Saturday, November 13, 2010

Happy camper

It's been a whirlwind getting settled in here. Much of the past week was spent taking classes and attending briefings on everything from how to go on a recreational hike to maintaining ATVs. Wednesday night there is a science talk open to everyone and this week's was about penguins and if they alter their foraging behavior in areas with predators. Turns out that getting out to see penguins might be a bit difficult, so don't be too disappointed if the only penguin pictures I end up with are of stuffed ones. After the science talk, I ran into my roommate who was out wandering around, and we decided to check out the coffee house. "Town" has three drinking establishments: the Coffee House, Gallager's, and Southern Exposure. Apparently, back in the military days, Gallager's was known as the Erebus club (named after nearby Mount Erebus) or the E club because it was meant for only enlisted men. Southern was one of the officer clubs, as was the coffee house. The coffee house now shows movies and serves wine and shots of liquor. We were barely able to get a seat at the bar, it's quite a popular spot. Gallager's was hosting a Jimmy Buffet night of sorts with cheeseburgers (in paradise) and margaritas, but sadly I have not experienced that bar yet. Anyway, at the coffee house, I got to meet a co-worker of my roommate and I did what I could to minimize the talking shop.

Me at Scott base

On Thursday, in addition to more classes, we overheard that the Scott base hosts an "American night" at their bar, and allows us to come overrun their small pub. After dinner, we piled into a series of shuttles and made our way down there, just in time to pop into their store before closing. $10 was a little much for a patch right now, but come January I don't know if I'll be able to resist the one that read "A woman's place is in Antarctica". The pub itself was exceedingly clean yet still charming. For some reason, the Kiwis were dressed in costume, so either they think that Americans are 50s doo-wap singers or trannies or they were just looking for a reason to dress up. Right when we were about to leave, my roommate spotted Ben Fogle, who is apparently a minor celebrity here to film some sort of documentary with the BBC. Thankfully, she listened to my prodding and got her picture taken with him and proceeded to dance about the halls for the rest of the evening.

Tents at Happy Camper

The most exciting and entertaining of all of the classes was on Friday and Saturday, Snowcraft I, aka "Happy Camper". For two days, 20 people from all different types of jobs learn basic survival techniques for Antarctica. What to do about cold injuries, what's in a survival bag, how to troubleshoot using a stove, how to set up tents and tie knots so that you can stake your tent in snow, etc. We used snow walls to help block the wind while sampling around Barrow last April, but I can't say that I knew the intricacies of building a snow trench or making a kitchen and dining area out of snow before. After the instructors left us for the night, most of the group continued digging their graves (or trenches, rather) and some folks played monopoly. A few us of headed over to a previous class' structures and broke into an igloo. It took some digging to clear out the entrance, but it was quite beautiful and roomy inside. We also ventured over to an "apple" or round green warming hut off of one of the nearby trails, just to take a look. It looked very much like a space ship.

Warming hut

The next morning came early, and after camp was broken down, we headed back to the instructor's hut to play out scenarios such as a helicopter crash and rescuing someone from the outhouse during a white out (with buckets on our heads). It was quite a fun experience and we were lucky to have nearly perfect weather. The best part of it was working with and talking to people we wouldn't otherwise have met. The majority were really interested to hear about the science we were doing and it was clear everyone was in it for the adventure.

After a hot shower and laundry, I received word that the boss was in town and looking for me. I dragged my poor roommate over to his place and we discovered a bit of what we've been missing. Apparently, some of the dorms here have saunas, pool tables, and big screen TVs! His had a semi-private bathroom and a small tv, plus a couch. I guess when it's your 26th season, you go up on the list a little bit. We're just happy that our third roommate hasn't shown up yet. Post dinner, my roommate went to collect a co-worker and we headed to Southern, which used to be known as the smoking bar. I discovered the hard way that my wrist is not ready for foosball. But, it can still lift a can, and we spent the rest of the evening stacking up cans in various designs. It was also fun to note that I am starting to recognize people around from either the plane ride, various tours, or classes.

Crates at Scott's hut

Sundays are days off here, and I was more than happy to sleep in to a reasonable time. Generally, things start early here, with breakfast over at 7:30 am and classes and meetings start around 8 am. Likewise, things end early. On Sunday, the galley puts on a huge spread for brunch. I thought the dining hall was really quiet until I turned the corner and discovered that the food area was filled to the brim with lines of people, baked goods, and a bewildering array of options. After eating too much food, we headed out to Scott's hut and the observation tube. The hut was built in 1902, and is quite eerie. Crates, cans, and carcasses line the walls and decay has been slow, giving a vivid picture of what the early explorers faced. The place vaguely reeked of rotting seal, and I imagine it would be far worse on a warmer day. The observation tube down the hill is set into annual sea ice, and you go down a metal hatch where there is a window under the ice. You can see divers and fish, but unfortunately we ran out of time and had to leave before I got a chance to go down there. Hopefully, I'll have another chance to get down there tomorrow, because I'm sure it will be melted out by the time I get back from the field.

McMurdo and Scott's hut from Vincent's Cross

The reason I had to get back to town was that we had visitors! A group of Kiwis had come south on the plane with my boss a few days ago and wanted to speak with us about our work. Imagine my surprise when I found out that one of the visitors was someone I knew from Toolik! A small world indeed. It was great to catch up with her and to meet the other visitors. My co-worker remained envious of their black and orange gear which has a very stylish logo of penguin and fern.

Which brings us to now. We're heading out to the Dry Valleys on Tuesday, so there are lots of last minute preparations to be done. Unfortunately, with Sunday being a day off, there's not too much to be crossed off the list today, so tomorrow will be busy I'm sure. Hoping to squeeze in a visit to Gallager's before leaving, and maybe another shot at the observation tube. Next post will be from the field!


Sus Mettler said...

I'm jealous. It sounds like such an adventure! Glad you are posting...

Anonymous said...

Yes! Keep the posts coming, its way more adventure than I'll ever get to do I fear so bring on the vicarious living!


pecwanpete said...

So cool Heather! If you need to see some cute penguins, I suggest asking Sus. She has some pretty good pictures of some :)

Heather said...

That she does!

Anonymous said...

Had a coworker here in NC whinning about "how cold it got recently" (seriously.. it was like... 33 one morning... are you kidding me?).

I cheerfully mentioned a friend of mine must have been quite pleased to see the wind died down and the weather widget indicated it was was a balmy 7* .... in ANTARCTICA...

Sorta quashed the rest of her complaining at lunch... :-D

Cheers and stay warm!