Saturday, December 8, 2012

Days 44 and 45, November 7-8, 2012 -- Snow school

Oh man am I beat. Yesterday and today, Jeff and I took part in the "Happy Camper" snow school course offered by the USAP Field Safety Training Program as part of our preparation to (eventually) go on payload recovery after the flight is terminated. After a morning class session about hazards and risk management, we then drove out to the ice shelf where we were showed how to set up a camp on the ice in case we ever got stuck out on the ice.

We learned how to set up two types of tents (really sturdy Scott tents and more lightweight mountaineering tents, both affixed with dead-man snow anchors), how to run the Whisperlite camp stoves packed in the survival kits, and how to cut blocks of snow out of the ice to use for various purposes, like building a wind-blocking wall or for a snow shelter. And then...they left! We were left out on the ice and the instructors wouldn't come back until the morning.

After they left, we divided up the remaining tasks -- finishing the snow wall, and starting some boiling water for hot beverages and food rehydration. A fair number of the 14 students on the course (including Jeff and myself) elected to spend the night in snow trenches, so we all got to work on digging our trenches and cutting snow blocks to use as a roof. Some people cheated and used sleds as their roof, though :). This was definitely the hardest part of the course for me, as I had to cut and carry massive (I'd estimate ~80 lbs each) snow blocks and assemble them without breaking them in the process.

I finished my trench around 9:30 and settled in for a not-particularly-restful night of sleep. Though my trench was plenty warm (I was sweating inside my sleeping bag), I didn't do a good job of making the floor flat, so it was pretty uneven, and even though I was exhausted I had a hard time falling asleep.

We got up around 6AM and started breaking down the campsite -- filling in our trenches and snow quarries, taking down the tents, and eventually knocking down our wind wall. We then went back to the instructional hut near the campsite for a little talk on radios (after which we set up an HF radio out on the snow and communicated with the South Pole Station) and survival bags. The nearly last task of the day and the course was to play out a couple scenarios that relied on us using the knowledge we gained during the previous day of the course.

After that, we packed up, cleaned up, piled into a Delta, and drove back to McMurdo for a short video on helicopter safety and we were done by about 3PM. Even after showering and changing into clean clothes, I am tired, sore, and hungry, and I anticipate a very good night's sleep tonight!


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