Happy Camper Part Two!

Happy Camper Part Two!
Written by Betty Trummel

What a night! It actually wasn’t too cold in our tents and sleeping bags, but I didn’t sleep very well last night. It was tough to wriggle all the way into my sleeping bag because we were a bit cramped in the tent. Since our Scott tent had been used as a cooking area, snow had been dug out of the middle and tossed outside. Although Dave and I worked to shovel snow back inside and level the “floor” area, once we laid down on that it compressed and created a rounded sink hole. I was in the middle of the trio of campers in our tent, so I was in the sink hole all night. I did have a spectacular view of the top inside of our tent. The water bottle that I filled with boiling water at bedtime had stayed warm until about 4:30 am. I know this because I was up so much throughout the night. That hot water bottle was placed inside my fleece shirt, against my long underwear shirt. It really did help keep my body warm. I needed a lot more water bottles though!

Dave and I were two Happy Campers after our condition 2 night outdoors. We found out later that winds had reached 51 mph and temps (with wind chill) were about zero. If you haven’t seen the videos I posted yesterday, I suggest you back up a day and read that blog. Notice that visibility is still not that great, but we were up and ready to work!

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Everyone was up by about 6:00 am. We needed to break camp and be ready for Jen and Suz to pick us up by 8:30 am. What took hours and hours to create, came down much more quickly. Some people collapsed tents and packed them up while others started up the camp stoves and heated water for hot drinks and oatmeal. Our beautiful snow brick wall had a gorgeous drift on the south side. It did the trick and protected those expedition tents from the high winds.

The large Scott tent fits neatly inside of a canvas case. These tents are pretty heavy and it took 2-3 people to carry each one back to the storage area by the outhouses.

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Once we had major tasks out of the way, we took some time to snap additional photos. In the photo below I’m inside of the opening of one of the trenches used by a Happy Camper in our group. Two brave souls slept in trenches last night. They reported that it was quiet and warm in those trenches. Personally I’d feel cramped and claustrophobic….so I don’t think a trench is for me, unless we were in an emergency situation.

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Two hours after we got up, visibility was still not terrific, as seen in the picture below. We could see Ob Hill and Scott Base…just barely.

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It was snowing lightly again and soon our orange bags were covered with a thin layer of snow.

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Promptly at 8:30, we heard the buzzing noise of the snowmobile coming our way! Jen and Suz were ready to pick up the sleep kits, food storage boxes, stoves and other supplies and take them back to the I-Hut in their wooden sled/trailer on skis.

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Back at the I-Hut, we could warm up a bit and even take off our big red parkas! We had a bit of a debrief session where everyone shared high/low points of camping out last night and also things that we learned from the experience. Desi had the best quote when she said: “It was an experience, I loved it, and I’ll NEVER have to do it again.”

Suz shared the contents of a large red survival bag, which must be taken on every trip that is off of base and regular routes. This bag contains supplies and food for two people to be out for three days. Let’s hope we never have to use those supplies!

Jen taught us how to use two kinds of radios; VHF (very high frequency) radios which are used within about 100 miles of the station, and HF (high frequency) radios used at deep field camps in more remote areas. When away from McMurdo Station, a safety net of at least two forms of communication (comms) are required. In this photo Jen is sharing how to set up the HF radio.

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Indoor training for the radios was not enough, so we ventured outside again to set up the HF radio and make contact with another location in Antarctica. Our group got to call South Pole Station! The photo below shows how we set up the antennae on a long line perpendicular (not parallel, but like a capital T) to the location being contacted. We used bamboo poles to string up the antennae.

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I volunteered to make the call to the South Pole. There is a certain protocol (procedure) used to make radio calls here. I used my “outdoor voice” as Jen called it, to speak slowly and clearly and said: South Pole, South Pole, South Pole; this is Happy Camper at frequency 7.5590; Over. A few seconds later, sure enough, a voice came over the radio and acknowledged our message. Our instructors told us to ask some questions. We found out that it was -16 degree F at the South Pole, that they had lamb shank for dinner last night, and that currently there are 181 people at the station. Once we signed off, our team packed up the radio gear and headed back inside.

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The last activity we did was a search and rescue simulation. The scenario: one of our team members had gone out to the outhouse during whiteout conditions and hadn’t returned. Our “job” was to figure out a plan of action to rescue this person. White buckets were placed over the heads of our team members to simulate the whiteout. Each bucket had a funny face drawn on it. These faces were hilarious. Here is the search team leaving the hut. They’re roped together and that rope is anchored in the hut for safety.

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This bucket head looks very serious about his/her rescue work!

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As the team fanned out, they tried to locate the “missing person.” This technique could be used in a real-life situation. When we got back inside the hut, Jen and Suz talked with us about our plan, how it was implemented, and what the results were. Many suggestions for improvement were discussed and I felt the exercise was a really good learning experience. We had a good leader who took charge and tried to organize the search. The group didn’t do everything perfectly, but we all learned more about safety and what we might try to do in case this type of emergency popped up.

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At 2:00 pm a Delta came to the I-Hut to pick us up and take us back to McMurdo Station. Snow flurries were still flying around and it felt good to be heading back to town.

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The stencil that denotes the U.S. Navy is a leftover from the time when the Navy was in charge of logistics and activity here in McMurdo. Many of the vehicles have “names” on them. This Delta was called Gale. I’ve always wondered where some of the names came from and who they stand for.

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Arrival back at the FSTP building did not signify the end of the course. We still had equipment to put away and prep for the next Happy Camper group going into the field. I joined the team replenishing the food supply in each of the two wooden storage crates. We counted every item and made sure there was enough for the new group. This included things like tea, coffee, hot cocao, candy bars, granola bars, soup packets, dehydrated meals for dinner, sugar, powdered milk, and oatmeal.

Our LAST part of the course was a video on helicopter safety which is so important around McMurdo. Helicopters are buzzing in and out of the station each day we have good weather. They transport people and supplies to scientists in remote field camps. After the video Jen ended the class by demonstrating how the two different types of helicopter seat belts worked. They are pretty different than your typical seat belt found in airplanes.

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I was SO tired by this point that I could barely keep my eyes open! I couldn’t wait to get back to my dorm room for a HOT shower and then straight to the galley to eat dinner. I was thankful to be back in McMurdo, but I know we just had an adventure that I’ll not soon forget!

Thanks to Jen and Suz for a safe, very informative and well-run Happy Camper training! I appreciate your expertise and friendliness throughout our class!

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