Mr. Pastirik's Daily Log 19 November 2005November 18,19 2005
Friday and Saturday, November 18th and 19th was snow school. It is known by other names, one of the more pleasant is Happy Camper camp. It is the gateway course for many activities and projects here, so it is widely attended. Actually, on the whole, it is mandatory if one wishes to get off base significantly, take small aircraft (helicopters and small fixed wing planes), and go to a field camp. So, many people have to take it, and some are not too happy to do so. Others take it for a break from their six day a week jobs at McMurdo. It is an interesting mix of people. On it were vulcanologists, glaciologists, zoologists (studying penguins at a field camp), mechanics, cooks, janitors, fireman (very important job here) and a teacher. In the beginning of the course, we wondered how we would all mesh together, but as the next thirty hours unfolded, we all appreciated each other and worked well together. Working together, following procedures, and constantly learning new skills is not optional here. The harshness of the environment demands them.
The course began with a brief introduction. Then, it proceeded to the two most important safety concerns found on the continent frostbite and hypothermia. Frostbite, while painful, and at its extreme, gruesome will not kill a person. For frostbite, the progression is cold, frostnip, first degree frostbite, second degree frostbite, and third degree frostbite. Cold and frostnip are easy to treat, and nearly everyone who lives in a place that experiences freezing temperatures in winter has had these. Gentle warming and gentle rubbing of the affected body part will be the treatment. First degree frostbite is a surface freezing with the skin not likely to spring back into place when stretched, while third degree is freezing to the bone of the affected body part. Obviously, more care needs to be taken the farther along in the frostbite scale one is. One should never rub frostbitten body parts because the ice crystals one disturbs in the tissue will tear good tissue and create an affect not unlike ground meat. Yuck. Hypothermia will kill. It starts with cold and believe it or not, shivering (uncontrollable, persistent) is middle of the scale. Through shivering, the process is easily reversible through gentle warming, drinking warm liquids, etc. One good sign of the body cooling is called cold diuresis. Excessive peeing as one cools because the body is shifting liquid to the body’s core (abdomen, chest, and brain, in affect the body is sacrificing the extremities). Excessive shivering is the body trying to warm up through activity, and eventually this fails too, to be followed by lethargy and death. In a non-emergency sense, frostbite and hypothermia can and should be avoided. In an emergency, one should work to stay dry (avoid getting wet and don’t get sweaty!), stay out of the wind, drink fluids (water preferably), get clothing on, and eat. Primarily, the rest of the course dealt with these.
At the conclusion of our classroom sessions, we dressed in our ECW (Extreme Cold Weather) clothing, gathered food, water, shelter, tools, first aid kits, etc. and boarded this huge vehicle and drove to the Instructor’s hut on the other side of the “mountain” near the Kiwi (New Zealand) station. The ice on which we were going to spend the night is actually part of the Ross Ice Shelf and as such never melts. It was beautiful, windless, clear, and warm (15 degrees F) day. I had been there for ice coring a couple of days before, so I knew it could be very unpleasant. We had some more classroom time, and then out to camp. Our camp was situated so that Mt. Erebus was breath-takingly beautiful, and majestic in appearance. During the next three hours we learned how to set up Scott tents (tall and yellow), build ice walls (cutting bricks of snow about in 2 foot all around cubes), construct Quinzees (snow caves, which can get very elaborate in decoration, and function), boil water for freeze-dried dinner, socialize and explore. For all of you that want to know,… pee does not freeze at the temperatures we were at, but it is still an unpleasant experience. Enough said on this matter.
The creation of ice walls, Quinzees, etc. were all tiring, but showed everyone how to survive in the harsh environment one might find oneself on the ice. More importantly, to harp on a point, it showed the necessity of working together for the greater good.
I slept snugly, and surprisingly well, and mercifully, unlike most of my group didn’t wake up to the need to go to the bathroom (get dressed for a cold, relatively distant trip…). The sun never set during the night. Rather, it traced a circle over us during the time we were on the ice. Morning broke to a colder day, and we congratulated each other for surviving the night, ate, packed up and then had more classroom sessions concerning how to use radios in the field and how to save someone lost in a white out. Finally, it was back to McMurdo for instruction about helicopter safety (decapitation is unpleasant), and caring for the environment (a very big concern here).
Upon returning back to camp, Jim Crawford met me to tell me about a debriefing occurring at the plane after the test flight. The situation is much improved, and all the scientists seemed pleased with the results, and optimistic about the success of the mission. Each is very bright, and a good problem solver. Each uses their extensive education in multifaceted ways, and each will not accept failure as an option. Relentless, in a quiet way is how I would describe them. The first scheduled flight for data collection is Monday. The plane will be flying (approx. 150 mi/hr) up the face of a glacier testing for the needed data. The plane will be flying at about 100 feet above the surface of the glacier, and encounter winds of about 50 mi/hr. After the debriefing, the group broke up for dinner, with some eating in the smaller cafeteria near the plane, while others went up the hill to McMurdo proper (my option). I tried writing yesterday, but I couldn’t focus, and fairly early went to sleep.