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”.