Posted by Cricket
Date: 7 September 2010
Wind Speed: 20 knots
Temp with wind chill: -60C
Antarctic Field Training (AFT) is a prerequisite for any solo travel outside of Scott Base. It is an eye-opening experience culminating in an overnight in a tent at a site well beyond the Base. Everyone living at Scott Base, whether their work is here or in the field, goes through this training.
There were three of us going through AFT together, Diana, Doug and myself. We began with a slideshow presentation about the Antarctic environment, survival principles and horrible cautionary images of trench foot and frostbite – ailments we could get here if we ignore the warning signs. We then went through the emergency bags, assembled and packed our 4-layer sleeping bag system, and were shown how to use two different camping stoves. Finally, it was time to put on all our ECW (Extreme Condition Wear), get into the Hagglund and head out.
We got to the campsite around dusk, and hurriedly set about putting up three tents – one for Diana and myself, one for Doug and the third, a latrine. With our headlamps on, we started building a kitchen shelter by first digging a trench then building a snow wall behind that offered protection from the wind while cooking. It was a cold evening with temperatures reaching almost –40C and winds at 10-15 knots. Cold enough that we melted snow for water, quickly ate some dehydrated dinners, sucked on a few frozen fruit sticks and called it a night.
“Are you asleep?” “What are you doing over there?” is what Doug must have heard Diana and I asking each other all night long. We laugh now, but it was a cold night even buried in all those layers of sleeping bags with handwarmers in our socks. Through the night, I often thought about what a spin instructor at my hometown gym said during a hard workout: “if you’re hurting now, you better start thinking about something else.” I thought of the beach on one of those days when it’s so hot under the sun that you can’t wait to get inside.
Drinking a morning bowl of Milo © Antarctica NZ/Doug
We stayed in our sleeping bags for almost 11 hours, leaving them in the morning to start melting snow for a quick breakfast of Milo, an “energy” hot chocolate drink, and to take down our tents. The Hagglund came around 9am to take us home, where we arrived in time to enjoy an opposite extreme - a mid-morning coffee from the espresso machine and freshly baked biscuits with butter. Over breakfast, we wondered how the early explorers handled such cold day after day, especially during their sledging trips. When we’re camping, I’m guessing we’ll be relying on the hand and toe warmers to keep us strong.