Week One

Arriving two weeks late, made for an interesting first week. Lots of projects to be accomplished.

It was going to be a big week, installing several of the repeaters and wireless phones into the dry valley field camps. Monday was spent preparing and testing much of the equipment.

The US Antarctic Program has a lot of safety rules in place. Most of them are very much needed to minimize the dangers to those working in the environment. One of the first, was the need for 'Happy Camper School' or or it's official name - Snowcraft I. That was where I was headed Tuesday and Wednesday. I didn't get any photos while I was out there, but Bruce has several on his page.

Tuesday Morning the weather in town was miserable. I was beginning to question the wisdom of being here, as I did the hike up to the Field Safety Training Program (FSTOP) building. It was about 10oF below zero, and the wind was blowing hard. The Wind Chill Temperature was about 40 below zero.

They started with a lecture on the basics of staying warm, safety, and travel. We then boarded a vehicle for a trip out to 'Snow Mound City', the field area. It is located about 3 miles from town, on a permanent glacier. In the instructor hut, they continue on with lecture information, and discuss the plan for the rest of the course. We have sack lunches from the galley, and continue absorbing the information. They issued each of us a sleeping bag, and two foam pads. After packing those in the vehicle, we all hiked the 1/2 mile to field site to keep/get warm.

At the site, we get a quick home tour of the previous classes facilities. And then move into a clear area to build our own. We've lucked out, the weather has improved greatly on the far side of the island, and it is cold, but the wind is calm.

The class is split in half, and my group starts with preparing a snow mound. All of the bags are piled up, and a tarp thrown over them. We then proceed to dig snow from around it, and pile it on the bags. While we work on that we finish setting up our 'Scott' tent. It's a basic tent that is used by many of the field parties in Antarctica. It is the tall yellow tents, with four poles, similar to a teepee. When it is lashed down correctly, it is designed to withstand 120 mile per hour winds. It weighs about quite a bit, and is not something you take everywhere. It is large enough to cook in, and has a vent tube in the top for that purpose.

All of the survival kits contain basic four season style mountaineering tents, which require some sort of a wind break to be effective in this environment. So we start on cutting snow blocks, to build a wall to block the wind. By cutting the blocks from the area we are going to place the tent, we get twice the result for our effort (the hole, and the wall).

Once we are organized, and working on our sleeping arrangements, the instructor demonstrates a simple snow trench to sleep in if necessary, and then leave us for the evening. They spend the majority of their time in the field, so they don't need to sleep in the snow, they get to sleep in the instructor hut we walked from.

It takes most the afternoon to complete the snow mound, the wall around the mountaineering tent, and the snow trench. We boil water to prepare the meals. I had the chili macaroni type thing. About 7 PM several of us decide to hike over to silver city, a small shelter on the recreation trail that passes about 1/2 mile away from us.

Along the trail, as Laura, one of our group puts it, we were "sharing a moment". We discussed how it was hard to believe we were actually in Antarctica, and how beautiful it was. The overcast had been down low most the day, late in the day, it had lifted to the north of us, and Mount Terror was out of the clouds. The sun had not set, but had moved around so that we were in the shadow of the peninsula. As we stood there, Mount Terror was lit by sun, and had an alpine glow to it. Of course I didn't have a camera with me.

I never really am comfortable sleeping in the snow. I was plenty warm, but just couldn't get in a comfortable position. I made it til a little after 5, when my bladder was screaming, so I decided to go ahead and get dressed for the trip to the pee hole. (You can only pee where it is marked, with a yellow flag, or into a barrel that they take back to the US to dispose of).

As I ventured back into camp, one of the other guys had emerged also, and we did a hike back down to Silver City to warm up.

Most everyone was starting to move around when we got back, and I started boiling water for breakfast. We had to knock down camp and be ready to be picked up by 9. They picked us up, and we returned to the instructor hut. A few more lectures, a practical problem solving exercise with an emergency situation, and we were on our way back to town.

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