15 November, 1996
Nov. 15 Journal
Minimum temp. - 6.9 ° C maximum + 0.7° C Wind 9 knots
Well, it's time for our field safety training session called "Snowcraft I". Snowcraft II is for those persons going to an area with crevasses and involves directions to stop sliding down slow slopes and directions how to get people out of crevasses.
For our safety training session out on the ice we needed to take ALL our extreme cold weather gear: two parkas, all 11 pairs of gloves & mittens, numerous pairs of socks, both pair of long underwear, fleece pants, fleece jacket top, wind pants, bunny boots, water bottle, goggles, this was put in an orange bag. They suggested we also take extra thermal underwear and lots of sunscreen so of course, I did.
We were first briefed on use of a radio and cold weather injuries. Major cold weather injuries are hypothermia, frost bite and trench foot. Hypothermia is when your body gets so cold your body pulls all the blood to the core to try to maintain life. Your blood vessels in your hands, feet and brain constrict. Mild cases are often recognized by the "umbles" You mumble incoherently and stumble with lack of coordination. Frost bite is when the skin freezes. We were briefed on what to do if that occurs. I had never heard of trench foot. When your feet are kept wet repeatedly, bacteria grow and you can get an infection like gangrene and lose your toes, etc. This much more rare. To eliminate this, change your socks a lot.
We were also told repeatedly, "Cotton kills. Don't wear cotton. When it gets wet you get chilled as it loses its insulation powers. Wool and polartech do not do that."
We were shown how to use two types of stoves, a Coleman two burner and MSR's. The MSR's are used for emergency and are packed in all survival bags. MSR's are small. We later used the Coleman stoves most because we had to use lots of heat to melt lots of snow.
We traveled to our snowcraft site by a Norwell, a type of tracked vehicle with a main cabin and a passenger cabin. (I think there is picture of them on either this Glacier page or on the Web page out of Univ. of Wisconsin.) We were each issued a sleeping bag, two foam pads and polyfleece liner for the sleeping bag. We divided up into two groups by our guides. Our guides are experienced in Antarctica safety. Vince is also a guide for groups mountain climbing Mt. McKinley in Alaska during the summer in the Northern Hemisphere. Brooke Montgomery is a river trip guide on the Salmon River in Idaho in the summer. Brooke has been training parcticipants and is also a part of the Search and Rescue teams that have to be sent out to rescue people either caught in storms, lost, hypothermic, plane crash sites, etc.
After lunch consisting of sandwiches, hot chocolate, candy bars, gorp, etc. we launch out to the sites where we sill set up camp. Our group builds a snow block wall as a windbreak for the lighter tent; a Sierra Mountain tent which sleeps two people. We learn how to set up the other tent, a Scott tent which is 6 or 7 ft square and sleeps 3-4 people. This square pyramid canvas and has a cone entrance into it similar to what they always show at the entrance to igloos.
Speaking of igloos, our group of 7 decided to build an igloo to sleep in. It takes about 3-4 hours but we really build a pretty good one. Jennifer Stewart and Surujhdeo Seunarine, two of our research team, decided to sleep in it. The igloo would have held more people if we had taken time to excavate it more, but we were getting tired and had sufficient tents for others. You need to cut about 40 large blocks of consistent size and begin a spiral. Each block is cut like a trapezoid and fits like a keystone at the top of an arch. In doing this, one person needs to be in the center as the igloo progresses. Laura, one of our team volunteered. After the igloo is complete, she tries to dig out and we dig in at the same place. It is important to make the doorway entrance below the level of the floor in the igloo so all the cold air goes down. I took lots of photos and hope some come out OK. Jennifer and Suruj say that it really was quite warm in the igloo, but if you touched the sides, snow fell down on you.. The igloo was quiet even in the windstorm that came up about 11PM and howled until about 10AM the next day.
One of our teammates built a trench shelter. He dug a deep trench carefully so that he could cut out large oblong blocks of snow about 6 inches thick. These are tilted across the top of the trench forming a peaked roof. His shelter was also warm and toasty and quiet.
I slept in the Scott tent. It was toasty warm, but noisy as the canvas sides flapped about in the wind. The sleeping bags we were issued are rated for very low temperatures and you are wrapped up like a "mummy." We also boiled water and placed it in our water bottles to warm up the bag and our feet. The other group constructed a Quincy for several people to sleep in. You build this by piling all your gear on the ground and covering it with a tarpaulin. Then you pile LOTS of snow on it to make a thick layer about 2 ft thick. You next tunnel underneath it and dig out the gear forming a domed structure. The "igloo" group spent no more time than the "Quincy" group. That was very surprising.
I learned to operate the Coleman stove and boiled snow water for dinner----- various packs of dehydrated food, more gorp, candy, granola bars, hot chocolate. We experienced a little problem with the Coleman stove -- it caught on fire. No problem, we put it out and fortunately had a back up. Our research group must remember to check out the stove we are issued to see that it has no problems. No backups in the field. Before dinner, our instructors left us and traveled a large distance away. We are supposed to be able to camp without any more help. One group did have a radio in case of a major problem.
Since it is light all day we don't feel like going to bed yet, so a group of us go cross country skiing. I can't believe it. I have never put on a pair of skis and here I am doing it on the Ross Ice shelf at 10:30 PM. I did fall once, but I enjoyed it so much I will have to try it again when I get back in the US.
About 11PM, the wind began to pick up. We had noticed small, wispy cirrus clouds in the sky about 2 hours ago. They are coming from the south, south east. This is the direction that major storms come from so we have to be vigilant and be sure that we tie ALL our gear down or get it placed in such a way that it doesn't blow off in the wind.
We're tired and it's time to go to bed. I'm a little worried about the wind picking up. It has been a delightful day, cold, but not so cold as to be uncomfortable because we had a calm day. The winds buffets the tent and the side flaps noisily. I awaken numerous times in the night, but always feel warm.
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