Dec. 29, 10:00pm 26′ WC15′ at times

Hello everybody!
I am exceptionally happy to show off the photographs finally. I found the best techno wizard ever, and his name is Ben. He understands computers quite well, and he teaches very kindly. He had never used this system before either, and we worked it out together.
   SO here are the pictures I have been trying for weeks to get to the screen. I hope you don’t mind, but I decided not to rewrite all of the story so far.  I figure that tucking in the pictures, and adding a little humor to the written desperation was somehow more funny. I hope you will take the time to go back through the earlier postings and at least view the pictures. Especially of Elvis. He rocks.
I will, as time goes by add more pictures to each of the appropriate dates, but for now I have a feeling that there is so much more ahead of me that I will be working much more than writing.   I was told that because of the Govt. shut down in October, we were never completely staffed in the first place, and will need to rotate personnel into all of the shifts. That is the polite way of saying that I must start working overnight just after the New Year. Of course, there is the little matter of the perma-sun I keep mentioning.   It is just as bright at 3am as 3pm, so I really don’t mind at all.   Heck, I might even have more time to write, because no one will be in the computer room when I get to it!

I have spent the last two days re-calibrating and formatting them to fit.  I still needs a little work, but I am getting better at it and THAT makes me happy too.  Who would have thought that I would come all this way to drive a pickle and come home with an advanced degree in photo-shop and word-smithing?

Tim.

 

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Dec. 27, 8:00pm 34′ WC 28′

   What a nice day.  It was a little blustery this morning but it calmed quickly and the rest of the day was sunny and beautiful.  By lunch you didn’t need a jacket, a heavy sweater was warm enough.  Most of my day was spent in the office, and although it was the first day back to work, it was very quiet.  Only a few people needed parts, and they were mostly in house mechanics.  I did get to drive the pickle again, as Elvis and I were needed to move a shipping container from it’s storage facility, about a quarter mile away, down to the office.  After transferring the piece we needed over to the mechanic, I drove the crate back up to it’s home. 

   It still surprises me some days to see how many of our supplies we leave in outdoor locations with little more than the wooden crate or heavy cardboard containers to cover them.  Of course many of these pieces are engine blocks or heavy equipment replacement parts that are stripped down to the painted metal and could withstand the winter here covered in a paper towel.  Rust would be more of a problem if there was ever any real precipitation.  But there is none.  I remind you that the entire continent is considered a desert because what moisture is in the air freezes so quickly that it cannot seep through the paint to cause the rusting action.  Even some of the cardboard boxes seem to be largely unaffected by the snow that lands on them.  The wind blows the drifts away before the side walls weaken enough to collapse.

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  Now there are a large majority of supplies that need to be handled quickly.  Any type of food stocks, computer parts or office supplies get indoor homes right away.  Most anything made of glass, including the heavy automotive type is secured in a building toot sweet, (pardon my French).  But tires?  Outside.  They’re wrapped in a cocoon of heavy white plastic, usually four at a time, and stacked upright on the side of the hill, looking a little like an army of Michelin men awaiting orders.  And there are wooden boxes of enormous size hand made to secure scientific equipment for it’s transfer to the Antarctic interior.  It may sit in our facility for weeks until the team that needs it arrives on the ice to set it up.  It may just catch it’s breath for a day or two and be pulled across the ice on massive sledges to where it was needed yesterday!  Timing is very different down here.  I feel genuinely sorry for those scientists who came up with the funding, gathered their team, made the trip all this way and now have to wait for their one big piece of equipment that must wait for the ice to melt before it can safely land by boat.  That is not a current situation, but I have heard the tale.

  In case I didn’t mention it before, there is a team of meteorite chasers who have been here the entire time since I arrived and still have not been able to leave McMurdo because the weather is too bad to safely land them at their destination.  Almost a month of downtime.  They do have office work to keep them busy, but the adventurous people that they are, seem itching to get out on their snowmobiles and find those aliens!  I don’t blame them.  I count myself fortunate to have been able to walk in the door and get started right away.

More tomorrow…I’ll tell you about our day picking daisy’s.

Tim.

Dec. 26th, 9:00pm 26′ WC16′

Hello again.

Today was nice and quiet.  I went up to the VMF to help take down the decorations and spent part of the morning there.  It all came down pretty quickly, and we were done before 1:00pm.   I ran some laundry, which is free for us here.  Your clothing doesn’t get dirty from sweat, as you very seldom perspire in this climate, but the dust cakes on to you and you don’t really want to try to wear even your favorite T-shirt more than once without cleaning it.   The outerwear that they issue to us when we arrived at Christchurch, NZ is mostly Winter weight Carhart overalls and jackets.  They also issue heavy wool socks and thermal underwear, both tops and bottoms.  Three types of gloves,  leather mittens and rayon/cotton glove liners.  They also issue the three types of hats: a balaclava, a regular stocking cap, and a skullcap with earflaps that looks totally ridiculous in any other environment except here or a chairlift in Aspen.   I suppose if you can afford the lift ticket prices in Aspen or Vail, you can buy any ridiculous hat you want to and not think twice about how silly you look.  But down here it is crucial to have at least one of those with you at all times.  As I found out today.

I had the opportunity to leave McMurdo for the nearby Scott Base.  It is the New Zealand Base of operation, and it has what they call “American Night” on Thursday.  It’s a chance for them to open their doors to the Yanks, and sell some goods from their shop and beer from their bar.  The variety of T-shirts, postcards and key chains is uniquely different than what we have at McM.  Also, they seem to have a lot more of it.  You would think they get a thousand visitors a day, but logic tells you they’re only real audience is us at McM. Their base has only 40 personnel at any one time, except at the end of the season when all of their remote locations shut down for the year, and as they return home through Scott Base, it’s capacity nearly triples.

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The New Zealanders are affectionately called Kiwi’s. They are nicknamed after a curious New Zealand bird that’s looks rather like a cross between an anteater and a chicken.  It’s about the size of a large rooster, but apparently doesn’t make as much racket when the sun comes up.  It’s beak is shaped very long and thin and is usually stuck in the ground, sucking up ants. Flightless, and nocturnal, they have few natural predators in New Zealand, so they are every where, just relaxed and happy. They have rather ugly brown feathers that are so thin and long that they resemble fur until you get close enough to view them.  I was fortunate to see all this because the tavern has one taxidermy example under glass.  Poor little dude.  At the very least he looked happy, there are worse ways to spend the afterlife than being the featured performer in a nice bar.

The New Zealand people themselves are very calm and welcoming.  I was the only person on the shuttle going over at about 7:00pm, and was in the shop for about 30 minutes.  After a very nice conversation with Alex, the shop keeper, I left the store and he immediately locked it up.  I apologized, not realizing it was after hours, and he was so polite about saying it was no bother.  I then said I was heading over to the bar and I asked for directions.  “Just follow me, I’m working there next.”  Like many people living in any small isolated community, Alex wears a lot of different hats.

I had just walked into the pub and was almost immediately drawn into a conversation with one of the Kiwis who was watching the pool table.  He is New Zealand Army, and though I have forgotten his name, which I regret, I will not soon forget his kindness.  We talked a lot about Rugby, Antarctica, and how he got assigned there, and how good the relationship is between his base and ours.  We looked at  the maps of his island home on the walls and he told me a bit about is home in Wellington, one of the bigger cities there.  I told him a bit about Denver, and we got on fine as his friends gathered around after their work was done for the day.  About 9:00pm I knew I wanted to get the ride back to McM, so I excused myself from my new friends to go and wait for the shuttle.

There were five other Yanks heading back with me, and all of us were wondering why the shuttle was late.  The temperature was not terribly cold, but the wind was up and we had no desire to walk back at this hour.  I didn’t have a coat, but I did have my backpack, and in it I had a heavy sweater and the funky little scull cap with ear flaps.  Warmth wins out over fashion down here in a heart beat.  And just minutes after I put on the cap for the long trudging walk back to McM the shuttle arrived.  Yay!

I tell ya, I have been so lucky on this trip it just boggles my mind.

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These carved wooden statues show off the native artwork common to the Maori tribes of New Zealand.

More next time.

Tim

MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE !!! Dec 25, 6:30pm ‘, WC doesn’t matter, I’m inside.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS TO ALL OF YOU!

I realize that this blog has become somewhat haphazard, I am not writing in a predictable manner, or telling this story in a purely chronological order.  Heck, I wasn’t even certain it was Christmas morning until the third or fourth person that I met today wished me a Merry Christmas.  And then, like a snowball off Mt Erebus, it grew.  And they all said it.  I said it.  It became real and still feels warm and genuine.  Everyone here realizes what we have given up to be here, doing this work, and being far from home.  We share a type of kinship that I didn’t expect to find.  Scientist, Soldiers, Air Force and  Environmentalist, pilots and penguin lovers…we all are recognizing the common loss for this holiday with our families.  It warms us all, just a touch, to say the simple thing that unites us.  Merry Christmas.

I hope you are all warm and safe and dry, as am I.  We are almost all off duty for today, and most have tomorrow off as well, so the celebration will continue through the next few hours.  I have just finished dinner in the Galley, and what an amazing feast they prepared for us.  Steak and Lobster.  Garlic mashed potatoes.  A multitude of veggies, rice, salads, rolls and cheeses…I have been constantly impressed with the success of our Galley crew, but they have outdone themselves tonight.  Table clothes, and Christmas trees.  All the decorations that have been added to day after day for the last week.  Carolers and Birthday songs…yes, I found out that December 25th was not only the birthday of the famous Jesus of Nazareth, but of guy named Floyd and a girl named Jenna from…well, McMurdo Base, Antarctica.  I haven’t actually met either of them yet, but on this small of a facility it is inevitable that I will meet them at some point.  So of course, I sang them Happy Birthday with the whole Galley filling in the chorus.

I am repeatedly pleased by the camaraderie that this place instills in people.  I have no problem asking for directions, or feeling embarrassed about something I don’t know how to do.  I ask, and someone knows the answer.  These people are, and I find myself becoming, the perfect coworker:  Non-judgmental, and happy to get involved in the solving of problems.  In the line for the Christmas dinner, I was standing next to 3 of the scientists who are from the University of Colorado, studying the atmosphere and the Chemical analysis of whatever is in it.  Admittedly, some of what they had to say was way over my head, but they were all smiles and happy to talk about their trip to Antarctica.  One of them was a first timer, like me, and had only just arrived earlier this week.  He still has his Nikon strung around his neck, and has the slightly glazed look in his eyes that I can only hope has left my own.

Tomorrow I am off work again.  But I will most likely spend a good portion of my day helping to clean up the Vehicle Maintenance Facility.  We had an excellent party last night with a lot of dancing and silliness.  Photos with Santa, and of course the bar was working furiously.  The Galley had sent food and deserts over, as well as staff to handle the tables, so it was a huge success for all involved.  I stayed a little after the last dance to help clean up, but there were so many people pitching in I didn’t feel compelled to stay.  I knew that the bulk of the work could wait, so I headed back to the dorm to socialize and relax.

Andy Martinez, my good friend who introduced me to this Antarctic Program, and helped me in many ways to get here in the first place, made it to McMurdo just yesterday afternoon.  He caught up with me at the party last night and it was great to see him.  He had just flown back from the South Pole, and was visiting with the many people he has known through his years of service for the USAP.  We had much to catch up on, and talked quite a bit.  I will always be indebted to him, and it seemed somehow appropriate to be with him on such a Happy Holiday when I have so much to be thankful for.

With that in mind, I hope all of you who are at your homes this Christmas take a moment to hug the person next to you and say thanks.  Be as grateful for them this coming year as you have been happy to be with them this past year.  I highly recommend it.

Merry Christmas Every One !!

Tim

Happy Camper part two

As I have told you before, at this time of year the sun never sets in Antarctica.  It can be disorienting at first and then after a week or so you begin to realize that there is no way to get oriented to permanent sunshine, so you just stop trying.  I will add to this, that McMurdo Station is no place to be if you don’t wear a watch, or at least have a clock app on your cell phone.  I have neither.  But I have not been late for anything yet.  I am so jazzed about everything that happens here that I am routinely early.

So, when the team was finally set up in the camp, tents made, kitchen cooking and safety plans in place, our facilitator Paul drove off in the only vehicle we had.  He didn’t go far, in fact we could see the vehicle and the outpost he was staying at from where we were.  It was tempting to go over in the night and crash the place.  We knew it had a heater, and that we could all fit in there, but the challenge of actually sleeping outdoors overnight in Antarctica is something none of us was willing to trade.  We did discuss walking over there and serenading Paul with some Christmas carols (yeah, that was my idea) but we decided against it when we realized none  of us knew all the words to anything.  So out came the shovels and the igloos rose and the holes went deep into the ground.  We must have worked at it till nearly midnight.  That was quite a fete considering that three of our company had just gotten off of the night shift prior to starting the Happy Camper class.  Tough guys.  They had been awake for over 36 hours and where still going strong when I crawled into my tent at 12:30.

This was the true moment of self reflection.  I had no doubt that the tent was set up correctly, as Alyssa, my partner has lots of experience with camping and is in fact an outdoor  guide in Alaska when she is not here.  The hard part was willing myself to actually take off clothes before crawling into the sleeping bag.  The big heavy bunny boots would have to go, and I knew that the ice buildup on my Carhart overalls would melt and cause problems inside the bag, so those had to go too.  But it was maybe 15 degrees outside and only slightly warmer in the tent.  I had taken Paul’s advise, and walked around the camp site till I felt warm, and all the effort I had exerted during the evening cutting the trough for Alyssa’s borough paid off.  I was warm.  I crawled in and the sleeping bag rewarded me almost immediately.  I pulled the balaclava over my eyes and was asleep in about 2 minutes.

I awoke some time later to the sound of the wind rustling the bottom edge of the sleeping bag and noticed that my nose was itchy.   I reached up to scratch it and knew I had a sunburn.  Not the worst I’ve ever had, but definitely a bad one.  I had used sunscreen in the morning before the class work, and applied it a second time when we  got out on the ice, but didn’t judge how much had warn off during all the exertion of digging in.  You really can’t forget about how intense the UV rays are.  And despite the low ceiling  and the heavy cover of clouds, the reflective light coming off the snow did just what it wanted to; found a home on my white Irish skin.  More sunscreen, and thank God it has aloe in it.  I would be OK for the rest of the day.

Part of the plan was for our acting team leader to call Paul in the morning (8:30am) on the radio he left with us.  Paul insisted that we hit our check-in time promptly as it is a critical safety issue for McM Base operations anytime a team leaves base.  He also insisted that we strike the camp and load up our gear to be ready to reload the Hoaglan at 10 sharp.  We did.   And we were ready.  Sort of.  One of our guys had dug such a nice cave and covered it so well that he was able to sleep through the entire morning, despite the noise and laughter that we other ten were making while striking camp.  It was Paul who actually did a head count when he arrived.  Then we had to go and find the guy that was missing.   Once he was up it only took a couple of minutes to load his gear and we were off again. Lucky for him, Paul has eleven fingers.

Then came the Remote camp again.  We all sat inside to warm-up while Paul demonstrated the various types of radios we need to be able to use for emergency communication.  It was not critical knowledge for the camping we did the night before, but it would be necessary for any of us who would be working at a remote sight for any length of time.  Then came the bucket test.  It is a drill to help us prepare for the white-out conditions that happen here on a regular basis.

Strong winds can turn loose snow into a sandblaster, and visibility can be reduced to a few feet in front of you.  Even really big buildings, brightly colored, can be invisible under these conditions.  So how do you prepare for that?  You put a bucket over your head and walk outside the building.  The object of the test was for the team to recover a “lost” teammate who went missing during white-out conditions.   One of the firefighters who was on our team came up with an excellent strategy.  With the 100 foot emergency rope that was in the Remote, we each were to move out the door at five foot intervals.  The foremost man was to walk in the direction of the out-house, and as we all strung out behind him, we would create a human chain that could safely cover the ground to look for our lost man.  We would then sweep like the second hand of a clock around the perimeter of the Remote.  Unfortunately, the disorientation that comes with walking with a bucket on your head created a dependence on the sense of touch.   Our front man never let go of the wall of the Remote and lead the rest of us entirely around the building…not out toward the out-house:)

We all had a good laugh, and Paul was very understanding.  This was not his first rodeo.  The urge to cheat and lift the bucket to see was overwhelming.  The broken terrain of windswept ice and snow made footing treacherous at best, and the very real fear that if anything went wrong you may become a casualty as well, made all of us pay much more attention to the conclusion of this exercise.  The risk to the many outweighs the loss of the one.  Be smarter than the storm.  Avoid putting yourself in harms way.  And while I am editing these very important lessons for this post, believe me when I say I will not forget what I have learned.  The sunburn got me even though I was prepared for it.  I was able to stave off the frost bite by recognizing the tingle and changing my gloves.  I even used all of the information possible to build shelters that would fend off a storm.  But when a real storm hits you must be capable of some very hard decisions.  The best decision is to not put yourself at risk.

When we finally arrived back at McM we put away the team gear, replenished the stock of foods we had eaten and thanked Paul for a very important and well lead team building exercise.  And then I went to the Hospital for some much needed Aloe Vera.  Not to worry.  Tonight is the masquerade ball, so no one will know that I’m burned until Sunday.

Tim

Happy Camper! Dec 20, 17′ WC 2′ and Dec 21, 25′ WC 20ish

Well that was just too cool!

I am not being sarcastic.  This was a FANTASTIC experience.  Though the weather was bad when we started the day at only seventeen degrees, we spent the first three hours or more indoors watching power point presentations about sunburn, frostbite and hypothermia.  That was OK, except that to go on the Happy Camper experience they insist that you dress for the worst possible conditions and insist that you show up in ALL of your Extreme Weather Clothing (or EWC).  So we sat there and pulled off layer after layer of clothing to avoid bursting into flames.

Then, not only did we gather our own gear, but the team gear we would share during the trip, which included 3 five gallon water containers, six emergency bags which were already onboard the Haugland vehicle, two 40# boxes of edibles, with lots of yummy things like instant oatmeal, coffee, tea and cider pouches, freeze dried “dinners in a pouch”,  granola bars, gorp and CHOCOLATE BARS!!!   All the good stuff that takes minimal effort to prepare with little more that water and a hot camp stove.  And I’ll tell ya, Quaker Instant Oatmeal is damn good stuff first thing on a Saturday morning, after a day like we had Friday.  There were six camp stoves (one for every two members of the team.  That’s correct!  There were 12 people on the trip, not just the three that I knew of from the initial email.  The facilitator Paul Koubak, three women, and eight men.

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We loaded everything and everyone into a Hoagland, which is a segmented tracked vehicle specifically designed for snow and ice.  It is most commonly seen at ski resorts shuttling VIPs around, or grooming the runs after fresh snowfall.  By this time the weather had improved a bit.  The temperature had risen into the mid twenty’s and the wind had tapered off considerably.  The sun felt warmer despite being hidden by a very heavy low hanging cloud cover which stuck around almost all day.  We drove about half an hour…not far at all considering what I told you in my Thursday post.  I probably walk that same distance everyday just running the bag printer at work.  It’s the fact that in this case, this distance is heading directly out onto the Ross Ice Shelf which causes me a little concern.  Below us was about 200 feet of compacted snow and ice, and below that was 200 miles of the Southern Ocean:  Perfectly safe.

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Along the road to our final destination, we stopped at one of the supply stations that are scattered around within strategic distances from McMurdo Base.  These locations are know to anyone who works in the area and can be used in case of severe weather as an outpost rather than risk driving all the way back to McM in a white out.  For today, it is our lunch stop and the training station for camp stoves.  Apparently they frown upon teaching a bunch of beginners how to light propane fueled canisters inside the big base, and figure if things go poof it will be easier to replace this one little garage on skis, rather than loose the whole Scientific Research building.  (Makes perfect sense to me.)   We also take on a Scott tent, (named for the famous explorer) six two man tents, our sleeping gear bundle, which hold two sponge like mats, a sleeping bag, and a smaller sleep sack made from wool or fleece, which you slip inside the sleeping bag because that $10 cloth thing is easier to launder that the $400  REI sleeping bag that needs to be dry cleaned.  They didn’t tell us that out loud, but there is a budget down here and the Feds are a bit stingy these days.  I am not complaining either.  I like to be warm when I sleep, and this was promising to be a cold night.  Extra layers is extra good for me.

When all the preparation was complete, we threw all the new bundles into the back of the Hoagland and, surprise!  There was no room left for all of us to ride.  So we all walked the last 300 yards or so to our final destination.  Except Paul who drove the tracks.  That walking was actually a good thing because we applied one of the first rules of cold weather survival: KEEP MOVING.  We were all quite warm when we got to the camp site.  It is a strategy that comes in handy just before you turn into bed at night, get some light exercise and warm your self up before you climb into the bag.  The bag doesn’t warm you.  YOU warm the bag and it returns the favor.

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Soon as we arrived we began setting up our tents beginning with the massive Scott tent.  It has a base of 10′ X 10′, and cones up to a good 9′ tall, like a banana yellow teepee. There are vents near the top so that in bad weather we could all gather inside it and still use the camp stoves if we needed to.  It also has flanges around the base so that we pile snow atop the flange and that prevents wind from creeping into the tent.  We just had ropes to hold down the pup tents, but driving a stake into the snow is about as useful as teaching a penguin to jitterbug, so Paul taught us how to make buried T-stakes.  They work great!  It would take entirely too much time to write out in this post, so I just deleted it and you’ll just have to ask about it when I see you.

Now I am a  newbie to the camping world, but several of the team are not.  Even when the perfectly good tents were all set up, five of the guys and two of the girls opted to do ice dugouts.  Literally digging a whole into the ground to get below the wind, and allowing the snow to trap your body heat.  Ice is in fact an excellent insulator, so long as you are not directly in contact with it will reflect your body heat and warm a small area just fine.  That may all be scientifically proven, but I chose to sleep in a tent regardless.

Then Paul cracked out the shovels and saws and taught us how to cut snow blocks and how best to dig the ice caves with very narrow openings across the top and widen them as you go deeper.  And the nature of the snow here is perfectly suited to this kind of cutting and stacking.  Aside from the ski slopes, I have never been in a place where you could actually build with snow.  Especially in Pueblo where it all melted away before suppertime anyway.

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Well, by now it was almost 7pm and the sky was still a pitiful grey with a land visibility of about 10 miles, but a cloud cover so low that none of the mountain tops could be seen in our area.  That was sad because we were out on the ice sheet surrounded by a whole lotta nothin’.  I am certain that if we could have been there on a blue sky day that area would have been amazing.  I may, in-fact, go back there if I can on a clear day just to get some more great photos that I can’t show you.  sigh…but I digress.(BWAA-HaHaha!!  I can now!)

It was 7pm and we were all wired-up.  Paul was taking the Hoagland and leaving us to fend for ourselves.  We were all giddy with the chance to make ice tunnels and igloos and wind-breaks out of snow blocks.  And WE DID.  We all pitched in and helped each other.  First we dug a kitchen and used the cleared out blocks as a retaining wall and wind block to warm the cooking area.  Then David our team mate who is a chef in the McM  galley got to cooking for us.  Well, actually it was just boiling water, but he did have to keep the camp stoves running and that was saying a lot under these conditions.  I took up a shovel and worked with Alyssa, the woman who was teamed with me at tent making, was really keen on digging an ice chamber, so I offered to help her with that.  It was a blast!  She came to McM to work in the Communication Dept. manning the radios that are so important around here for keeping track of everyone.  Perhaps it was just the insanity of digging a coffin like structure that made it all so funny but we laughed like school children talking about interior design and how to paint the interior with “a nice eggshell or antique white”.  When we were done, she had a retaining wall/windbreak, the dugout, a tunnel leading to a veranda with a window box seat and a set of stairs leading up to a Japanese garden. It really turned out quite nice.  All cut from the snow and ice.  We are submitting the video to MTV cribs this evening.  Yes there are pictures.  No you can’t see them.

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I’m laughing so hard, that I’m starting to feel woozy.  I think I need some ice cream.  I’ll finish this story in the the next post.

Tim

Good news! Dec. 19, 8:pm 35′ WC ‘

  So the good news is this.  I have been selected to be part of a 3 man team to participate in what they fondly refer to as Happy Camper.  It is in fact a higher level of Safety Training intended to help those personnel who are going deeper into the continent for research or to help establish or expand the building of new science camps.  There are the three personnel, a facilitator, our personal gear, a backpack with some food, sleeping bags a tent and very  little else.  Then they will load us into a van and drive us just far enough away from McMurdo to make it not worth our time to try and walk back.  It’s “Outward Bound” Antarctic style. 

This came as a big surprise to me.  I’ve only been here for two weeks and have only just begun to feel comfortable with some parts of my job.  Warehousing is warehousing, after all, but learning a new software package is time consuming.  I honestly thought that since I am a mid-season replacement they would have given any chance like this to a veteran.  But play the cards you are dealt.  You may very well get an ace instead of a three.  In fact there are several different excursions available here that require you to sign wavers, schedule a route and take both companions and an emergency pack with you.  This Happy Camper trip is one of the ways you can qualify to participate in those other activities.  And with 8 weeks left on my deployment I intend to hit them all.  So deal the next hand…I’m ready to play.

Of course there will be training on how to use the camp stove, but there will be no cooking on it.  Just the knowledge of when to boil only enough snow to keep drinking water available.  Then the facilitator will teach us what to expect from the weather, how to use the tools, and how to work like a team.  And then he gets to go home.  But not before he describes for us how to establish a camp in the wide open spaces so that we wont freeze to death overnight.  That’s right:  I will be going camping, overnight, with complete strangers, in one of the most inhospitable climates on earth.  And I can’t wait!!!

I’ve had the chance to talk to many seasoned veterans here about Happy Camper.  It is one of the topics that just pops up continually.  All of them have spoken of various things that have happened while they were out on their respective trips and in each case – good or horrible – their eyes begin to shine and they give copious details about the experience.  It is, to say it politely one of the most well remembered moments of anyone’s life.  They may not want to do it again, but they will never forget it.  And in fact, that type of experience is why I am in Antarctica in the first place. 

So, don’t expect an update for a couple of days.  But next time you open this blog, bring the hot cocoa with you.  Maybe a little schnapps.  And be prepared for a very different kind of Christmas story from way down under.

Tim the “anti-Santa”.