When I woke up twenty minutes before my alarm was set to go off, I thought perhaps I was suffering from snow blindness: the sky that had been a brilliant blue above me when I’d gone to bed was now all gray.
I popped my head up out of my trench and realized that I couldn’t see the flag marking the trench closest to mine. I rubbed my eyes but visibility still didn’t improve: we had Condition 2 weather! I put on my clothes as quickly as I could – it had gotten cold without the sun – and headed to fire up one of the stoves to melt some snow for coffee. Rachel and Audra had beaten me to it though so we all sat around and made soup and oatmeal and coffee and tea and watched as people emerged from their tents and trenches. I went off to rescue my socks and gloves that I’d left to dry in the sunlight on a tent and found them frozen stiff – all well, glad I’d packed extra!
Around 0720, I began checking in with people who hadn’t made their way to the “dining table” yet – Justin was just waking up in his trench but assured me he was quite alright. It took some doing to rouse Linda from her tent and there was a tense moment when we wondered if something had happened and should we go in after her? But then she responded – she had her earplugs in – so I was able to radio to Ned on time that we were all fine and would be ready when he came over at 0800.
Once we were fed, we repacked our bags, emptied out our trenches of all our belongings and set about filling them in while the others broke down their tents. I have to say, I don’t think filling in a hole has ever made me want to cry more than it did that day. It made me very sad to have to destroy my cozy little nest and, quite frankly, if they’d let me I’d have probably slept in it again another night!
Ned showed up and we loaded all the bags back into the snowmobile trailer. Then we sledged the tents back to the supply milvan and started the walk back over the instruction hut for a debrief on the night and a few more lessons.
Once back in the hut and settled, we were introduced to the survival bags we would have to work out of in an emergency. In my post “And now for something completely different”, I talked about what you can expect to find in the survival bags – these are the bags that are kept in all vehicles and airplanes. After Ned went through the contents with us, we went outside and he gave us a scenario in which we had to erect a shelter and get water boiling as quickly as possible while simultaneously caring for a person who was beginning to show early signs of hypothermia.
Then it was back into the hut for instruction on how to use radios. The VHF radio was the same one I’d been left with the night before and had used on occasion around station – they’re best for closer radius communication which is why we use them all around Town, including out to Pegasus Airfield or on the hike to Castle Rock.
The HF radio is amazing because it pretty much works the world over – if my parents had one, I could have called them in Viet Nam. But it does involve erecting an antenna which we practiced once we’d gone through the controls and proper operating procedure.
We tried calling the South Pole Station but I think they were on a coffee break because we didn’t get a response. We did call MacOps in town (McMurdo Operations) although since we can talk to them on the VHF radio, it wasn’t that exciting. Then it was back to the hut for our final exercise: Buckethead! This exercise is meant to simulate the dangers of Condition 1 weather and what to do if a member of your team gets lost in such conditions. Basically, Ned goes out and hides somewhere between the hut and the outhouse and we have to go find him…with buckets on our heads. It sounds about as impossible as it is and Ned says he’s never seen a Happy Camper class be successful but he did like how we tied ourselves together so we wouldn’t lose another person, and we limited exposure to the elements to only 5 minutes between radio check-ins and 10 minutes tops.
Finally, it was back to the hut to do general clean-up and washing of dishes and prepare to be picked up in the Hagglünd for our drive back to FSTP.
Once back at FSTP, we unpacked, restocked the Food Box and water barrels and then watched a video on helicopter safety and then that was it! Ned bid us all farewell and we scattered to the winds, happy, exhausted, and very much looking forward to hot showers, hot meals, and a drink at the bar. It was definitely an experience of a lifetime.