Snow Survival School: Part 2

Nov. 25, 2012

I slept really well in my snowpit. It was extremely cold, but I bundled myself up as much as possible, with only my nose sticking out of my sleeping bag so that I could breath. I woke up halfway through the night because my nose was so cold so I piled some of my clothes together like a pillow and slept face-down in my sleeping bag so that I could still breath (although a little harder) through my clothes pile, keeping my nose warm and preventing me from feeling suffocated by having my face too close to a sealed-up sleeping bag. I’m really glad I used the bathroom (a collapsible shack-like portapotty with a foam seat so your butt doesn’t freeze to a plastic toilet) before I went to sleep because there’s no way I’d want to leave the warm cocoon of my sleeping bag and climb out of my snowpit in the middle of the night. There were only two minor problems with sleeping in an Antarctic snowpit:

1) I took all of my batteries (my camera’s main battery and spare battery, as well as my iphone, which I really only use as an alarm clock since we definitely won’t get reception in Antarctica) and put them inside my sleeping bag during the night. Camera batteries don’t work very well when they’re cold, and sometimes they get permanently damaged by being frozen too long, so I stored them in my bag near my body heat to keep them warm. This, of course, led to a bit of a ‘Princess and the Pea’ situation, where I kept feeling the bag of batteries whenever I turned over in my sleep. It wasn’t a big deal, but I actually really loved snowpit-life so this is really one of the only things I can complain about. The other,

2) was that I realized in the morning that I probably should have put my snow boots inside my sleeping bag, but I didn’t think about that when I fell asleep. Since I’d taken them off and left them next to me in the snowpit the night before, the moisture inside the rubber boots froze during the night and the boots themselves got extremely cold, and now putting them back on to climb out of my pit in the morning sent a jarring pain of cold through my feet as I stepped in the ice of my own frozen boots. I tried to pack up my gear as quickly as possible, then climbed out of the pit and ran two laps before breakfast in order to warm up my feet.

The rest of the day today was spent practicing skills for Antarctic emergencies. We learned how to use the emergency radios, how to set up a little shelter in case someone is injured, and practiced setting up ropelines for search and rescue operations in case someone gets lost in a snowstorm and we can’t see where we are walking to find them in a blizzard. Since the weather was nice, sunny and cold out, we recreated ‘blizzard conditions’ in a very sophisticated way– by putting buckets over people’s heads so we couldn’t see or hear each other, and then trying to have us find a team member who was pretending to be lost in a storm. We walked out in the snow holding each other with a ropeline and zigged back and forth until we found our friend and practiced carrying him back inside. While I don’t have a video of our own search and rescue practice (because I had a bucket on my head!), here’s a photo of the buckethead explorers courtesy of ‘polarscienceiscool’–

fstpbucketsBuckethead Explorers

IMG_5102Practicing rescue situations

DSCN0537Setting up the emergency radios

When our field training was complete, we radio’d back to McMurdo Station that we were ready to come back, and the Terrabus picked us up and took us back to the base.

DCIM100GOPROHeading back towards the Terrabus

IMG_5095Inside the Terrabus


Posted on 2012, in -Season 2: Life on the High Plateau, 2012 (11/25) Snow Survival School Part 2. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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