Happy Camper was described to me as “Just like car camping”. I’m not sure that the person who told me that had ever done it before….I do know that he apologized when he gave me the informational sheet and told me last night that I was leaving at 0900 for my overnight experience. (For pictures, see: Lynette’s Happy Camper)
Jason was at FSTP (the acronym for the group conducting Happy Camper) and asked if he could attend. There was no room, so he decided to join the McMurdo tour at 0800, which is where I split from him. I returned to my room and packed the recommended items (full ECWs, a thermos-type mug, extra gloves/socks/hats, sunscreen, lip sealant, any snacks, and “The Happy Camper Attitude”) and headed to the FSTP training that began in a classroom at 0900. We talked about cold weather injuries - prevention, identification, and “cures”. We then loaded into a Delta (our transport to the camp) and headed over to 155 to get our lunches and any last minute things people forgot.
I did some searching for Jason to let him know that 1 bailed from training (see if he could bump in), but I couldn’t find him.?With that, we loaded up into the Delta and headed out to Snowmound City. The Delta dropped us off about a third of a mile from our destination for my first walk in Antarctica in my ECWs. Luckily, our trainers had a piston bully and we didn’t have to carry our bags with us. After the long jaunt, in which I got to know Bamma, a general assistant (GA) in McMurdo, we arrived at the instructor’s hut (i-hut) for lunch (consisting of 3 sandwich choices-PB&J, roast beef, and salami; cracker/chip things; peanut butter cookies (grandma’s brand); cheese crackers with PB; and juice boxes). We chowed.
Already, the cold was starting to make it clear that we would need a higher calorie intake.? We then talked about the stoves that would be used tonight and in field camps. Down here, it’s the whisperlite by MSA (the same one that Jason and I use for camping). With that done, our instructor pulled down the bottle of sunscreen for us - only for us to discover that it was frozen. Luckily, a few people had some to share (mine was also frozen) - I guess I knew then it would be a chilly night. We then went into a warming building and made sleeping kits consisting of 2 foam mats, a sleeping bag, and a fleece liner for the bag. We then hiked back down to snowmound city, where we met the camera crew (the crew heading to the dry valleys were also in my class). There, we learned how to cut ice blocks and build an ice wall for protection. As a pack team of 20, we split into cutting, shoveling, transporting, and building. I rotate a bit between transporting and building. It was cool to watch huge blocks come up out of the ground. It was also fun to take a saw and trim the blocks to be more square during the building process. It was amazing how warm a person stayed during the process. Then, we learned how to put up the Scott tent - a big yellow (double-walled canvas) tent used primarily in field camps.
As part of the anchoring system, we learned how to lay a deadman for anchor in the snow and tie down the tent. Our trainer then showed us the quick solution for a storm onset - digging a 1-man trench. He dug a sleeping trench in about 10 minutes and offered tips - digging it narrow at top and big at bottom for movement and less air coming in - then putting blocks (like we built the wall) on top for cover. He then dug around his trench more and turned it into our “kitchen” so that noone had to bend over a pot all night (In pic, people are standing in kitchen)
We also put up 4 mountaineering 4-season tents (2 person each). With that complete, the camera crew returned to McMurdo and the instructor’s returned to the hut for the night leaving us with a radio and our gear. A few people jumped into the “kitchen” and began heating water for dinner. I sent on a mission to find some women to share a tent. I found Bamma, another GA (who was tending the stoves), and another young woman helping with a different filming project somewhere on the ice (who happened to have “the crud”). We began moving into one of the Scott tents. Once set-up, we turned out attention to dinner - We had a selection of dehydrated meals, various snackies (granola bars and crackers), and some warm drinks (apple cider, instant coffee, cocoa). I chose rice and chicken based on the calorie and carb value compared with the other selection. I forgot to add the seasoning (forgot or my fingers were too cold) - so it was mighty bland. I didn’t have cocoa earlier, so I (unlike the other 18 cocoa fiends in my group of 19) had to smush it out of the bag in a very “pig at the trough” way. During the class that morning, they were telling us that at some of the field camps, the daily caloric intake was between 5000 and 8000 to meet the body demands from living here. I could believe it. I was starving. After the eating frenzy - I went for the nalgene bottle for water replacement on this, the coldest/windiest/driest place on earth. To my dismay, there was a layer of ice across the top of my bottle. Lesson #1, carry the bottle upside down in the pockets of Big Red (ice then forms away from the mouth opening). Lesson #2, store it on the inside pocket - specially sized for the nalgene bottle. I poured boiling water onto the nalgene until a small whole was crafted into the ice. From there, I filled the bottle with water. This is where I became introduced to my new favorite way to drink water. For those of you who know me well, water has previously only been acceptable when on ice…more like…yes, I will have some water with my ice. Now, I am all about the hot water. Not lukewarm, but hot. Just below the temperature that burns your tongue - right where you have the ability to just drink it without issue. After solving my nalgene problem, I noticed that my hands were getting cold, as was my core. I had one of the girls go for a walk (it was only 630pm at this point). We walked what one of my new friends termed “The Trail of Tears”. A stretch of “road” that we were allowed to safely travel back and forth near camp. When I returned to camp, I stood at the kitchen and asked if anyone wanted a replacement. By now, we were out of our fresh water supply and were melting ice. With no response, I went on another walk with Bamma. Then I did some arm spins - they really do get blood to the fingers quickly and warm them up. I walked around some more. I checked in on the “kitchen” staff. I went for another walk with Bamma. I stood around and watched people completing their private trenches. I then decided I was “done”. It was time to go to the bathroom and hope that I could make it through the night without going again. I think it was around 7:30pm. Bathroom facilities. There were 2 options. There was the “Pee pole”. This was a bamboo stick with a yellow flag on it designating the area to go pee outside. (This kept ice over the rest of the area free for use as water supply ran out). There was also the “Pooper”. This was a small mini-hut for…well…you guessed it. The women also used this. The Pee pole area was not even worth trying as a chick. So, I bared some skin in the mini-hut (yes, it was cold) before heading back to my tent for bed.
Inside, I stripped my carharts off and put my expedition underwear over my thin long underwear. I slept in the following layering inside my bag (I forgot the fleece liner - I actually couldn’t find it and didn’t want to harass the other 2 that had already gone to bed): thin long underwear (top and bottom), expedition long underwear (top and bottom), carhart arctic overalls, wool socks, boot liners for the blue boots, glove liners, neck gator (pulled up over my nose), and sock hat (pulled down over my nose). There was no exposed skin. As I slept through the night, if the hat or gator ever slipped, I was awake with the chill to the skin. I slept fairly warm most of the night. I generally woke up because my body didn’t like being smushed on my side with the carhart buttons/seams pushing into the side of my leg. Out of discomfort, I would wake up and eventually convince myself that I was uncomfortable enough to justify possibly waking my tent mates (I learned the next am that our descriptions of the night were remarkably similar). I would lunge my weight vertical to flip onto my back without rolling onto someone next to me. This would require some new cinching of the sleeping bag to stop the cold air rushing across my shoulder. Once that was resealed, I slept until I woke up with discomfort on the back and would do the same magical flip to not touch my tentmates. It was a long night (surprisingly since the sun was really only down for just a couple of hours). At about 0600, my bladder woke me up for the final time. I pulled on my boots, tucked the laces into the boot and scooted out the little tunnel of the tent.
Outside, I put on big red and scurried to the outhouse. When I exited the outhouse, I bent over and tied one of my boots. That’s all I managed to get done before my little fingers were freezing (yes I did have glove liners on). I did the whirlwind arms and walked around in some circles to get the blood flow moving. Once warmed, I tied the other boot and then put on my insulated leather mittens. With that, Bamma was up and out and ready for a walk. Along the trail of tears, we encountered a girl who had decided to try out the trenches last night. She was miserable. I asked if she had good gloves on (they were in a pocket) - she told me she had a pair just like mine only “softer” leather. I told her that I brought a variety of gloves with me, so we could try my ski gloves, if she would rather. She said she would consider it and went on her way. By the time we returned to the tent, the other girls were up and moving. We started repacking the sleep kits and getting our stuff ready for pick-up. I looked over at the miserable girl who was sipping some hot chocolate. She was wearing thin leather work gloves over her liners. They weren’t insulated. I ran over, took off her gloves, and gave her mine. With that, I dug out some other gloves from my bag and battled to warm them and my hands back up now that they had experienced the freeze of the am. I couldn’t believe that she didn’t have anything better. Once I did the athletic workout and held my nalgene with warm water, I was back to work with the tent-site. The camera crew showed back up somewhere around this time and we started taking down the scott tents. There is some prime footage of me out there handling an ice pick to remove a deadman.? Who knew after living so close to Hollywood for 4yrs that I would finally get my shot in a movie in Antarctica!
Somewhere around this time, we made the call to send the miserable up to the instructor’s hut (i hut) for fear of borderline hypothermia. We were later told this was a good call. With no spoon, lots of work to do, and no appettite for oatmeal - I skipped out on breakfast. When things were finally cleaned up, I took some of the remaining water for a cup of hot chocolate. It might have been the best one ever - I love swiss miss made with the ice of Antarctica’s ice shelf!
When we were ready for sleep-kit pick-up, we made the radio call to the i-hut for bag pick-up. The radio came back a bit later that the piston bully was not starting - which meant we had the pleasure of dragging everything up to the i-hut in sleds. good times. When we got to the hut, we enjoyed more hot beverages and leftover sandwiches. We did some training on different radios and our instructor called weather. We learned first hand that it had been approx -22F for the cold that night with winds at 10-12mph (effective windchill of -40F).? Brrr. a chilll went up my spine when i heard that.
We did some practical work outside with the radios and tested them. We then split into 2 groups. In the first excersize, my group put buckets on our heads and went on a quest to simulate finding our lost instructor in a white-out condition. My group failed. The guy who led us really didn’t know where he was by the time it ended. Our 2nd excersize was to simulate and emergency response and our group of 10 put together camp, set-up the radio (made a call)?and built a mini-wall as fast as possible.
We returned to the hut, cleaned up, and began the long walk to our delta pick-up. Lucky for us, the delta didn’t know he was supposed to stop so far away (they generally don’t bring them near camp for fear of getting them stuck)…we got a ride for half the distance to the pick-up point.
I got back to McMurdo and gave Jason a call. One of the bunkhouse members said he had just left with a small group. With that, I jumped in a long-awaited hot shower (there’s no 2-minute rule in McMurdo). Then, I hit the computer lab where I ran into Carol who told me that a group had gone to climb observation hill (ob hill). With that, she and I went out to get some pics from teh chalet and watch the goofballs scoot down ob hill on their booties. It was so great to see Jason when he finally came down. It had been a long adventure without him.