Saturday, December 19, 2009

I survived Happy Camper or survival school

On Friday morning we set out for survival school, or Snowcraft  or Happy Happy Camper. After training at the stations we loaded our gear into the Haugland and we got onto some other kind of shuttle and headed into the field. This is a required course for anyone leaving McMurdo and going to another part of Antarctica (unless you are jut flying to the Pole.

Forty (?) minutes later we were out on the ice shelf in the I hut getting our introduction to survival camp with Paul and Gregg--mountaineers from the west coast and Alaska.

Over the next 2 days we learned how to operate stoves, make snow brick, use different forms of radio communication, survive an accident, prevent or treat frostbite and hypothermia and other useful Antarctic skills.

We  (the 18 Happy Campers)set up camp--6 2-person mountaineer tents, 2 big "Scott tents", and eventually those of us who wanted to dug survival trenches.

We also built a kitchen of snow bricks and built snow walls around the tents.

Our instructors left us to fend for ourselves. By then it was very windy and gray, but I worked up a sweat digging my trench-- I knew I could sleep in a tent any time but when would I ever sleep in my own snow trench? So did I did...... very carefully thinking about my back! But I did it --dug the whole trench myself and then with the help of Jean Pierre--a scientist from Grenoble, I finished the roof with a sled and large snow bricks to fill in the gaps on my roof.

After a freeze dried dinner it was time to go to bed--(9:30). Bed here is strange --it is really never dark at all!!! It just gets colder at night.

So I climbed into my trench with my sleep kit---down sleeping bag, 2 kinds of pads, for beneath, a fleece internal sack, a pillow, thermal bottle of hot water and pee bottle. Once in my sack I was warm and cozy and so I read for a few minutes and then fell asleep.

I woke up quite frequently but most memorably when a strong beam of light came through my snow roof at 2:30 AM--the clouds had left, the wind had died down and it was a beautiful blue skied sunny night. I took a stroll to the outhouse (yes, we have that luxury at Happy Camp) and went back to sleep, waking frequently but ultimately sleeping more than I had in months!!

Finally arising at 7:30 it was time to quickly pack up, have a bit of coffee and cereal and be ready with everything down (all tents, etc.) for our 9AM pick-up and return to the I Hut (still on the ice.) This was part of the test--we had to leave everything as we found it for the next group--all packed away in the structures that held the tents, shovels, flags, and other camp building materials. This was to prepare us to be ready for helicopter pick-ups etc.

We did it--returned to the hut for more breakfast and more training--how to survive an accident and a white-out. We had a 20 minute exercise in dealing with a broken leg and what to do---how to organize a group, etc. and then we had the bucket experience made famous by Werner Herzog in his movie. And we,  too, failed--we just put those buckets on our head to simulate a white out and then thinking we were going straight ahead we doubled back on ourselves. The simple rule is don't go out in a white out!!!

We came back to McMurdo and saw a film about helicopter safety and then we graduated!! I am ready.


  1. What an experience! It must've been great to sleep in a snow trench. Waking up to a beautiful, bright night sounds great too! Happy adventures.

  2. here I sit in my city pad reading this. It can't be true...sleeping in a snow trench. The only part I can really relate to is reading awhile before falling off to sleep. Elise, my hats off to you. But right now I'm climbing into my flannel sheet good ol bed. Merry Christmas Elise.


  4. I think it was funny having buckets on your heads. Was it hard to get through survival camp?

    Your student Dankevin 504

  5. hi its me your student diana u guys lookkk funyyyyyyyyyyyy