2004



Sunday morning, and I just got back from Happy Camper School. I was one of 12 people crazy enough to volunteer to go camp for a night out on the plateu about 3 miles away from the station in -15F and 20 knots of wind. The "school" is officially a Survival School, required for some people who are going out to remote field camps, but offered as a recreational opportunity for others. It's a chance to sleep somewhere other than your tiny room on station, and to get farther away from Station than you're normally allowed to go.

So we take off in tracked vehicles and watch the station disappear in the low visibility of flying snow. The wind had been high since morning, so much so that all the flights in had been cancelled. I had been wracking my brain for an excuse not to go that would be good enough to use without hurting my pride, but now that we were off, I couldn't be more excited. Our guide was a New Zealander mountaineer who had climbed Mt. Everest, Mt. McKinley, and probably every other peak with a "highest in somewhere" status. He showed us how to pitch the traditional Antarctic "Scott Tent" and some more modern Mountaineering tents. We built a 4ft wall winward of our tents, made out of snow blocks that we cut out with snow saws. Hand-warmers were my saving grace as we had to tie down the guy lines on the tents with just our glove liners.

Then we set out for the next 6 hours or so in the cold to build ourselves some snow trenches. I had absolutely no intention of sleeping in a snow trench, but most everybody else did. They built elaborate caves and rooms under the snow, with entrances blocked by walls, and covered with snow bricks. My un-frozen extremities and I were more than happy with my solar-warmed tent behind the wind wall. With every layer of clothing I brought with me on, I was warmly sound asleep by the time some of the others had started digging out bedroom #3 in their snow caves. I had two chocolate bars squirrelled away in my sleeping bag to keep them from freezing, to be eaten during the night when I woke up cold. It's great when eating chocolate is part of the instructor's orders.

By morning, I had slept nearly as good as any night I have spent in the station. I awoke to the sound of birds chirping. Oh wait, that was my dream. I awoke to the sound of snow blowing. The morning was spent filling our water bottles with hot chocolate and taking down tents. About 10am, a dot appeared on the horizon. Although we were all frozen and had been counting minutes until our ride home, when it came time to volunteer for the first trip back, nobody wanted to go. I wasn't complaining 20 minutes later when I was sitting in the galley with a warm omelette and cup of coffee, though. It's nice to be back, and it's nice to have gotten away.



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