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21 December, 2002

McMurdo-Happy Camper School

NOTE to my readers: Remember to be patient with me-connectivity from McMurdo is rather slow and there are only ten phone lines out of the whole station and about 1000 people here. Sometimes I can only get a few e-mails, including journals, out and I lose my connection. When I get to the field, it may be even more difficult. I have a few journals and pictures still to post on earlier dates, so keep checking! Also, pictures are sent as separate e-mails, so it is possible that a journal will be posted and then the pictures will go up several days later. In other words, keep checking back! Also, if you see acronyms or terms you don't understand, go back to the journal posted Dec. 13 to find a list of terms.

McMurdo Weather:

CONDITION 3: Any weather better than Condition 2. Business as usual.

CONDITION 2: Visibility poor. Wind speeds up to 55 knots. Wind chills up to minus 99 degrees. Dress warmly and be aware of your surroundings and where you can take shelter.

CONDITION 1: Visibility less than 100 feet. Stay put. Use your survival training to seek shelter. If you are caught outside and it is possible, radio your location to Mac Ops.

Happy Camper School:

Weather conditions deteriorated during the night Thursday, so when we arrived for our snow and survival training on Friday, it was questionable whether our instructors would be allowed to take us into the field or not. We were dressed in all our ECW gear which is awfully warm for sitting inside, so we removed as many layers as possible. Most of us were wearing our wind pants and long underwear tops. We slipped off the huge bunny boots, and walked around in our socks.

Brian taught us to use our survival stoves, an important skill because if you are caught outside in a Condition 1 situation, you could melt snow to drink. Staying hydrated is an important part of staying warm. The stoves also heat your tent as you are melting the snow.

Helicopter Safety:

We watched the helicopter safety videos and learned how to approach and enter a helo. The blades will always be turning when you enter because when they stop, they dip down and can be lower than a person's head. The main things to remember when approaching a helo is to wait for the thumbs up from the pilot and then approach from the front and side. Never walk toward the back. There is a blade on the tail that rotates so fast you can't see it. A gross joke was that if your hat blows back there, let it go, because if you go after it you won't need it anymore. (Yuck!) Also, if the helo is on a slope, approach it from the downhill side.

Survival Training Outdoors:

Weather conditions around McMurdo kept changing between Condition 2 and Condition 1, but finally after lunch it was decided to take us out to the ice sheet and do the survival training outside. After all, if we are ever in need of survival skills it will probably be during a Condition 1 storm.

The sixteen "NG's" (new guys) piled into the Nodwell, a huge tractor-wheeled contraption, which lumbered around Ob Hill and headed out on the ice shelf. We worked as a team to unload our gear from the Nodwell and from the survival shed. Half the team began cutting ice blocks. I joined a team of four in the cab of "Uncle Ben", a Haglund. For a moment I felt like my older dog, Canuck, who needs a boost to get up into the back of my jeep. The tractor tires are about four feet off the ground and I was standing in full ECW gear (about 35 pounds) with my boots sunk into snow about a foot deep, trying to scramble up on the tractor treads to reach the door handle a foot or so above my longest reach. I did it, but was glad no one was filming, because I'm sure it was far from graceful! The cab was so loud we had to wear ear protection as we bounced down the road to another shed. The snow was blowing straight at the windshield and our driver had trouble seeing the flags marking the road. Every once in awhile, the door next to me would pop open! This was not the safest ride I had ever experienced. Together we formed a line and loaded sixteen "sleep kits" into the Haglund. The kits were large duffel bags with two pads and a sleeping bag for each person.

Back in camp, we all worked as a team to build our shelters. Visibility was almost zero as the wind howled and froze icicles on the guys' beards. The snow blew horizontally and as I laughed out loud I almost choked on the parcticles driving down my throat with great force. I tried to keep my mouth shut after that experience!

Our Snow Mound City included two large ice block walls which each sheltered two mountaineering tents. We also pitched two Scott tents. (See the pictures.) Several pairs of brave souls found ice shelters from former survival classes and excavated them for their overnight homes. Jen and I moved into a mountaineering tent. They are made for two, but there is no room to move around in them at all.

Fire in the Tent:

Before bed, we joined Ryan and Sarah in the Scott tent for dinner. They had the stoves burning and heated water for half the group. The Scott tent can comfortably sleep three, but with two it is downright roomy. Six of us sat and ate in it and enjoyed the coziness of being together and listening to the roaring storm outside. Our meals wereŠwell interesting. I had freeze dried teriyaki chicken. It wasn't awful. 'Nuf said?

The survival stoves burn liquid fuel. As we were filling the bottles, a little fuel spilled on the stove board. We wiped it up as best we could, turned the board upside down, and then lit the stove. With a WHOOSH the flames engulfed the stove, but more importantly they also flowed under the stove board and licked out toward our boots! For a few tense seconds we looked for something to smother it with, but nothing worked. We finally doused it out with water and then had to deal with the flood on the floor of the tent. There was no damage to tent or persons, but we had a good story to tell!

I was concerned about being cold in the night, so I filled my water bottle with boiling water. THAT was a good move-I snuggled with it until it finally cooled off about four in the morning. By then I had my sleeping bag warmed up and was able to regulate the heat without help. You have to be diligent about how warm or cold you are and then do something to fix the problem before it gets out of hand. Believe it our not, a few times I got too warm, but I had to be careful not to cool off too much. Our instructors told us to have food with us in our tents. If we got cold we should eat something in the middle of the night. Oh boy! I have permission to eat chocolate whenever I want!

1. Allan O'Bannon, our survival instructor. Check out the ice on his beard!

2. I am wet. It is cold. I am still smiling!

3. The Nodwell--huge people and equipment mover over snow and ice. It is slow and cumbersome, but it works! It is similar to Uncle Buck, the Haglund.

4. Moving the equipment through the storm to out campsite.

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