Happy Camper

I just completed a course called Happy Camper.  The purpose of this course is to teach winter camping and survival skills to anyone who may work out in the field camps of Antarctica.  We are given supplies which would allow us to survive, but not necessarily camp comfortably or be warm.  The gear provided is very basic and the rest is up to you.  My boss said it’s not only to teach us how to survive, but to overcome the mental hurdle or limitations we put upon ourselves.

The sun is up 24 hours a day now and doesn’t set, but it was far from warm on this trip.  We had very cold weather so we had to stay bundled up and not expose any skin.  It only took a couple seconds of exposure to start to feel stinging cold.  I was wearing as many as six layers with multiple pairs of gloves and mittens.  Even the moisture of your eyes was freezing and causing icicles on your eyelashes.  We threw boiling water in the air and it instantly froze.  It was almost like an explosion!  I will try to post the video as it was very cool!

The first thing we did was setup shelter in the form of a Scott tent.  This is named after RF Scott as it’s the same basic type of tent he used on his expeditions over 100 years ago.  We then mined snow blocks using hand saws and shovels to build a wall to protect our tents from wind.  Then a kitchen pit was dug out so that we could use small stoves to melt snow for our water.  I had a Nalgene bottle of water inside my snowpants and it still froze solid!  We all had Pee bottles as we are not allowed to pee in the snow. 🙂  Believe me when I tell you that it’s actually great to have them because you can tuck them in your sleeping bag for warmth!

We also went through an exercise called “Bucket Head”.  The purpose of this is to simulate whiteout conditions otherwise known as Condition 1.  This is the worst weather we could have down here and you can’t see or hear anything.  We had to simulate a lost person and try to recover them while using the buckets on our head.  I proposed a strategy to our team and it worked really well.  It was a really fun experience and I want to thank our instructor Alasdair Turner.  It’s important to look out for your teammates, and our entire team came back with all their fingers and toes and no frostbite.

The Delta vehicle.  We rode in the back of this vehicle on our way to and from "Happy Camper" training.

The Delta vehicle. We rode in the back of this vehicle on our way to and from “Happy Camper” training.

Mining snow blocks to make our wind protection wall.  Since the snow sets up like concrete you cut the blocks with a hand saw and break them out with the shovel.

Mining snow blocks to make our wind protection wall. Since the snow sets up like concrete you cut the blocks with a hand saw and break them out with the shovel.

Constructing the snow wall.  This is used as a windblock for the tents.

Constructing the snow wall. This is used as a windblock for the tents.

This is our Antarctic camping setup.  We used two Scott tents, which are the pyramid looking tents.  The other two are standard mountain tents.

This is our Antarctic camping setup. We used two Scott tents, which are the pyramid looking tents. The other two are standard mountain tents.

Mt. Erebus, the southernmost  active volcano in the world.  It has a lava lake in the crater.  You can see steam and smoke coming out of the top.  We camped on the ice shelf below the volcano.

Mt. Erebus, the southernmost active volcano in the world. It has a lava lake in the crater. You can see steam and smoke coming out of the top. We camped on the ice shelf below the volcano.

A selfie of me.  : )  You can see Mt. Erebus and our Scott tent in the background.  It was really, really cold!  You couldn't have any exposed skin or it would frostbite very quickly!  I covered my nose after the picture.

A selfie of me. : ) You can see Mt. Erebus and our Scott tent in the background. It was really, really cold! You couldn’t have any exposed skin or it would frostbite very quickly! I covered my nose after the picture.

Me in a snow cave... or maybe a snow grave depending on whether you would survive sleeping in this.  The top is not completed as you would normally cover it with snow blocks to insulate you from the wind and cold.  I was originally sleep in it, but decided not to based on how cold the weather was.  I tucked my water bottle in my snowpants and it still froze!

Me in a snow cave… or maybe a snow grave depending on whether you would survive sleeping in this. The top is not completed as you would normally cover it with snow blocks to insulate you from the wind and cold. I was originally sleep in it, but decided not to based on how cold the weather was. I tucked my water bottle in my snowpants and it still froze!

Me walking out into the eternal snow with a bucket on my head! LOL.  This is used to simulate a "condition 1" or whiteout where you can't see or hear anything.  Thanks to Alasdair Turner for this photo of me.

Me walking out into the eternal snow with a bucket on my head! LOL. This is used to simulate a “condition 1” or whiteout where you can’t see or hear anything. Thanks to Alasdair Turner for this photo of me.

Me wearing a bucket on my head!  I am also wearing 5 layers of long underwear, fleece and snowpants!  On top I was wearing 6 layers to keep warm!

Me wearing a bucket on my head! I am also wearing 5 layers of long underwear, fleece and snowpants! On top I was wearing 6 layers to keep warm!

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More Antarctic vehicles and a few of my watercolor paintings.

Howdy everyone. It’s been busy down here in Antarctica. Now that we have funding to continue the science projects the scientists are ready to get into the field for their research. Below are a few more of the vehicles that are used down here. I have also attached a few paintings that I did for the McMurdo Craft Show.

A Pisten Bully that has a ground penetrating radar attached to the front.  This is used for traverses to the South Pole and other deep field camps.  The radar is used to detect crevasses.  Believe it or not, people and tractors have fallen into very deep crevasses.

A Pisten Bully that has a ground penetrating radar attached to the front. This is used for traverses to the South Pole and other deep field camps. The radar is used to detect crevasses. Believe it or not, people and tractors have fallen into very deep crevasses.

Me in front of a Challenger.  This vehicle is used for the South Pole Traverse.  Fuel bladders, supplies, and living modules are towed behind these to get fuel, and supplies to the South Pole.

Me in front of a Challenger. This vehicle is used for the South Pole Traverse. Fuel bladders, supplies, and living modules are towed behind these to get fuel, and supplies to the South Pole.

A Kress vehicle.  The National Science Foundation uses these to transport people and cargo from arriving flights on the Sea Ice Runway.

A Kress vehicle. The National Science Foundation uses these to transport people and cargo from arriving flights on the Sea Ice Runway.

A side view of the Kress vehicle.  It's HUGE!!!

A side view of the Kress vehicle. It’s HUGE!!!

This is a Twin Otter plane.  It's used to fly to remote field camps.  You can actually fit a few snowmobiles in the back too.

This is a Twin Otter plane. It’s used to fly to remote field camps. You can actually fit a few snowmobiles in the back too.

Ski Doo snowmobiles out on the Ross Sea Ice.  I maintain these snowmobiles and train users how to ride them.

Ski Doo snowmobiles out on the Ross Sea Ice. I maintain these snowmobiles and train users how to ride them.

This is my beginner snowmobile training course.  It's on the Ross Sea Ice in front of McMurdo Station.  New riders learn the basics of snowmobiling under my watchful eye.

This is my beginner snowmobile training course. It’s on the Ross Sea Ice in front of McMurdo Station. New riders learn the basics of snowmobiling under my watchful eye.

A watercolor painting of Hut Point and the Royal Society mountain range of Antarctica.  The hut is Robert Falcon Scott's Discovery Hut.  I am a Hut guide and give guided tours of the historic huts in Antarctica.  I totally love it!  : )

A watercolor painting of Hut Point and the Royal Society mountain range of Antarctica. The hut is Robert Falcon Scott’s Discovery Hut. I am a Hut guide and give guided tours of the historic huts in Antarctica. I totally love it! : )

Small postcard sized watercolor painting of an Emperor Penguin that I painted for the McMurdo Station craft show.

Small postcard sized watercolor painting of an Emperor Penguin that I painted for the McMurdo Station craft show.

Yippee I’m still here

I have survived the Government shutdown! During the shutdown we were preparing McMurdo Station for “Caretaker Status”. This meant the station was not doing any science projects for the National Science Foundation and was basically shutting down. The only project was going to be the South Pole Traverse (because the South Pole Station needed food and fuel). Only staff essential to maintaining the station would have stayed. I was scheduled to depart McMurdo and go back to Christchurch, New Zealand on October 18th. I can’t say how sad I was to leave and not complete a full season. I had packed and was ready to depart on a C17 flight when the government finally started up again. The National Science Foundation was able to securing funding to keep the science projects going and I was saved. I am condensing this story a lot and can’t explain how difficult this roller coaster of emotions was as I was told numerous times that I was both staying and then leaving. When the science season was finally saved I felt like I was in an old western movie hanging from a noose when Clint Eastwood rides in and shoots the rope and I fall to the ground just before dying! LOL.

Anyway, now that the NSF has funding for the projects, we are continuing at a very fast pace…. and it’s awesome to be here! Below are a few pics from around McMurdo Station and some sunsets. During September and early October we had the most amazing sunsets that lasted 4 or more hours. The sun would just duck behind the mountains and then follow the horizon for hours. Totally gorgeous! The last picture is of a small watercolor painting I did.

Sunset over Mt. Discovery Antarctica

Sunset over Mt. Discovery Antarctica

Panorama picture of a sunset over Winter Quarters Bay, McMurdo Station, and Hut Point in Antarctica.

Panorama picture of a sunset over Winter Quarters Bay, McMurdo Station, and Hut Point in Antarctica.

A small watercolor painting I did of a sunset at Hut Point, Antarctica.

A small watercolor painting I did of a sunset at Hut Point, Antarctica.

Icebergs in the Ross Sea Ice and Scott’s Hut at Cape Evans

Here are some pictures of icebergs stuck in Ross Sea ice. They were truly amazing to see and much more impressive than the pictures show. Only about 10% of the iceberg is visible so the other 90% is underwater. These icebergs were likely grounded deep underwater and then frozen in the annual Ross Sea Ice.

The last picture is of R. F. Scott’s hut at Cape Evans, Antarctica. This was built as his home base during his South Pole Expedition over 100 years ago. He and his men died on their return from the pole. They nearly made it to a food depot stashed in the ice.

A large iceberg stuck in the Ross Sea Ice.

A large iceberg stuck in the Ross Sea Ice.

A very large iceberg stuck in the Ross Sea Ice.  A Hagglund is in the distance.

A very large iceberg stuck in the Ross Sea Ice. A Hagglund is in the distance.

I love icebergs!!

I love icebergs!!

Me in front of the iceberg.

Me in front of the iceberg.

This massive iceberg is stuck in the Ross Sea Ice.  It is sticking out of the ice about 50 feet and the other 90% of it is under the sea ice!!  That is an ice cave about half way up the face of it.

This massive iceberg is stuck in the Ross Sea Ice. It is sticking out of the ice about 50 feet and the other 90% of it is under the sea ice!! That is an ice cave about half way up the face of it.

Another shot of the large iceberg.

Another shot of the large iceberg.

Iceberg stuck in the Ross Sea Ice.  A pressure ridge crack around the whole thing makes the perimeter very dangerous.

Iceberg stuck in the Ross Sea Ice. A pressure ridge crack around the whole thing makes the perimeter very dangerous.

Beautiful iceberg in the Ross Sea Ice.  The part showing above the surface is only about 10% of it's actual size.   That would mean that the part we can't see is over 500 feet down under the ice!

Beautiful iceberg in the Ross Sea Ice. The part showing above the surface is only about 10% of it’s actual size. That would mean that the part we can’t see is over 500 feet down under the ice!

The Trans-Antarctic Mountains behind a giant iceberg.  The mountains are also known as the Royal Society range.

The Trans-Antarctic Mountains behind a giant iceberg. The mountains are also known as the Royal Society range.

Looking down a sea ice crack

Looking down a sea ice crack

Scott's Hut at Cape Evans, Antarctica.  This was R.F. Scott's base during his South Pole expedition over 100 years ago.  It's amazing to think that it exists exactly as they left it.

Scott’s Hut at Cape Evans, Antarctica. This was R.F. Scott’s base during his South Pole expedition over 100 years ago. It’s amazing to think that it exists exactly as they left it.

Some cool vehicles we use in Antarctica.

Here are a few of the vehicles that I use in Antarctica. Just about everything down here is setup for driving on snow and ice.

This is a Pisten Bully.  We use these to carry people, supplies, and also move snow (if they have a blade).  They are really fun to drive!

This is a Pisten Bully. We use these to carry people, supplies, and also move snow (if they have a blade). They are really fun to drive!

This is a Pickle.  It's an old Navy vehicle that was originally used for offloading ships.  We use them to move snowmobiles, generators and other aviation equipment.  They are hinged in the middle and the forks can tilt if you are not on level ground.

This is a Pickle. It’s an old Navy vehicle that was originally used for offloading ships. We use them to move snowmobiles, generators and other aviation equipment. They are hinged in the middle and the forks can tilt if you are not on level ground.

Ford Superduty with Mattracks.  All the Ford vehicles down here either have lift kits with really big tires, or Mattracks to get through the snow and ice.  We have lots of Ford vans and trucks all over the station.  They are all bright red and have National Science Foundation logos on them.

Ford Superduty with Mattracks. All the Ford vehicles down here either have lift kits with really big tires, or Mattracks to get through the snow and ice. We have lots of Ford vans and trucks all over the station. They are all bright red and have National Science Foundation logos on them.

This is a Hagglund.  They are great for driving on the snow and ice.  We used this one to go out on the Ross Sea Ice.  The trailer in the back is used to carry people and supplies.  Our survival bags are located on the trailer roof.  They have everything we need to survive in the harsh Antarctic environment if we get stranded out in the field.

This is a Hagglund. They are great for driving on the snow and ice. We used this one to go out on the Ross Sea Ice. The trailer in the back is used to carry people and supplies. Our survival bags are located on the trailer roof. They have everything we need to survive in the harsh Antarctic environment if we get stranded out in the field.

This is the snowmobile and ATV storage area inside my shop in McMurdo Station, Antarctica.  I maintain this fleet of vehicles and train scientists and station employees how to ride them.  We have over 100 snowmobiles!

This is the snowmobile and ATV storage area inside my shop in McMurdo Station, Antarctica. I maintain this fleet of vehicles and train scientists and station employees how to ride them. We have over 100 snowmobiles!