Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Happy Campers at Snow School (part 2)

6:30 am. Woke up in a cold tent where everything outside my sleeping bag was frozen. Putting on freezing gloves and boots was quite a shock for my extremities! The best thing to do was to get up and start walking and warm up. A brief jog to the outhouse and back was one way to do it and having hot tea certainly hit the spot.

The sky had cleared out overnight and it was a gorgeous morning. The sun was low and transformed the camp into an enchantingly peaceful sight with Erebus in the background basking in the soft sunshine. We weren’t meeting Kevin until 9 am. for breakfast and so I took advantage of the early start for a short walk before we would take down the camp. I walked past remnants of snow-walls and shelters left behind by earlier campers that were in the process of being eroded by the wind and occasional melting and refreezing. It made the snow-walls translucent giving them a ghostly look.

Our camp wakes up to a beautiful day.

Snow-walls turn translucent as they succumb to the force of nature.

I also happened upon an igloo which appeared too tiny to have accommodated anyone, but was beautiful and certainly worth a picture! It was a very peaceful morning and it is impossible to describe its beauty. The softness of the sun, gave the ice a blue shade and that together with the blue clear sky is probably one of the simplest, clearest images one can imagine on the planet. I asked Kevin, a fellow camper to take my picture as I stood on the few hundred meters thick Ross Ice Shelf with Erebus in the background. The ice on the shelf is so clean and dry, it almost feels like soft sand and you can see the crystals shining as bright specks as they reflect the sun.

A relict igloo battles against the cold wind to maintain a profile on the ice.

I stand on the Ross Ice Shelf as it blends into Ross Island behind me.

We packed up camp, put away our tents, sleeping kits and stoves and met up with Kevin for breakfast. I was still feeling a little tired and tried to stay alert as Kevin went over operating VHF and HF radios in the field, radio terminology, and establishing contact with base stations. His talks were fun and interesting to listen to as he did a fine job of relating his topics to the crowd. Then, we had another fun exercise, and that was the simulated ‘whiteout’ which literally is a severe snow storm where visibility is practically zero and the ice and sky blend into a white space, creating a feeling as if one was floating in a milk jar! The body loses sense of balance and direction! So, how do you simulate a white out? USAP had provided white buckets that all of us wore on our heads! Very effective, I’d say. Then Kevin went outside the hut saying he was leaving for the outhouse, and it was the job of our bucket-wearing team to find him! We had access to a rope and there were 12 of us. We decided to keep one person in contact with the hut and one end of the rope, while the rest of us made our way holding the rope in a single file till all of us were out and then we made a sweep until we finally stumbled upon an object. Unfortunately it was not Kevin and we tried again with a modified strategy that was successful. Pictures of this event could not be taken for obvious reasons.

The last activity on the ice was to test setting up an emergency camp in 15 minutes and establish contact with South Pole station. We found ourselves up to task and within a few minutes we setup the HF and called South Pole for a radio-check!

Happy Campers setting up HF radio.

South Pole! South Pole! South Pole! This is Happy Camper School calling for radio check!

We drove back to McMurdo and managed to sit through a Helicopter Safety video which was; if I may say from not having been in a helicopter; a little unnerving. But, I see these machines take-off and land many times a day at McMurdo and I trust that all of us who would fly in them will be safe in the hands of the well trained and experienced pilots.

Mt. Erebus puts on a dramatic display with steam as we depart from Snow School

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