12 November, 1999
Friday November 12, 1999
Survival training time had arrived. Everyone says it is fun, but bring all your ECW gear. Sounds good to me. Woke up about 0530 hours and went to Crary Lab to check and send email. I had a nice note from my Darcy, wishing me well on my adventure in the field. Thanks Darcy. I needed that.
Grabbed a quick breakfast with as much fatty foods as possible. Need the old calories if you want to stay warm. Did a bag drag up to the Field Safety Training Program (FSTP) building and got there as it was just starting to snow. Since I was about 40 minutes early I waited outside in the snow. About 10 minutes to 0900 hours more and more people showed up, until by the time we were all settled in there were 22 of us. This was a huge class, because there were 10 KIWI soldiers/airmen, most of whom had flown in with us last Monday. I would guess, with the exception of a couple of guys who were in charge, their average age has to be about twenty five. These Kiwis were cool and fun loving.
The first thing we were asked to do was to identify who we were and what we were doing here. There were basically three science groups here. Five people from Dr. Bess Ward's group who would be studying the "Control of Denitrification in a Permanently Ice-Covered Antarctic Lake: Potential for Regulation by Bioactive Metals (One of the team members is Sharon Harris a fellow school teacher and a member of 1999-2000 TEA Dream Team, Teachers Experiencing the Antarctic and Arctic program that sends teachers to both poles to become research assistants and to spread the word about the life and sciences that happen at the poles.) There was Dr. Bert Yankielin from the ITASE (International Trans-Antarctic Science Expedition) group and there was me who will be working with Dr. Berry Lyons' group studying the chemistry of the streams, lakes and glaciers of the Dry Valley. The remaining four were various ASA people who would be going out into field camps. The rule is, you go to a field camp, you must go to filed Safety Training (AKA Happy Camper's School).
There were two instructors Chas, a retired military officer, and a young guy Brennen, a nature guide and survival expert. Both probably knew more about survival then 99% of the people on the ice. The plan was this. We would be driven out onto the Ross Ice Shelf, a gigantic sheet of snow miles long and wide and some 500 to 800 feet which that spreads from the land out onto the ocean, and there we would spend the rest of today, tonight and all day tomorrow. We received about a 45-minute lecture explaining the 2 man survival kits contents. We wear told to wear the various layers of our ECW (to keep warm and then be able to shed layers as we began to work and got ) sweaty. We were told we would bring more then enough food and water for the expected tour and then we were given time to use the bathroom, the last facility for the next two days. I never saw 22 people all decide at one time that Nature doth calleth. By the time we all had our last chance at indoor plumbing the wind was hollowing and the snow continued to fall. All of our drag bags had been left outside so we were instructed to help bring the food, water and camping materials outside with our gear and wait there until our chariot showed up. We were not out there more then ten minutes when this huge orange machine with sort of a swivel in the middle and multiple tracks, similar to a tank, arrived. This machine known as a "Nod-well", was loaded with all the gear and 22 very excited (some were obviously apprehensive) bodies and the two instructors. We were packed tighter here then we were on the C-141, if that's possible.
The Nod-well lumbered out of McMurdo past the NZ camp known as Scott Base, out on the sea ice for a bit and then several miles I think it would be to the west. We could see William's (Willie) Field off in the distance when the wind dropped a little. I'm guessing we went out between 8 and 12 kilometers (How many miles? For those of you in my classes how many centimeters, in proper powers of ten please?)
By the time we got to our destination the windows on the Nod-well we opaque with frost. Chas had driven and Brennan road with us so as soon as Chas tapped the back door, signaling it was OK to exit, Brennan popped the hatch and we jumped to the ground. Other then the Nod-well idling the only sound was that of the wind. As I looked around I saw three structures. Immediately next to the Nod-well was this trailer truck body (I think they call it a conax???) then off in the distance, maybe 50 meters was a Jamesway, an old, Korean war vintage, type building. It has the appearance of a cylinder cut longitudinally (sort of arched). If you have seen MASH, it is one of those that Hawkeye etc. use to operate in. The third structure was a sort of an A-framed box, small it looked to be about four feet wide and thick at the ice edge and maybe 8' tall, and it was located probably 20 meters beyond the Jamesway. As you looked around across the great expanse of different shades if whiteness you could see bamboo poles with either red or green flags attached. These marked the safe travel zones. We were told there were two other colored flags to be aware of: black which denotes danger (such as a crevasse that might have opened up, such as one about 4 km from this site); and a yellow flag. More on the Yellow Flag latter.
When the Nod-well was shut off we could at least hear what Chas was saying. The conax held our sleep gear which would consist of two, looked like neoprene pads about 11/2 inches thick, a very heavy down sleeping bag and a poly-fleece sleeping bag liner. Chas said the Jamesway is where we would have lunch and some more classes. The little A-framed building turned out to be an outhouse specifically for defecation in general or for urination by females. You ask, what about you guys? Remember the Yellow Flag, well that marked the only spot, other then the outhouse, where men were to urinate. Great country America. Gee that's right, it's not America it is Antarctica and "when in Rome do as the Romans do".
We trudged through the snow, most of it as hard as rock, until you came to a spot where it could, and did drift. Then oops, up to you thighs in light powdery snow.
The Jamesway was very Spartan. There was a table at one end; some boxes for shelves along the side; a table or two were there as well. One of these held a two-burner stove with what appeared to be water boiling and the other an insulated water cooler. . There was what looked to be a dish-pan full of dirty water with a collection of dirty sponges and dish clothes next to it. Dirty is relative, for on the floor there was a kettle labeled "Slop", now that was dirty water. The back 2/3 of the Jamesway was open space, and then the far end there were four cots.
Everyone was milling around trying to shed layer after layer for the Jamesway made you feel like you were in the tropics. Chas walked in with Brennan and they urged us all to make our selves comfortable. He told us where there were instant soup, tea, cocoa and juice packs. Brennan placed two huge boxes of sandwiches, granolar bars, candy bars, chips and an array of snacks on the table and instructed us all to eat, eat, eat: "You need fuel for your furnace!"
We ate and then a couple of brave soles could "hold it" no longer. Off to the outhouse and Yellow Flag. It was as if we all wanted to know what it was like "going" out there? But it is one of those things; no one would ask, since we all knew sooner or later would have our own personal experience to learn from. Great! I can't wait.
Chas explained the operation of the liquid fuel (Mogas) stove. It was a folded up thing that when laid out was about 4" in diameter. A special pump adapter replaced the cover, air was pumped into it and this pushed liquid fuel into a little pan on the bottom of the stove. This pool of liquid fuel was ignited, the purpose being to warm up the fuel line such that the liquid fuel became a vapor. Once it was hot enough to be a vapor it would be somewhat self perpetuating, at least until you burned off all the fuel. We were given complete instructions on how to set it up; how to light it and how to repair it, especially the unplugging of a "clogged orifice". Most people paid real close attention, for we new that we would have to do this to make hot water and to make hot foods.
Following about an hour of so of this training. We were all asked to get dressed and to go out to the conax where we would put together a duffel bag full of the stuff we needed for sleeping. As I said earlier we each got two neoprene pads, a down sleeping bag and a poly-fleece liner. These were thrown, it got kind of rowdy with the KIWI kids, into the Nod-well. Well, with all the ECW drag bags, food, water and now the duffels with the sleep gear there was no room for us. We were pointed to what appeared to be another conax box off about 1/2 mile away and were told to meet the Nod-well there. So all 22 of us started to walk. By now the wind had calmed and the snow let up so you could see. Willie field was immediately behind us. How far? I do not know; but it had to be a good distance, for the C-130's sitting there looked like specks. Far off to our left was Scott Base off to our right was Mt. Erebus, an active volcano, with a cloud around its top. Immediately in front of us were more mountains and with what had to be the face of a white and blue glacier probably 200' - 330' high. WOW!!! It is truly spectacular.
It was if we were just walking and sucking up all the sights around us. Before we knew it we were at the conax and Brennan has shoveled out the door. He broke us up into two groups of 11. This, surviving a night outdoors in a field camp, was to be a team effort. With me was Bert, two gals from Bess Ward's research group (Julie from Canada and Maitai from Spain), a lady from ASA (Kyle) and 6 KIWIs (Nigle, Carl, Tony, Ronedney. Heathe and Daniel). What a crew.
We were pointed to an area where he wanted our group to set up camp and Chas took the other group with him. We were given numerous big bad-looking ice saws, shovels, a Scott Tent and two two-man tents. This would be cozy at best because as I understand it Scott tents holds four, or at the very most, five people. Oh boy, I hope we don't get too sweaty; or it could be a long night for all of us.
The first thing we did was set up the Scott tent. It has been around for about 100 years and has been tested true and true. It goes up quickly, but weighs about 83 pounds so a bit cumbersome to work with. We were fortunate we had a fairly gentle breeze. I could not imagine putting this up in a "Hurbi" (name given to a blizzard with hurricane force winds) . The test for our putting up the tent was did the dead anchor holds. That means, if the instructor pulls on the lines that are attached to the buried anchors, he cannot pull them out.
The next communal effort was to build a snow mound. In this exercise you put all of your sleep gear in a big pile and then begin to shovel snow onto this pile. You pack the snow and continue to add snow until the depth of a snow ax handle is reached. Then a hole is dug at base, down wind side, and the bags are all removed. What is left is a hollow hemisphere, which in our case was just big enough to hold four people.
Because it was getting cold and windy the next task was to build a snow wall. An area was selected about 20 meters x 20 meters where we would put our tents and where we would take the blocks of snow for our wall from. Parallel lines were cut in the snow at a width of one Amati Bunny Boot, and to a depth of the length of the snow saw, about a meter. This tasked was performed by four of us, two cutting in one direction and two cutting exactly perpendicular to the others. While the four of us cut blocks three others dug out the blocks while the rest of the crew placed them in over lapping layers.
As soon as the wall got high enough, two stoves were started and water was put onto boil. As soon as the wall was done we set up the two two-man tents right behind the snow wall and next to the stoves. By now it was blowing real hard and since most of the hard work was done we were cooling off too quickly, so we put on some of the layers we had shed (the system does work) and started drinking hot chocolate and cider. Notice no coffee or tea, because they act as diuretic and with the urine goes too much heat. In addition to drinking hot liquid we were urged to eat high energy food like chocolate bars, power bars and trail mix loaded with nuts, raisins, oats and chocolate bits. We loaded our sleeping gear into the tents and delivered our drag bags to our new homes.
The next task was to police the area for loose saws, shovels and banana sledges. These had to be tied down or put low behind the snow wall to prevent them from becoming projectiles. I will continue this journal tomorrow. I'm too tired now to take notes.
Penguin Pete the Polar Man
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