Monday, December 12, 2011

A Fine Antarctic Experience - Snow Craft 1

The Scott Tent and the previous team's wall, snow machine
with food, water and other supplies, part of our team.
Required survival training for going into the field or a certain distance from the base (white out conditions can come up fast and leave you stranded) is officially called Snow Craft 1.  It is unoffically called Snow School or Happy Camper. Yes, camping out under the star (sun) in Antarctica - the stuff of every young child's dream.  Okay, not every. 

Last weekend I was part of an 8 person training mission with John Loomus of Talketna, Alaska.  My seven cohorts in this fine Antarctic adventure were Brook, Shaun, Joshua, Patrick, Steven, Kurt, Troy and Carolos, yes all men.  We spent the morning in the conference room learning about the hazards of the elements and the tools of the trade.  AFter lunch we convened at destination alpha (the front door) where we loaded up in the piston bully for a 15 minute ride out into the Antarctic wilds (okay only a couple miles from the station).  We unloaded, the PB left us and Loomus began our training.

Handing off the blocks for the wall to the right.
 A couple nights previous the first set of happy campers had broke ground at the camp leaving one scott tent (holding the rest of the gear we were to use, and a swiss cheese wall, a duggout hole with a half cirlce wall formed the "out house", more like an "out wall". Loomus regailed us with a few stories of how the Scott style tent has stood the test of time and Antarctic storms and his own experiences of the concequences of failing to build a sufficient snow wall around his tent.  A second Scott tent was folded up in its case and we learned how to set it up without letting it or any of its parts, blow away in high winds.  Thankfully, we had light winds the whole time but we needed to be prepared for other conditions.  BTW, the temperature was the standard 24 below zero with -40 something wind chill and very clear skies and 24 hours of sunshing.  On the down side, the pressure had dropped to an equivalent equatorial altitude of 10,900 ft give or take 50 which was higher than typical to date giving us thinner air than of late.
Ice Block Wall under contruction.

So where does the craft in "Snow Craft" come from?  That would be building an ice block wall and digging snow caves. Loomus pointed out the flaws in the previous team's wall and showed us how to cut blocks with a saw and a shovel.  Despite my many years in Alaska, this was new for me and my favorite part of the adventure.  We built a lovely wall between the two scott tents.  The wall was positioned in the direction of the worst storms which doesn't even guarentee that it will be in the right place.  Such is the life of Antarctic expeditions.

"Behind" the wall we pitched 3 mountanineering tents which supposedly held two people.  These tents, sleeping pads, sleeping bags and extra fleese liners were all stored in the first Scott tent.  The Scott tent has a tunnel like entrance of two layers of material.  It can be quite a job to get that much gear in and out without it getting caught up in the material.  It was also a challenge to crawl in and out, each time as I my big red coat got hung up, I though, "one of the least graceful ways to die in Antarctica".

Entrance to the snow cave, narrow channel covered in blocks.

So we each got two sleeping mats, two sleeping bags, a fleece liner, and our bags and picked a spot.  I opted for one of the Scott tents since it looked like they would have more room.  As it turned out I ended up with it by myself as half the crew opted for snow caves.  I liked Diane's comment, if you have the choice why not take the cave and be able to say you did it but I was too tired by that point to want to dig one. 
Another dugout pit with a wall and snow shelf formed the kitchen and then Loomus showed us how to light the stoves.  They turned out to be problematic.  Generally this course is taught in McMurdo so the parts and pieces in use here were not working as smoothly as usual.  But we got hot water and "dinner".  The rations are labeled as a serving for two.  While it doesn't fill you up, with one serving, I just didn't want to eat more than one.  It is hard to get it cooked at 20 below, even by carfully closing them up with little air inside (zip lock bags) and tucking them in your coat to give them the 15 minutes to cook, risking a mess.
Story continues in the next post click here.

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