This week at the station
This week at Mawson: 14 March 2014
Camping or survival
Labour Day in Antarctica - not the best day to get out in the field or take photos outside with the temperature –10°C and 50 knot winds. Having been out on the weekend with Justin and Mal, I am now quite happy being surrounded with music from Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash to inspire me while doing the final tidy up before the ship arrives.
In other countries you call it camping. In Antarctica, we call it survival.
Friday night we headed out to the Southern Massons to camp for the night and explore the area. It was never going to be easy - always an adventure but that is why I choose to go. Arriving on quad bikes it was clear the wind was not going to ease up, gusting at approximately 40 knots with blowing snow. So we picked a spot and decided to put our tents up. Bearing in mind the wind, the first course of action was to secure the quad, take out the tent and secure it to the quad. It flew like a kite until I put my survival pack and all the camera gear into it which weighed it down. Putting the poles in was quite a challenge, then finding rocks to use instead of stakes - not the best construction, but shelter enough.
After our work we were all quite cold. There was enough hot water in our Thermoses for a drink. We boiled water for food. A dehydrated meal was used - tuna mornay, add 350 mls of boiling water and it’s all yours. Actually I could not believe how delicious it was but felt slightly disappointed at how quickly the food cooled with the last mouthful feeling like it had just been in a fridge. It was 8:30 pm and a group decision was made to hunker down in our three tents for the night and see what the weather brought the next day.
Inside the tent, getting arranged was fun as usual. Picture this: getting fully dressed in a small tent, into a fleece sleeping bag liner, into a winter sleeping bag, then into a summer sleeping bag, putting your water bottles inside the sleeping bag to stop them freezing, and the urine bottle to one side because - let’s face it - who wants to hop out of their sleeping bag in an emergency. It took about an hour struggling around with all that and the mattress before settling for a snack and an orange tea.
That night the wind did not stop so the tent was flapping around vigorously. In terms of sleep, I have no idea how much I had because even in my dreams the noise was constant. Early in the morning I found myself cramped in the tent so I looked around. Snow had settled in between the outside and inner layer of the tent on all four sides, but especially at the top and in the fly screen. A small amount of snow had built up in the tent where the zip had a small hole.
So that was my night. There are not many places we can go in this world that teach us in one night to respect a place so much - camping out in the vastness and isolation of Antarctica does just that. It reminds us of where we fit in nature.