As I got down on my stomach and wormed my way through the narrow opening of our Scott tent it was impossible not to reminisce about the first Antarctic explorers, or rather scientists, and what they went through to get where we are today. While Amundsen and his group reached the Pole first, and returned home to tell the tale, Scott is the name on everyone’s lips in Antarctica, and as we finished the first day of Happy Camper and crawled into our own bags, I was beginning to realize why.
The winds picked up right after we finished erecting two Scott tents and the center wall, but the Quincy or ice hut (fitting two), two camping tents, two more ice walls, and the kitchen still had to be built, and the twelve of us had been working for 3 hours. After his ponies died (one month in) Scott and his men were forced to walk pulling over 1500 pounds on what were already heavy wooden sledges, moreover they were on makeshift skis. As we finished the tents and the East wall the winds shifted uncharacteristically quickly and came billowing from the South. Looking southward, my head bowed against the intense winds, I attempted to distinguish the distinctive southerly Antarctic features of White and Black Islands. What I saw was distressing, the winds were indeed issuing from the South and already Black Island was barely discernable behind the thick cloud cover. To make the situation even more ominous our leader’s pager kept going off to inform her that an accident had occurred involving the caravan of ATV’s we had just seen pass by us.
Hurriedly we finished the final wall and packed our backs and tools away so they would not be subject to the heavy winds, then we ate. Our group was made up of four young desert scientists, three cooks/dishwashers, two astrophysicists’, two teachers and one balloonatic (you may have heard about the ozone testing with balloons), and our dinner conversation rivaled any that you could imagine. But even with subjects like supernovas, the expanding universe, and black holes to hold my attention I kept peeking over the shelter to keep my eye on the approaching storm. Already by 7pm the summer sky was darkening, and though it was nice to have the illusion of dusk around us, I knew it was not from the sinking sun.
Everything stayed up that night and only the sound of the vigorously flapping flags could be heard through the canvas tents. Not until the next day did conditions enter condition 2 (low visibility, heavy winds, or very cold), so now we are waiting at McMurdo for planes and helicopters to be able to fly again (everything has been grounded the last three days). Our group is getting excited to head out toward the dry valleys, but we are going to have to wait until next Thursday at the earliest (Jan 17).
Even given the cold weather my coldest experience on Antarctica yet occurred yesterday when I was in the freezer pulling food for an hour. All my love and thank you all for your responses…
Something to Think About: We also went through several scenarios to test our abilities to survive the harsh conditions we could be facing out in the field. One such scenario was meant to give us the idea of what a whiteout during condition 1 weather would be like. During this scenario 'lost' one of our teammates and only had one climbing rope to go find her (we all had white buckets over our heads to signify the whiteout). The first time we went the wrong direction and eventually we managed to pull the front end of the line back to where we were meant to be. But it had been 20 minutes and the person would have died. The second time we did better but again our planning took too long and the person would have had horrible hypothermia had it been a real case scenario.