Trip Start Sep 09, 2008
10Trip End Feb 16, 2009
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Camping in Antarctica doesn't involve any of these. It does feature some things that are almost as good, like inconceivably fierce wind chills and several hours of shoveling out a place to hide and shiver violently until the sun shifts slightly overhead (what the rest of the hemisphere would call "dawn").
If you don't keep yourself covered with several layers of synthetic material, you'll get frostbite. If you don't keep moving vigorously, you'll get frostbite. If you don't consume enough calories at a steady enough rate, you'll get frostbite. If you fail to remember any two of these or don't foresee numerous other potential problems, you'll probably get hypothermia and die, or maybe just get frostbite bad enough that the tissue in your extremities become necrotic and must be amputated
Some of us knew all of this, and still wanted to go. I guess this is one of those reasons they call Polies crazy. Still, it was a great time, an experience I won't soon forget.
A couple of Pisten Bullies (snow tanks that carry about eight people and drag their gear behind) carted our group of twelve a few miles north of the station. Everything is north of the station, by the way. There was a little ice in the air, so we couldn't quite make out the fuzzy dots of home in the distance. It's funny how living in a modern little ecosystem that we've created can allow us to forget that we are surrounded by such an inhospitable, vast plain of nothing. Camping out there reminds us, and I can't imagine the absolute desolation that someone doing this "for real" must feel.
We had a few experienced snow campers in the group, one a mountaineering guide who taught us everything we needed and was basically our mom for the night. The group also included a couple of guys from Miami and Texas who hadn't ever seen sub-zero temperatures.
We had camp stoves, food, hundreds of pounds of cold weather gear, and several mountain tents
My crew of three (including KiwiDave and Jonathan the Californian) actually managed to sleep for a few hours in our painstakingly constructed "Quinsey." It began as a large pile of gear and bags which we covered in snow, packed down, covered again, packed again, etc. Eventually we dug a hole and pulled the gear out, then excavated inside until it was large enough to comfortably sleep three. The entrance hole was the hardest part, beginning in a 7-foot-deep pit, then worming upward into the Quinsey itself
I think I was probably the most comfortable, because I awoke last of the whole camp, with one of the guys' head poking up through our narrow entrance, yelling at me. His group had not slept a wink, and when I emerged, groggy and shivering, I saw why. Their ambition surpassed ours, and they had become the first group to ever, as far as I know, create a full-on igloo while camping at the South Pole. It was magnificent. Impressive, sure, but I'm glad I got some sleep in my snowcave.