Greetings from the plane to South Pole (guess what my next post will be about). It has been a wonderful and busy past few days….
On Monday and Tuesday I attended SnowCraft I (a.k.a. “Happy Camper”). It is required survival training for anyone going out into the field. If you have been camping before and have been in cold weather before most of the information was “old hat”. There were some handy tips about how to angle your tent relative to the wind. We did lots of basic things like put up dome tents, light a stove and boil water, and fight frostbite with hot cocoa. However… we did learn how to make snow bricks and build a wall out of them (it takes thick nicely packed snow a saw and a shovel) and how to make a snow trench shelter (for those times when you forget or rip or lose your tent).
By the time they taught us how to build the snow shelter we had seven perfectly sensible dome tents erected, and two spacious Scott tents erected… but did I choose to stay in one of those? No, no it seemed like it would be fun and would keep me warm to dig a snow trench. So I sawed out bricks and then sawed out some more. Then I dug down deeper, widened the inside, finally with some help put on a slab roof. I started around dinner time (maybe 7?). It was nearly 1 am by the time I finished. I was warm an exhausted by bed time. That is probably the best way to enter a snow sleeping cave. Yes, I spent the whole night in there.
Wednesday was and amazing day! My boss arranged for me to visit one of the science groups who are studying the population dynamics of Weddell seals near McMurdo Station. The colonies had a record high number of pups, so the researchers have been very busy tagging and weighing the pups. When the pups are born they weigh between 60-80 lbs. The pups the scientists weighted on Wednesday were about a month old and weighed nearly 200lbs! I can’t get over how fast they grow.
Because Weddell seals have not evolved with land predators the scientists are able to walk right up to the seals to take measurements and photographs. The seals are very vocal. They “talk” to each other and to the scientists. The colony is so noisy. I think the seal noises were the best part of visiting the colonies.
I had a bit of an adventure going to visit the scientists. The Wedell seals (and the scientists) live out on the sea ice. So we had to take a special tracked vehicle called a piston bully to get out there. It was really a neat piece of machinery. The driver singing the praises of piston bullies saying how reliable they are. That must have jinxed us. When we got in the piston bully to head back to camp and then home, it wouldn’t start. We had eight people trying to figure it out with no luck. We had to call the Antarctic equivalent of triple A to come get us. Fortunately, the scientists simply took us back to their camp and another seal colony to wait for our rescue. It was the best way to get stranded in Antarctica. I had a warm building and more time with the seals.