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Lesley Urasky's picture

Camp life in the field has been more comfortable than I expected. The Scott tents are quite warm - they have been as warm as 45F (you might not think that's very warm, but when the ambient outdoor temperature is below freezing, it seems warm). The tents are made of two, thick canvas walls and are yellow in color. When the sun is out (we have sun 24 hrs/day here), the top of the tent gets quite warm - maybe up to 55F. Because Antarctica is so dry, any temperature above freezing allows things to dry out quickly. Up near the top of the tent there are ropes where we hang clothing and boot liners to dry at the end of the day. The Berg Field Center (BFC) issues everyone sleep kits. Inside are insulated sleeping pads (one Ensolite and one Therma-rest), a sleeping bag, a tiny camp pillow, a polar fleece sleeping bag liner, a signal mirror, one roll of toilet paper, and a GPS unit. Our sleeping bags are mummy bags filled with a thick polyester stuffing and are rated to -40F. In addition, the thick polar fleece sleeping bag liners make a cold bag more comfortable to crawl into - that way you don't have cold nylon against your skin waiting to be warmed up. As a result, I've never been cold while sleeping. In fact, the opposite is true; there have been several nights where I've unzipped the sleeping bag because it was too hot. Up until Brenda left last Friday, I've shared a tent with her. Now, I have the tent to myself, and I've discovered that it's not as warm at night.

Items drying at the top of a Scott Tent.At night, if the sun's out, the top of a Scott tent will stay above freezing. When that happens, we hang clothing at the top to dry out overnight.

If one were to truly get chilled and not be able to warm up, there's the cooking tent to retreat to. It is oblong (8' x 16') endurance tent and has rounded ends. It's quite tall - all of us, except Gordon, who's 6'4" can stand upright in the tent. The cooking tent is a comfortable size for up to five people. When we had seven of us, it did seem a little crowded. It has a heavy plastic floor so we can come and go in our boots. Because it is the cooking tent, we have a source of heat - the Coleman stove. We usually have the stove going to melt ice for our water supply. Even if we aren't melting ice or cooking, it is an accepted practice to simply run the stove for heat. Many times, when all of us are in the tent and the stove is going, we are down to a single shirt layer (still long sleeves, of course). It has gotten as warm as 60F in there. Still, I'm semi-looking forward to being able to sit in front of our wood stove when I get home. (While I've never been truly cold for extended periods of time, it will be nice to be consistently warm for several hours in a row.

Brenda and John inside the cook tent.Brenda and John are discussing how fieldwork went for the day while John cooks dinner at our camp on Cloudmaker Peak. You can see the rock box Brenda is using for a chair.

Inside the cook tent we have all of our rock boxes that food supplies came out to the field in to use as seats and tables. We place nine of them around the perimeter of the tent; with only four of us now, we each have a seat and our own side table. We are slowly emptying the boxes of food and they are being converted into sample boxes and trash containers. The rock samples we collect are individually placed in labeled canvas bags and placed into the boxes. These boxes receive special tags and will be sent to John at the University of Washington via the resupply vessel that leaves McMurdo in mid-February. The trash will be returned to McMurdo where it will be sorted into its different types for recycling.

If you've ever been car camping, you know that you can make meals similar to home if you have the ability to take unlimited food, fuel, a variety of spices and condiments. We have been eating very well here, with an abundance of foods and great variety. In fact, we have so much food that we will be returning much of our dry food to the food center at the Berg Field Center. We packed our food when we first arrived at McMurdo. At that time, we didn't know we'd be stuck in town for eleven days. Also, it is necessary to pack for an additional ten days in the field (beyond when expected to return) in case the weather turns and flights out of the field are delayed. Our meals usually go something like this: Breakfast is cereal and canned fruit. On Sundays we often have pancakes or fruit turnovers. Lunch is a mishmash of items of your choice: dried fruit, jerky, crackers with peanut butter and jelly, crackers and tuna, candy bars, and granola bars. Dinner is often preceded with a cup of hot soup to warm you up when you return from the field. Then we have a stew-like one pot meal with some sort of meat (chicken or beef) and vegetables, instant mashed potatoes, and cookies for dessert. We've also had poached halibut steaks, steak, shrimp, spaghetti, and of course, on Christmas, Cornish game hens.

Our water comes from nearby ice fields. We have to take an ice ax and chisel the ice out to fill large pots. These pieces of ice are transferred to a 10-gallon beverage cooler (the kind you see at construction sites). It is inevitable that the ice will be dirty. There are often gravel sized pieces of rock that are frozen into the ice. All of these particles settle to the bottom of the pot/cooler and are dumped out. The ice goes onto the stove in a large pot where it gets melted to almost boiling. Have you ever heard of someone being so unskilled in the kitchen that they can't even boil water? Well, down here it is important to make sure there is some water in the bottom of the pan you're using to melt the ice because it is possible to burn the ice which results in scorched tasting water! Once the ice water is hot, it is transferred to the cooler where the warm water works to continue melting the collected ice. Then, the process starts all over again. I originally had difficulty bringing myself to drink the water if it hadn't boiled first. I'm so used to water in the wilderness containing potentially infectious bacteria. At home, it is necessary to either filter your water or boil it.

Contents of sleep kit.Here are the contents of the sleep kit that Berg Field Center (BFC) issues to all those going out into the field. polar fleece sleeping bag liner, plaid pillow, -40F sleeping bag, signal mirror, toilet paper, GPS unit - everything comes in a duffel for easy carrying/access. In this picture, you can also see the heavy tarp that serves as the floor for the Scott tent.

At some of the larger remote camps, outhouses are abundant. They are set up over large holes drilled deep into the ice. Out here in the "Deep Field" we don't have to collect our urine to return to camp. It is similar to camping in the mountains (where you're not in an established campground). The solid wastes must be collected and returned to McMurdo where they process it in their waste treatment facility. We use the "dunny" which is a five gallon plastic bucket lined with plastic bags and topped with a toilet seat. It is placed quite some distance from camp behind a large rock and often has quite a view.

Our camp life has become quite routine. Up at 7 a.m., meet in the cook tent for breakfast, John calls in to MacOps on the satellite phone with our daily required check-in (so they know everyone here is alright), pack lunches, and head off into the field. Those who head into the field for the day are usually out for 10 to 12 (sometimes 13) hours. About every other day I spend the majority of the day in the field with John and Perry - I'm slower than they are, so I usually head back to camp earlier and they catch up with me. Other days I spend about half the day in the field, and the other part in camp helping with camp chores, organizing photos, and writing journal entries. We're usually off to bed by 10 or 11 after a fashionably late dinner at 8 or 9 p.m.

Room with a viewHere's the view looking out my tent door at our Mt. Hope camp. Scott tents have an interesting door system. You can see the double door system - each door can be rolled up independently and secured with velcro. One door is in the inner canvas lining and the other in the outer canvas. They are long (about 3 feet of fabric) and funnel shaped. To close them, you pull the drawstring as tight as possible, then twist the door each door and tie cord around the excess material. Each door gets closed independently. It's a real trick entering or exiting the tent if the doors aren't rolled up!