Lynette went to happy camper school the day after we got to McMurdo I’m a Happy Camper!, and now it was my turn. South Pole Recreation set up three weekends of camping trips, similar to the Happy Camper, and called it SP ROCS (South Pole Recreation Outdoor Camping Session). For more, higher-resolution pictures, see: SP ROCS Picture Gallery
The weekend started with a meeting at 6pm on Friday. We started off the meeting by getting to know each other a little. There were twelve of us going, plus out leader, Cici. I knew most of the people, but not everyone, so it was nice to get to meet some new faces. Cici talked about what to bring and how to “prepare yourself for success”: eat lots of fatty foods, keep hydrated, no alcohol, pseudofed or caffeine, wear layered clothing so that you can take off layers when doing work, and put on layers at rest, and bring plenty of dry clothes to sleep in. We also talked about hypothermia and it’s various levels and symptoms. Cici asked if anyone had experienced hypothermia, and Eustacia (one of the GAs) was the winner. She told a story about getting hypothermia when she won a contest to get sky-diving tickets. She was in the Marines, and the contest was who could deal with having ice applied to them for the longest. It started with sitting on ice, and went from there, including holding ice, and having it put on their head and backs. After 4 hours of the contest, she finally won. Needless to say, she was moderately hypothermic. We also went over frost nip and frost bite, it’s symptoms, and how to remedy it at it’s early and late stages. We finished up at around 8, and set up to meet at 7 the next night at DZ.
So, the next night we met up at about 7pm at DZ and walked out to meet up with Lance, a Meterologist, who was giving us a ride to the camp on a Pisten Bully. It took about 15 minutes to get there, and was probably about 3 miles away from the station, which was still clearly visible, though fairly small. We looked around camp and checked out what had already been put up by the previous two groups: 2 Quincy Huts, 2 snow-block walls and a Scott Tent. Although it certainly didn’t look big enough from above, we could actually fit all 8 of us (from first PB) into one of Quincy huts (picture).
We started quickly on our own Quincy, which is built by piling snow on your gear (we used lots of sleeping bags and fleece liners wrapped in a nylon bag). We would shovel snow on to the pile, pack it down with our shovels, then repeat the process several times. Pretty soon, we had developed quite a mound, making sure that the snow as at least two feet think above the gear below.
The second group arrived about an hour later. Apparently nobody had told Lance that there were two groups. There were 13 of us, and only 8 of us could fit on the first ride out. They arrived while we were taking a break for hot drinks and snacks. After our break, we let the Quincy pile sit for a couple of hours while it settled and hardened a bit. While we were waiting, Cici taught us how to cut blocks out of the snow and build a wind shelter wall.
We spend about an hour and a half doing that, and towards the end, Cici gathered a few people to start digging out the gear at the base of the Quincy. After a while, I walked over to check out what they were doing, and found myself at the “service entrance”, helping Andrew, one of the NOAA guys, clear snow out from the inside of the hut. After letting the pile sit for a while, they had dug a hole out of the back of the hut in order to access the gear that we had buried. They then removed the gear, which created the basic hut. At that point, they started to dig down a bit to enlarge the inside and to level the bottom. On the other side of the hut, they dug a trench and created the entrance, which actually connects underneath the floor of the inside. This way, the warm air rises and does not escape, while the cold air lowers and exits out of the entrance. After about a half hour of digging snow out of the hut, we all took another break.
After the break, everyone except for Andrew and I went to set up mountaineering tents behind the now-completed snow wall. It turns out that I probably should have helped with the tent instead of continuing to shovel. About a half hour after the break, I mentioned to Andrew, “We’re really going to be sore tomorrow!” After finally reaching a flat spot in the snow (about a foot below the surface), we started filling in the service entrance. Unfortunately, the person who had made the service entrance had made the hole quite big, and part of it was on the part that was over-hanging. This made it nearly impossible to fill in. We eventually ended up using a few sleeping bags again as support from the inside. We had some success with that, but not after quite a hassle, and several holes that formed while we packed down the snow. When all was said and done, we had quite the Quincy hut build. It came to be known as “The Gym”.
During our next break, we decided on who was going to sleep where. I wanted to be in a Quincy hut, but three others had quickly claimed the one we had just built. But, there were two more that had already been build, so there was plenty of room for the seven of us who wanted to be in a Qunicy. Two others wanted the Scott tent, two in the mountaineering tents, and two on their own. Andrew and Jeff, the HR guy, played some golf while we were breaking. The chased the ball for a while, then decided to stand apart and hit it at each other. This made the rest of us laugh, and thought that would be quite a report to file: “Andrew got a concussion because he got hit in the head with a golf ball at the South Pole.” That reminded Cici of a story from her days at McMurdo. It was condition 1, which means it’s colder than -100F (with wind-chill), and there’s no visibility. She was walking with a plate of food on her way to work, and her muffin flew off her plate, but the visibility was so bad that she couldn’t see where it went. She got to her office and was in the middle of her story when a co-worker came in and said “you wouldn’t believe it, but a muffin came flying out of nowhere and hit me in the head.” After that we were on our own to “play” and keep warm. A couple of the girls walked off to “Love Shack”, which was about a 30-minute walk from camp. The Love Shack is a small building, equipped with solar panels that is usually used as an over-night destination for recreational skiers at the Pole. I set up my Quincy, which was fairly small, and I ended up being in there by myself. My roommate decided that it was too small for both of, which turned out to be a good decision. Laura Rip, the winter-over power plant technician who had just arrived on Thursday, had brought nerf foot ball, I tossed it around with her an Andrew. After warming up with that, I got the rest of my stuff ready for bed, and then played some golf with Andrew. We chased the ball around for a while, and then played the same game that they had been playing earlier by hitting it at each other. I had lots of really bad shots. Swinging a golf club with Big Red on is no easy task, not that I’m any good to begin with. I finally got that one great shot that keeps golfers coming back, and decided to call it quits.I Talked to Cici for a while about spending the night by myself. She had considered sleeping in there with me, but wanted to be in a tent so that she could hear everything that was going on (since she was in charge of everyone’s safety). She told me to keep insulated from ground, excersize before bed, get in one sleeping bag and drape the other above me, and draw the string such that only my mouth is exposed. She also reminded me of her motto, which she preached to us the night before: if you get cold, “deal with it”. She said that most people’s downfall is that they get cold, or have to go to the bathroom, or whatever, and they just don’t feel like dealing with it. Then things spiral downward from there.At about 2am, I took off my Carthart bibs and Big Red, put on fresh socks and boot liners, extra thermal underwear, put by bibs and coat under my bed (for extra insulation) and crawled in. Zipping myself in was all the excersize I needed. It was quite a struggle having so much clothes on and being surrounded by an ocean of down. After I was all snugged in, there wasn’t really enough room for me in the hut. I could either stick my feet out the entrance, or sleep with my legs crossed Indian-style. After about 5 minutes, I was really uncomfortable on my back, and my arms were already very sore from shoveling. It felt like tendonitis, and it sucked big time. So, I tried to roll on my side, which was a mess. I couldn’t get my breath hole lined up with my mouth, and I wasn’t sure if I was on my insulation anymore. It was very disorienting being totally blinded by the sleeping bag hood, which was pulled over my head. So I rolled back on my back, and just laid there. It took quite a while to get to sleep, but I finally did. I woke up several times, and tried to change positions. This time I was more successfully because I decided to lift the hood enough so that I could see, roll into place, then synch back down. Once, I woke up and my outer sleeping bag had somewhat covered my breathing hole. The part over the hole was absolutely soaked. It’s amazing how much water I had ventilated through my breathing. No wonder I feel like such crap in the mornings here, after exhaling all of my fluids. After what seemed like an endless night, I was finally awoken by the sound of footsteps outside. I ended up sleeping more than I thought because when I got up it about 8am. Here’s a picture from inside and outside of the Quincy that I slept in.
I put on my bibs, coat, and boots, then walked around trying to get warm and talking to others about their nights. Most people had a horrible night’s sleep, some being cold, other’s just being uncomfortable like me, except for the people in the Scott and mountaineering tents, who said they slept like babies. We then started breaking down camp before drinking hot drinks and eating some snacks to help out energy get back up. We finished breaking camp just as Pisten Bully arrived to bring us home. We took a group photo in front of our new Quincy hut, loaded the top of the PB and a trailer with gear, and 9 of us jumped in for the long, uncomfortable ride home. We hung up sleeping bags in the Do Not Freeze facility, and then I went in to meet up with Lynette, change clothes, wash mugs, and eat brunch.
The campers met up at 1 for debrief. Here were the lessons learned: 1) Set up tents early because it’s very cold work. 2) Be familiar with gear before going out. 3) Work on keeping your core warm instead of your extremities. 4) It’s very important to eat and drink to restore energy when you wake up because your body has expended most of its energy in keeping you warm all night. 5) If you’re working hard, work in shifts so that you don’t over-exert yourself. 6) Make a smaller service entrance to the Qunicy so that it’s not so difficult to fill back in.
Overall, I feel like it was good experience, despite the lousy night’s sleep. People kept asking me if I’d do it again. I suppose I would, depending on the situation. If it were part of an expedition, I certainly would. I’m not sure that I would volunteer to go camping a few miles away from the station again, but who knows. As Cici says, “The best attribute of a mountaineer is a short and selective memory.”