13 November, 2002
Snowcraft 2 ? Crevasse and Glacier school
Latitude: 77 degrees 51 minutes South
Longitude: 166 degrees 40 minutes East
Temperature: -5 C / + 23 F (High)
Wind speed: 20-30 knots
Wind Chill: -34 C/ -29 F
Wind direction: East - Southeast
Meters of ice collected: 0
Notes on daily Life:
There are some things you learn but hope you’ll never need to really use. Years of experience in Antarctic exploration have taught lessons to many that have ventured here the hard way. The men and women who ventured into this place long ago were
extremely rugged people. Many of these earlier explorers survived near death experiences because they were prepared for the
worst and they remained calm and focused under the stress of an unexpected event. Today we often come to these places from our rather easy American lifestyles. Even in the little town of McMurdo it is easy to forget that you are in the last great wilderness on
earth. Just around the corner from this cozy town lays thousand of miles of snowy wilderness. How do you move through this Wilderness safely? Preparation.
In order to increase the level of safety for all missions on the continent, the US Antarctic Program offers several safety training classes. These range from chemical and workplace safety to snow and glacier survival school. Today Jim and I were given the chance for more Antarctic Preparation, Snowcraft 2, glacier travel and crevasse school. In this class, like snow craft 1 we began the class indoors with some explanation of knots and ropes and harnesses. Good thing since the weather turned antarctic today with strong winds and blowing snow. The comfort of a classroom is a much easier place to practice knot trying for the first time.
With the basics covered we packed into the tracked vehicle the Haglund and drove off into the white world just outside the site of happy camper school. All was very white today. The snow and storm reduced the visibility to 20 feet and made it hard to tell what was an uphill and where the crevasses wer. Upon arrival we roped up three to four persons to a rope for safe travel across the ice field. The howling winds and heavy clothes made it almost impossible to hear one another as we slogged across the snow and up the side of the glacier. About halfway up the hill, ice axes in hand our instructor, Brian Johnson, had us sit for a quick review of self-arrest technique using the axes. We then un roped and practiced sliding down the hill as if we had fallen, rolling over and stuffing our axes into the snow. Several trips up and down the slope and we were confident in this new skill, vital to travel on a glacier or ice field.
We carefully worked our way back to the Haglunds, loaded up and drove to our next site, a crevasse, or crack in the ice sheet. The weather was deteriorating as we progressed and before we knew it we were in a whiteout. Brian, thinking he was driving straight had actually driven in a circle around the only building anywhere out in this area. As we crawled along in the snow storm, Jim observed that we had
just circled the building. Fortunately, Brian was able to stop and gather his bearings by sticking his head out the window. We started up again driving towards the practice crevasse. I have to admit that at that point I put my helmet, gloves and parka on, I wasn’t totally sure we weren’t about to drive into the crevasse. If he couldn’t see a building out there how was he going to see a crevasse? I was relieved when we arrived safely at the site and disembarked from the vehicles.
Our next challenge was crevasse rescue. For this exercise Brian threw his roped up backpack off the edge of the crevasse and we explored mechanical advantage and the benefits of having several pulleys to use when pulling a heavy load out of a big hole. Once we had learned how to anchor and set up Z drags we practiced rescuing duffel bags of heavy objects that "fell" off the edges of the crevasse. These rescue scenarios kept us warm and thinking in groups of 2 students to a duffel bag dummy.
By now the wind and weather were beginning to get even worse, so I was happy when Brian said it was time to go down into the crevasse and climb out. The crevasse offered shelter from the wind, and climbing would help bring up my body temperature. We tied in to the anchored ropes and easily used our new understanding our knots and ropes to ascend the ropes to the safety of the surface snow above. We were now official graduates of Snowcraft 2! On our way "home" to McMurdo Station we celebrated by consuming large amounts of Oreo cookies and warm coffee.
While Jim and Betsy were off at snow school the rest of the group finalized packing and weighing the cargo that will fly with us to Bryd Station. The weather not only made snow school cold, but also has delayed our flight to Bryd Station for one day. We are now scheduled to depart Saturday, weather permitting.
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